Fun at County Board? You Can Count on It

commentary editorial opinion

There were signs the December 5 County Board reorganization meeting was not going to go smoothly.
The most neon-like billboard was the official count from the November 8 General Election left the board in a tie: 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats.
Remember, following the results of the 2020 census, the new County Board map has 11 districts now, with two members each, instead of 13 districts with two members each as it had been for the past 10 years.
The last time the board was split down the middle was following the 2010 census. Covering it for the next two years until the Republicans reclaimed a majority during the midterms, was pure misery.
It was a harbinger of the bad things to come, nationally, statewide and locally, with compromise getting a back seat to political maneuvering. The Democrats at that point held a tacit majority, because the County Executive – the late Larry Walsh – could break ties.
So, even though I had heard Democrats and Republicans were talking before the December 5 meeting about deals, and who would get what and when, my spider senses weren’t just tingling; they were vibrating like a jackhammer.
The deals involved leadership within the parties, as well as for the board. Oh, and for the Forest Preserve District. County Board members also are Forest Preserve Commissioners. And Board President is a nice plum there.
The Forest Preserve Board reorganization takes more give and take. The County Executive is out of the picture. So, the commissioners have to actually compromise.
In 2013, they compromised with Joe Babich, a Democrat, taking one year of the two-year term, and Don Gould, a Republican, taking the other year. The Forest Preserve Board is apolitical. But not.
So, back to Dec. 5, 2022. The board first talked about changes in rules, one of which was to allow members to vote remotely if County Board work took them away from the in-person meeting.
As an example, they gave County Board Member Denise Winfrey, D-Joliet, whom most if not all supported to be president of the National Association of Counties (NACo). Remember that.
Republicans pretty much responded with, “No. You knew you would have to be gone sometimes.”
But Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Tatroe said the language allowing it mirrored state Open Meetings law. So, it passed.
Then, it came time to vote for County Board Chair, which had been called Speaker for the past few years. But Tatroe said an Illinois Supreme Court ruling preferred the term chair.
Jackie Traynere, D-Bolingbrook, rumored to be interested in the post herself, nominated Joe Van Duyne, D-Wilmington. The initial vote was 11-10 for Van Duyne, with Annette Parker, R-Crest Hill, surprisingly voting for him.
But then she wanted to change her vote. Initially, Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant said no changes. But she was told that would mean no one would be able to change their vote going forward.
The second vote was 10-11 for Van Duyne, so that motion failed. A nomination for Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, passed 11-10.
Now, you may be wondering why if there are 22 County Board members, there were only 21 voting?
Well, you see, Winfrey had left to catch a plane to, you guessed it, a NACo meeting. Oddly, she had missed a few votes in the past for various reasons, including needing a bathroom break during a meeting. But, hey, we all do sometimes.
Maybe they couldn’t find her on the way to the airport to do a remote vote. Either way, Ogalla’s election as board chair undoubtedly boosts the farm community. Will County Farm Bureau officials thought they had lost some farm input due to redistricting.
Ogalla said she would have no problem working with the County Executive: “I’ve always gotten along with Jennifer.”
She said there will be closer to an even split on committees now, instead of overwhelmingly Democrat, which likely would have continued with a Democratic chair. Those assignments will be coming out soon, she added.
With Bertino-Tarrant holding the ace card, the Democrats still will have the majority … if they all show up.
Going forward, I predict that no County Board members will miss any meetings in the next two years, coming in on a stretcher if they have to. All personal bathroom breaks will be banned, allowing only group bathroom visits during recesses, so as to not miss votes.
I assume Winfrey will be allowed to vote remotely from NACo meetings, and all board members will be able to do the same from there or from any other county board-related activity that takes them away from a meeting.
But all that Republican fuss over remote voting, especially for Winfrey? Coincidence?
NCIS fans, you know what Leroy Jethro Gibbs would say to that.


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