Former McHenry County auditor says McClellan fired employee as retaliation

McClellan has denied the claims and said the employee was let go based on work performance

Mary McClellan candidate for McHenry County Clerk during the Northwest Herald Editorial Board interview Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 in Crystal Lake.
Mary McClellan candidate for McHenry County Clerk during the Northwest Herald Editorial Board interview Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 in Crystal Lake.

WOODSTOCK – McHenry County Clerk and judicial candidate Mary McClellan has denied claims that she fired an employee – the sister of former County Auditor Pam Palmer – after Palmer refused to pay for what she described as personal gifts for McClellan’s staff.

Linda Gieseke was fired Jan. 27, 2017, less than two hours after her sister rejected McClellan’s expense request for more than $600 worth of fleece jackets the county clerk had ordered for her staff, Palmer said.

Gieseke has not taken any legal action against McClellan, who said the the firing was legitimate. There are no infractions on McClellan’s public record with the Attorney’s Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

Invoices dated Jan. 9, 2017, show McClellan placed an order with Hyperstitch Inc. in Marengo for 18 fleece jackets, totaling about $675. McClellan has said the jackets were intended to be part of her staff’s uniform, so they could be recognized while carrying out their duties on Election Day. Anyone who has stopped working for the office since has returned the jackets, McClellan said.

The invoices were submitted as a business expense request Jan. 18, 2017. Palmer rejected the request Jan. 27, 2017, citing that it wasn’t within the guidelines of the county’s travel and business policy.

Palmer said two staff members in the county clerk’s office told her McClellan had bought the jackets as Christmas presents.

According to the county’s payment request policy, gifts for employees explicitly are named as ineligible for reimbursement.

“I discussed this invoice with both County Administrator Peter Austin and Associate County Administrator – Finance, Ralph Sarbaugh, who concurred with my decision to call in the County Clerk and explain my reasons for rejecting the payment request for the fleece jackets,” Palmer wrote in a rejection notice.

The former auditor said that when she and McClellan met, the clerk threatened to do something Palmer “wouldn’t like.”

About 1½ hours later, Gieseke was escorted out the building, Palmer said.

“She retaliated against my action of enforcing the policies of the county,” Palmer said.

Gieseke has declined to comment on the situation. Shortly after being let go, Gieseke spoke with an attorney about possible legal action, but ultimately decided she didn’t want to cause more trouble, Palmer said.

McClellan denied making threatening comments, and said she’d been considering firing Gieseke for six months.

“That has nothing do with it,” McClellan said. “She was let go because she was getting paid for a job she wasn’t doing.”

Gieseke was hired at the McHenry County Clerk’s Office in 2000. At the time she was fired in January 2017, she was working as a tax redemption clerk in McClellan’s office, salary reports from the time show.

According to Palmer, Gieseke said she’d never been subjected to any discipline related to her work performance. McClellan declined to comment whether disciplinary actions were taken, citing a county policy barring her from discussing employee personnel matters.

The county’s 2016-17 employee salary report lists Gieseke as a tax redemption clerk earning more than $42,000 annually. The 2017-18 report, however, shows that Gieseke now works as an administrative assistant in the Regional Office of Education, earning less than $28,000 a year.

The fact that Palmer and McClellan met on the same day Gieseke and another employee were fired was a coincidence, McClellan said.

The clerk would have let her go sooner, but put off the task since the holidays were nearing and Gieseke’s parents were in poor health. In hindsight, McClellan said she shouldn’t have waited, and now the unfortunate timing is being used to sway voters before the primary election.

“The only regret I have is that I didn’t do it sooner,” McClellan said.

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