Legislation on county-executive authority treats Champaign County as exception

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URBANA — A dispute between the Champaign County executive and the county board has expanded beyond the courts and into the Legislature.

While the Illinois Supreme Court hasn’t yet decided if it will review an appeal of the latest ruling on county-executive authority, legislation is pending that would impact whether the county executive or the county board chair has the authority to appoint replacements for elected positions that fall vacant between elections.

A bill passed last month by the state Senate — with both state Sens. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, and Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, opposed — would restore appointment-making powers to the county executive in every county except Champaign County.

That bill (SB 1015) would effectively impact only the two counties in Illinois that have a county-executive form of government, Champaign and Will. But it could affect any others that adopt that form of government in the future.

The bill states that in counties “other than Champaign County operating under the county-executive form of government,” a vacancy is to be filled by appointment of the county executive, with the advice and consent of the county board.

Specifically in Champaign County, it states, the elected county board chair makes the appointment with the advice and consent of the full board.

The debate in Champaign County over whether the county board chair or the county executive makes the nominations to fill vacancies in elected offices began soon after the election of the first county executive, Darlene Kloeppel, in 2018.

Kloeppel sued the county board over this issue and won the first round in a circuit court ruling that clarified the power to fill vacancies belongs with the county executive.

But in November, the 4th District Appellate Court sided with the board, handing appointment-making authority back to the county board chair.

In December, Kloeppel’s attorney, James Harvey of Joliet, appealed that decision to the Illinois Supreme Court.

While the appellate court decision arose from a Champaign County lawsuit, it affected the appointment-making authority of the county executives in Champaign and Will counties, he said.

Rose questioned why the Senate bill treats citizens differently depending on where they live.

“The answer is the citizens in this state shouldn’t be treated differently depending on what county they stand in,” he said.

Regardless of whether the system has been correct in Champaign County or Will County, Rose said, it should be the same in all counties with a county-executive form of government.

State Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, who sponsored the change, said it would codify both what Champaign County has litigated about and the long-standing tradition of how Will County has operated and wishes to continue operating.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, introduced a separate bill in January that specifies that in counties with a county-executive form of government, vacancies are to be filled by county board chair with the advice and consent of the board. That bill was sent back to the rules committee last month.

via The News-Gazette

March 17, 2022 at 06:59AM

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