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updated: 6/5/2014 4:36 PM

Conflict of interest in Naperville library reappointment?

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Plans to reappoint a Naperville woman to the library board are under legal review because of concerns over a possible conflict of interest.

Kay Severinsen, who is married to Naperville City Council member Joseph McElroy, first was appointed to the Naperville Public Library board of trustees on Feb. 4.

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But when Mayor George Pradel attempted this week to reappoint her, council member Grant Wehrli raised concerns.

The library board is an appointed body that sets policy for the library and also sets its budget and its tax levy.

Both the budget and tax levy also require city council approval. That caused Wehrli to ask if any legal problems could arise with a husband on the council and a wife on the library board.

"Now we have a husband and a wife overseeing a line on our property tax bill," Wehrli said.

Severinsen is up for reappointment because the term she was named to fill lasted only until May 31. The council on Tuesday approved reappointments of two other library board members -- Brian Moore and Vincent Rosanova -- but put off Severinsen's until Jill Wilger, assistant legal director, can issue an opinion on any potential conflicts.

"I really don't see any conflict of interest," said Sandy Benson, library board president. "We've been pleased with having her on the board. We hope that will continue. Certainly she has our support."

This will be the second time a legal opinion has been given about Severinsen's ability to serve on the library board while her husband is on the city council.

The first came in response to questions council member Doug Krause raised during discussions of Severinsen's appointment in February.

"There is not a conflict of interest," former city attorney Margo Ely said during the council's Feb. 4 meeting. "The appointee does not have any personal financial interest in any matters that will be before the library board."

Krause, who cast the lone vote against Severinsen's original appointment, said McElroy's decision to excuse himself from discussion on the topic proves there is at least the appearance of a conflict. Relatives of city council members are not allowed to work for the city, so Krause said that standard of anti-nepotism should apply to service on boards and commissions as well.

But Ely said the city's standards against family favoritism do not apply to the library board because it is a volunteer position.

Wehrli in February questioned how many other applications to serve on the library board had been submitted, but Pradel was absent, so no one knew the answer.

Pradel also was absent when Severinsen's reappointment came up Tuesday, but by then, council members were told 13 others had submitted library board applications.

"There are other people who wish to serve. She was chosen above them, yet it conflicts with one of our councilmen," Wehrli said Tuesday. "I'm not following the logic of how she was appointed."

Severinsen, who has a background in journalism and works for an advertising agency in Elgin, said she first applied to serve on the library board in late 2012.

"This is one way I can pursue an interest that I really care about in the time I was able to give," Severinsen said.

She and McElroy both say they see no conflict of interest between the ways they wish to serve.

"Joe has stepped off the dais when anything has to do with the library," Severinsen said. "So I really don't see that as an issue."

McElroy called it "petty" for Wehrli to question the legality of Severinsen's service.

"Going after another councilman's family, I think, is a new low," McElroy said.

Other council members said they will await a legal opinion before deciding on the reappointment.

"If the city attorney advises there is a conflict, I would be inclined to vote 'no,'" council member Steve Chirico said. "I'd be very surprised if that were the case in a volunteer position ... I'd like to keep her on the board, but if we're advised it's not appropriate, I'd have to change my vote."

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