Will County Board: Even Split Offers Challenges, Opportunities

By Nick Reiher
Once again, following a redistricting, the Will County Board apparently will have an even split of Republicans and Democrats.
A remap driven by Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant reduced the number of districts to 11 from 13 and board members to 22 from 26, two per district.
Unofficial totals from the Nov. 8 election show 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats were elected, a good number of them new to the board. Democrats had held a 14-12 majority for the past two years.
Hoping to hang on to a 400-vote lead over closest challenger – Beecher Democrat and former board member Bob Howard – Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, said she sees good things for a board split evenly.
“With a split board, I think we’ll do more of the work of the people rather than a political party. I look forward to that,” said Ogalla. Wilmington Democrat Joe Van Duyne agreed.
“I feel this is what the residents of Will County were looking for, a split board with equal representation. This a great opportunity for us to all come together to keep our county thriving.”
Board Member Denise Winfrey – a former board speaker and temporary County Executive – said the split shows what residents want in county government.
“The split highlights the need to work across the aisle to achieve the best results for our residents.”
Winfrey is among the few board members who can recall the last time the board was evenly split.
The redistricting following the 2010 census yielded a 13-13 split on the Will County Board, which, because late Larry Walsh Sr. was a Democrat with tie-breaking authority, gave that party the first majority in decades.
That led to some opportunities, such as long-standing board member Joe Babich, since retired, finally getting a committee chairmanship – the Public Health & Safety Committee.
But his biggest plum was being named president of the Will County Forest Preserve District Board for 2012. County Board members serve double duty as Forest Preserve Commissioners. But as separate entity, the County Executive has no control over any business, political or otherwise.
Instead, Babich and Republican Don Gould agreed the latter would take the spot for 2013.
But more often than not, the split on the County Board galvanized partisanship, culminating in a contentious vote in 2014 on the budget levies.
The 13 Republicans – who by then knew they would retake the majority following the 2014 election earlier that month – abstained on each of the 14 tax levy accounts. Walsh broke the tie on each one to keep county government open, but he was not happy.
“They didn’t raise the money,” Walsh said at the time of the Republicans’ refusal to vote on the budget, “but now they get to spend it.”
Walsh had said as a Democrat, he would favor votes toward that party on County Board ties. Asked her plans with a tied board, Bertino-Tarrant said:
“I’ll vote on the issue.”
Nov. 8 Election Results (Unofficial until the canvass):

District 1
Katie Deane-Schlottman, Republican
Joe Van Duyne, Democrat
District 2
Frankie Pretzel, Republican
Judy Ogalla, Republican
District 3
Daniel Butler, Republican
Sherry Newquist, Democrat
District 4
Stephen Balich, Republican
James Richmond, Republican
District 5
Annette Parker, Republican
Sherry Williams, Democrat
District 6
Denise Winfrey, Democrat
Janet Diaz, Democrat
District 7
Vince Logan, Republican
Natalie Coleman, Democrat
District 8
Mark Reavis, Republican
Mica Freeman, Democrat
District 9
Raquel Mitchell, Republican
Destinee Ortiz, Democrat
District 10
Julie Berkowicz, Republican
Meta Mueller, Democrat
District 11
Jaqueline Traynere, Democrat
Elnalyn Costa, Democrat

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