Reacting to an opinion by DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin that local mayors can't also legally serve on county boards, the Illinois Senate Wednesday began moving legislation that would allow the dual roles for most mayors and other local officials.
The issue is of particular importance in DuPage County, where Elmhurst Mayor Pete DiCianni and Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso both plan to continue in their municipal roles if they are elected to the county board.
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They cite Peter Silvestri as one example of a local elected official already serving dual roles. Silvestri is a Cook County Board commissioner and the village president of Elmwood Park.
Berlin said his Jan. 20 written opinion would be invalid if the proposed legislation becomes law.
State Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, said the law was "fairly confusing" and that Berlin's opinion raised questions. "It is important that we settle the law," Harmon said.
His proposal was approved by a Senate panel Wednesday, and now moves to the full Senate.
In his opinion, Berlin wrote that a DuPage board member can't simultaneously hold an office with another unit of government that has "a contractual relationship" with the county. Examples of such relationships -- which would be allowed under the proposed legislation -- include investigative task forces, emergency management, storm or wastewater management, highway maintenance, easements and intergovernmental agreements.
On Wednesday, Grasso said he's pleased steps are being taken to clarify the state law.
"I'm glad that Harmon's on it," Grasso said. "I like the guy even more, and I haven't met him yet."
Grasso said the proposal would let voters determine if a mayor or village president could also serve on a county board. "It lets the people decide -- not some arbitrary law that, in my opinion, didn't make sense because there is no inherent conflict in the two positions," he said.
Terry Pastika, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center in Elmhurst, said the measure doesn't address concerns some have about elected officials' pensions.
"At a time when there's questions about how much money there is for governments to function, should one individual be able to obtain multiple pensions?" she said. "The legislation is silent on it."