Holding Our Leaders Accountable

Our board knows how important it is to enforce accountability, and the board chair should be no exception. Last summer we found that we had no legal means to remove a (now-former) county board chair from office despite the fact that he was under investigation for improper use of his county procurement card.

We're seeking to remedy that lack by requesting State legislation to allow county boards to remove its chair by a four-fifths vote. Read more in the Daily Herald or the story below from the News-Sun.

Lake County Board seeks state help to allow future removal of chairmen after Lawlor situation

By Frank Abderholden

News-Sun, January 15, 2019

Fallout from the Lake County Board’s procurement-card controversy and its chairman taking a leave of absence last year continued into the new year with a unanimous vote Tuesday by the board to support legislation that would allow removal of a future chairman.

The board voted to add the issue to its 2019 Legislative Agenda, and staff noted that a similar measure was introduced in the Illinois General Assembly in 2017 by Republican state Sen. Chuck Weaver of Peoria. That bill would allow a chairman to be removed with or without cause as long as four-fifths of the board voted for it, and in such cases, the person removed would go back to a regular board position.

The board was stymied last summer when then-Chairman Aaron Lawlor took an indefinite leave of absence to deal with an alcohol and drug addiction. At the same time, he came under scrutiny for his use of a procurement card, since members are not allowed to use the card for personal expenses.

A review of some of Lawlor’s p-card records obtained by the Lake County News-Sun through a Freedom of Information request showed that he often used it for personal purchases, but it also showed he marked those expenditures as personal and indicated he would reimburse the county. He is still under investigation by the Illinois State Police over the use of his card.

Lawlor never resigned his chairmanship or his seat on the board. He finished his term of office and decided not to run again for his seat. During his absence, the vice-chairman, Carol Calabresa, took over as interim chairman until a new board was seated after the election. Last month, Sandy Hart, a District 13 board member, was elected by fellow board members to the chairman’s post.

“I’d like to applaud the legislative committee and Chair Hart for supporting this. It’s a good move, because many people felt stymied, and the last board was handcuffed,” said Ann Maine, a District 21 commissioner.

“It made it very difficult for the board to move ahead and do the people’s business,” she added, recounting how at one point, the interim chair had to be voted powers to approve a federal grant.

“It was an unfair burden on Carol Calabresa for her to take this up. She put in a lot of hours for a job she never sought,” Maine said.

According to Maine, Paul Frank, a District 11 board member, first asked staff members about the process of removing the chairman, and that’s when they found out they couldn’t.

Hart said they didn’t even know about the other bill floated in 2017. Now that it has been approved by the board, the Legislative Committee will get to work on finding a local sponsor for a similar bill.

Hart described Tuesday’s unanimous vote as “quite welcome.”

Adam R. Didech, a District 20 board member, applauded Hart and the committee, because, “This is one of the toughest things, to ask for less power and more oversight.”

Legislative Committee Chairman John Wasik, a District 6 board member, called it, “The most important thing in the whole package.”

Judy Martini, a District 5 commissioner, said she hoped the Lake County Forest Preserves would also look at the situation involving presidents of the district. At their meeting immediately after the County Board meeting, President Angelo D. Kyle, District 14 board member, asked staff to look into the legal status for removal of a forest preserve president.