Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen saw a 50 percent success rate for his initial agenda as the new leader of the county Tuesday. Among the failures was an initiative to alter the structure of the county board that opponents fear will create a Springfield-like atmosphere of partisan bickering.
Lauzen wants to add a deputy chairman to the roster of county board titles. Proponents of the position view the deputy as an ambassador who will represent the county at community events. But opponents see the deputy as a legislative whip who will lobby fellow board members for votes on behalf of Lauzen's agenda.
Some Democrats on the board don't like the idea of the deputy being part of a three-headed Republican leadership structure for the board. To combat that, Democrats tried to create a one-year term limit for the deputy and force Lauzen to alternate political parties in the role.
Under that plan, a Republican would serve as deputy chairman this year. A Democrat would take over the role next year. Democrats said Lauzen told them privately he would support the alternating party structure.
But the partisan approach drew immediate criticism.
"I've been on the board for 14 years," county board member Barb Wojnicki said. "There is not one Democrat that I did not get along with. There isn't one time that I voted saying this is the way a Republican would vote. I vote from my heart. I just think this is a very dangerous road to go down. We really want to remain nonpartisan. We're splitting ourselves up, and I don't like it."
Other opponents spoke against the idea of a deputy as an unnecessary level of bureaucracy. That perspective was fueled by recent committee appointments that left several county board members who had leadership positions under former Chairman Karen McConnaughay off the coveted Executive Committee.
The committee is the final stopping point for legislation before it reaches the full board. Fourteen of the 24 board members sit on the Executive Committee. Some opponents fear that's a large enough majority to render input by non-Executive Committee members moot.
County board member Mark Davoust is one of the 10 people who isn't on the Executive Committee. And a decision by Lauzen at the last meeting of the committee left Davoust and others unable to opine on a possible referendum on benefiting the developmentally disabled.
Lauzen has said that was a one-time silencing to keep a long meeting from stagnating. But Davoust and several other board members fear future "censorship." Davoust spoke against the deputy chairmanship Tuesday.
"It is essential that we have a voice here," Davoust said. "A deputy chairman sounds very much like a whip to me. And these collective changes to our structure sound very much like Springfield to me. Not once in my thousands of conversations with constituents did anybody ever say to me that we should be more like Springfield."
There was enough dissent to send the deputy chairman initiative back to committee for further debate. That ended up being the same fate for Lauzen's first big hire of his administration.
Board members debated the appointment of a new animal control administrator, selected by Lauzen, behind closed doors for about an hour only to reject the candidate. The appointment will now go back to the Public Health Committee for further debate.
Lauzen did succeed in adding a new Agriculture Committee and a new Jobs Committee to the county board on Tuesday. He also succeeded in creating co-chairs, one Republican and one Democrat, for the Legislative and Jobs committees despite several objections about possible partisan divisiveness.
"The intention is we work together and create an example for leadership," Lauzen said of his initiatives. "It is my intention that there's balance. But I understand that they are some concerns. The last thing I want to create is concerns."
Half: Two Kane committees get co-chairs, one from each party