More Questions than Answers as Special Meeting on County Executive Veto Falls for Lack of Quorum

Will-County-Clerk-copy

By Nick Reiher

Did Will County Board members challenging a controversial veto by the Will County Executive blow their chance to overturn it March 5, or did they find a way to buy themselves more time to review, and possibly dispute, a State’s Attorney’s opinion on how the veto went down?

County Board Chair Judy Ogalla called for a special meeting of the Will County Board at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, March 5, to push for enforcing a resolution restricting widening of the county’s portion of 143rd Street in Homer Township to three lanes instead of five.

Although the County Board had voted nine times over 30 years to support a 143rd Street a five-lane widening project through Homer Township, board members for the past several months have debated the project based on newfound opposition from residents in the final piece.

After lengthy discussion following several hours of in-person and emailed testimony, the County Board on February 15 voted 12-9 to support a resolution for a developed three-lane roadway instead of continuing a five-lane plan.

Two days later, Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant vetoed the resolution, while also noting she had signed it in error before mistakenly sending it to the Will County Clerk’s Office for her seal of attestation.

Ogalla, R-Monee, then asked the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office for an opinion as to whether a resolution that had been signed by the County Executive could be withdrawn and vetoed.

In his opinion, Assistant State’s Attorney Scott Pyles said the resolution still could be vetoed if the clerk had not yet attested to receiving it and applied her seal.

But that led to another snag. Will County Clerk Lauren Staley Ferry on February 29 issued the following:

“Dear County Executive Bertino-Tarrant and County Board Chairwoman Ogalla.

“I have read the recent legal opinion from the State’s Attorney’s Office regarding Resolution 24-27 and have consulted with its author. Based upon my reading of the opinion and my consultation with legal counsel, it is clear a signed attestation by the County Clerk and the application of the County Seal must be the final step before a resolution or ordinance may take effect.

“In this case, as has been the practice in Will County going back possibly decades, the County Clerk’s signature and seal were affixed before the County Executive signed Resolution 24-27. The State’s Attorney’s Office’s legal opinion is that the County Clerk would have to attest to the County Executive’s signature for the resolution to take effect.

“I do not plan to sign the resolution in attestation as the County Executive has stated the document was signed in error, and she has subsequently presented a veto to the Will County Board.”

Farmers Weekly Review has not been able to confirm there was a practice “going back possibly decades,” that the County Clerk’s signature and seal were affixed before resolutions were signed by the County Executive.

When it came time to call the roll for the special meeting on March 5, none of the Republican board members showed. That left County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant no choice but to declare a lack of a quorum.

Michael Mahoney, Bertino-Tarrant’s Chief of Staff, said later those challenging the veto must have done so at the County Board meeting following the veto. Since that would have been the March 5 meeting called by Ogalla, he said, the issue now is moot.

But Ogalla later that day said there was no meeting, because there was no quorum. Asked if that was the plan, fostered by the Republicans’ missing from roll call, Ogalla declined to elaborate. She added she did not know yet what the next step would be.

In response, Bertino-Tarrant spokesman Michael Theodore pointed to a letter from the State’s Attorney’s Office to Ogalla which states, in part, “As there has now been a Veto presented to the Board by the Executive pursuant to Section 2-5010 of the Counties code, that Veto should be considered at the next scheduled meeting of the Board if you so choose.”

“It was a scheduled meeting of the board,” Theodore said. “So, yes, that would make it an official meeting based on the state’s statutory veto requirements.

“Today’s (March 5) meeting was the ‘next scheduled meeting of the Board.’ We’re reading the statute and following the language provided by the SAO. The scheduled meeting that was demanded by the Board Leadership was officially gaveled in.”

Bertino-Tarrant released a statement on the day’s activities:

“It is unfortunate that the Board Members who called this special meeting failed to respect the time and voice of the residents who showed up today.

“The members who are leading this charge are the same ones who have consistently voted in support of this project for years. By not showing up today, they have also forfeited their ability to override the veto.”

Board Minority Leader Jackie Traynere, D-Bolingbrook, also weighed in:

“It’s very frustrating to see Republican County Board leadership wasting time and taxpayer money yet again. At least we learned today through their non-attendance of the meeting they called, that the veto of 143rd Street is valid and sustained.”

Ogalla did say the issue is more than about the 143rd Street widening now; “it’s about the integrity of our government. Does the County Board vote not matter now? Will the County Executive just veto whatever we vote on? … We need to protect what’s right.”

In a March 1 letter to Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, Ogalla called Pyles’ opinion “a non-opinion. In fact, it instructed the elected officials to act as attorneys and apply the law to the facts as they believed them to be true.

“The statement, ‘It is up to the elected officials to apply the legal principles set forth herein to the factual circumstances, as they know them to be. … is unclear and does not help me to protect the integrity of our county government.”

Ogalla also told Glasgow she believes there is a conflict of interest in the State’s Attorney’s Office representing both the County Executive and the County Board in the matter. She asked for him to outline a procedure for a special attorney from his office, to be selected by the County Board, to represent them in this issue.

Later, she took it one step further, saying she would like to see a special counsel appointed from outside the State’s Attorney’s Office to review the veto procedure in this case.

Met later in the County Office Building after the attempted special meeting, Board Member Steve Balich, R-Homer Glen, was asked what happened.

Balich, the board’s majority leader, said they didn’t think a meeting would go their way at this point. Asked what happens now, Balich said he had a plan.

“I’m Homer Township supervisor. I intend to sue (the county).”

Asked on what basis, Balich said, “I don’t know. I’m not an attorney. But it will be fine.”

Bertino-Tarrant said that would not be fine.

“I find it very frustrating that County Board Member Balich is seeking to file frivolous lawsuits using taxpayer money. County Board Member and Township Supervisor Balich is so conflicted on this project, he needs to recuse himself from any further discussion for the good of all taxpayers.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Nick Reiher is editor of Farmers Weekly Review

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