County executive opposing Democrats’ choice to fill vacant District 11 seat

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URBANA — Another conflict has developed over filling a vacant seat on the Champaign County Board, this time between County Executive Darlene Kloeppel and the county’s Democratic Central Committee.

County Democrats have called for Cunningham Township Assessor Wayne Williams to fill the District 11 seat vacated by the resignation of Titianna Ammons.

Kloeppel, who is also a Democrat, has nominated Lola Jones — a lifelong Champaign County resident, an elected Urbana precinct committee person in District 11 and school bus driver — to fill the vacancy and has called a special county board meeting for 6:15 p.m. today to select and swear in the new member.

Kloeppel has outlined her concerns about appointing Williams in a memo to the board, saying that while Williams meets the state statutory requirements, “continued legal controversy regarding the overlap of duties indicates that jointly serving as township assessor and county board member may not be the best practice.”

“The township assessor’s work is reviewed by the (county) Supervisor of Assessments and can be overturned by the (county) Board of Review, both of which are offices that require county board approval for confirmation of their officials’ appointments and budgets,” Kloeppel said. “Legal opinions argue the questionable advisability of jointly holding these two elected offices due to conflict of duties. I concur with this position.”

State Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana — also chair of the Champaign County Democratic Central Committee — said the party is “very disappointed” by Kloeppel’s behavior.

In an emailed statement, Carol Ammons said the appointment process followed the same requirements as previous appointments, “and any claims otherwise are completely fabricated to support a blatant power grab by Kloeppel.”

Carol Ammons contended it’s the party central committee that makes nominations to fill vacancies on the county board, “and if any executive has the authority to hand-pick board members, the unilateral control of the executive office will supersede the precinct process all together.”

According to Kloeppel, the party central committee has the right to choose a nominee to be approved by the county board, and normally she would accept that and nominate the party’s choice to the Democrat-controlled county board. In this case, however, she has concerns.

In addition to serving as township assessor, Williams is second vice chair of the county Democratic Central Committee and a precinct committee person in District 11, she said.

If Williams is appointed to the board, she said, that would make three of the 22 county board members (with the other two being board member Jennifer Straub and board Chairman Kyle Patterson) employed by Cunningham Township.

“Again, while statutorily allowed, I question whether concentration of board members from one organization is a good idea,” Kloeppel said.

Carol Ammons said Kloeppel doesn’t have jurisdiction to decide that a certain group is overrepresented or to disregard the recommendation directly from voters’ elected representatives.

“All voters, Democrat and Republican, should be outraged and disgusted by this grossly politicized behavior from the executive,” Carol Ammons said.

Democratic Champaign County Recorder of Deeds Mike Ingram, first vice chair of the party central committee, said Williams was the only applicant for the District 11 vacancy.

Kloeppel said she sought other qualified applicants in that district since she objects to the party’s nominee. District 11 has nine precincts in Champaign-Urbana north of University Avenue with more than 17,000 residents and a high percentage of active Democrats, she said.

“I find it unusual to have only one applicant for appointments that have per-diem stipends and a large pool from which to recruit,” she said.

In addition to being a school bus driver, Jones has held positions as an administrative specialist with the Department of Human Services and a dietary worker for the former Champaign County Nursing Home and University of Illinois, according to Kloeppel.

The current dispute varies somewhat from a previous one over who has authority to appoint nominees to fill vacancies in elected county positions — the county executive or the county board chair.

Kloeppel sued the county board in connection with that dispute, and earlier this year, the lawsuit was decided in her favor. An appeal of that ruling by the county board is awaiting a decision.

Regardless of who nominates a candidate to fill a vacancy of an elected position in the county, the county board continues to retain the authority to approve or reject it.

via The News-Gazette

September 15, 2021 at 07:05AM

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