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Ethics commission to hear complaint against undersheriff

Blogger: Email from candidate violated ethics code

Published: Thursday, July 18, 2013 4:44 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, July 18, 2013 11:00 p.m. CDT

The McHenry County Ethics Commission is scheduled to meet next Thursday to hear a complaint alleging an email from Undersheriff Andy Zinke regarding a local blogger breaks the county’s ethics ordinance because he is running for sheriff.

The complaint, filed by Lakewood blogger Cal Skinner, alleges that a July 10 email from Zinke to the 24 members of the McHenry County Board constitutes a prohibited political activity under the ordinance because he sent it from his official email address during work hours. Zinke is running to succeed Sheriff Keith Nygren, who is not seeking re-election next year.

Zinke’s email to board members counters a claim made by Skinner that photographs he took of Zinke during the Crystal Lake Independence Day Parade show him giving Skinner the middle finger while driving by in a sheriff’s office vehicle.

In the email, time-stamped 3:40 p.m. July 10, Zinke mentions his “candidacy” and his “run for office,” as well as his “opponent” and the race. Section 3 of the county’s ordinance prohibits intentional use of county resources for political activity, or on taxpayer-compensated time.

“State ethics officials take this seriously. Whether county officials take it seriously remains to be seen,” Skinner said Thursday.

Accusations and controversies have already erupted among the three declared candidates and their supporters to replace Nygren. Zinke is facing a GOP primary challenge from former Des Plaines Police Cmdr. Bill Prim, and the winner would face independent candidate Jim Harrison, a labor lawyer and former sheriff’s deputy.

The commission meets upon receipt of a complaint to determine whether it is sufficient to forward it to the State’s Attorney’s Office for action. It has 30 days from receipt of the complaint to do so. Violating Section 3 is a criminal offense punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Zinke said Thursday that there was “nothing political” about the email. He said he was defending his reputation as a county employee to his employers against inaccurate accusations.

“County Board members oversee all county officers. I think they would like to know both sides of the story if someone is saying something bad about an employee, especially a supervisor,” Zinke said.

In his email, Zinke told County Board members that he was being “victimized” by Skinner and that he was holding the window frame with his middle finger, not giving anyone an obscene gesture.

“During my 25-year career of chasing and apprehending criminals, nothing has ever been so dangerous as my run for office,” Zinke wrote. “I know many of you have been victimized by similar lies and accusations, and I respect your professionalism and guidance throughout the political process.”

The Ethics Commission has received three complaints, including Skinner’s, since its seating in 2005. One complaint was withdrawn before it went to a hearing, and the other was withdrawn during the hearing process.

The meeting starts at 3 p.m. Thursday at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

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