Could bad blood derail new Kane board?
Chris Lauzen talks with his wife, Sarah, left, and other supporters Nov. 6 after he won the race for Kane County Board Chairman. Lauzen will be sworn in Monday.
Brian Hill | Staff Photographer
Today marks a new day in Kane County leadership. All newly elected county officials will take the oath of office, many of them for the first time. With those new officials will come a learning curve and getting-to-know-you period that could reveal lingering rivalries and new alliances.
The aftermath of the Nov. 6 election ushered in four new countywide officials: County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen, Auditor Terry Hunt, Coroner Rob Russell, and Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hartwell. Like their predecessors, all are Republicans.
There are also eight new county board members, on a board that shrank by two seats in the first election following redistricting. The 24-seat board now has 10 Democrats and 14 Republicans.
In his long tenure as a state senator for Aurora, Lauzen has never had that kind of favorable partisan mix to work with.
"I think the majority of the board will be behind the new chairman," said Jim Mitchell, the departing finance committee chairman. "The people that ran were elected on a positive platform."
Mitchell said county finances will occupy a good portion of the new board's time. Though Lauzen has resumes of potential new finance directors, no decision on hiring one has been made.
The budget approved by the previous board falls in line with Lauzen's campaign pledge for a flat tax levy, but challenges remain for the new board members, Mitchell said.
"We allowed the new board leeway to make more decisions on the budget than any board in the past," Mitchell said. "I believe with the money that will be left over from this year, they'll be OK to make those decisions. But the issue with a flat levy is you're not going to be able to do everything that you're spending money on this year come two years from now."
Lauzen had a solid contingent of current and re-elected board members working on his campaign that will now transition into a voting block in his favor. Barb Wojnicki, T.R. Smith, Drew Frasz and Melisa Taylor all were outspoken Lauzen supporters during the chairman race.
But some grudges are tough to erase. And Lauzen may not forget who supported Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns over him during the Republican primary, among them board member Mike Donahue.
Former Kane County Republican Party Chairman Mike Kenyon has his own grudge stemming from Lauzen helping unseat him as the party leader in favor of Wojnicki. Nonetheless, Kenyon said he's willing to give Lauzen a chance.
"If he uses people's best qualities and talents then he can do a good job," Kenyon said. "We'll move along, and we'll give him enough rope that he'll either be a really good chairman or just average."
That doesn't mean Kenyon will become Lauzen's best friend.
"Chris doesn't listen," Kenyon said. "He's not dumb. But he hears what he wants to hear, and that may be his downfall."
With Republican rivalries still burning, Democrats hope to play a big role in the new county leadership structure. Jesse Vazquez, a Democrat from Montgomery, is one of several board members to sit down with a panel of Lauzen, Mitchell and Lauzen campaign co-chair Dick Hawks, for interviews about their future roles on the board.
Vazquez said Lauzen believes he helped Burns during the GOP primary, a claim Vazquez denies. Vazquez said misleading campaign literature circulated by his Republican opponent in his county board race had Lauzen's name stamped on it.
"I definitely had some concerns that partisanship was going to be an issue because of what transpired in my campaign and him helping my opponent," Vazquez said. "But I'm optimistic that things will work out. I think he's smart enough to know Democrats are here in Kane County, and we have a lot to contribute to this new board."
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