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posted: 8/22/2017 6:47 PM

Editorial: Rauner veto reinforces local control in Lake County

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  • Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, right, talks to a committee last February about a plan to ask voters how the chairman should be selected.

      Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, right, talks to a committee last February about a plan to ask voters how the chairman should be selected.
    Russell Lissau | Staff Photographer

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Surprised earlier this year by a state legislative proposal, the Lake County Board created a task force to examine a variety of questions -- among them, how the board chairman is determined and how many members the board should have.

These are legitimate questions to be undertaken at the county level. The Commission on Government Reform and Accountability held its first meeting in May and is due to report its conclusions by the end of the year. Presumably, if it recommends changes, county officials will act on those measures within their purview and turn to voters for those requiring a referendum.

They will not, it seems almost embarrassing to have to acknowledge, appeal to the state to do their job.

Yet, that is what a measure sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Terry Link and approved by the Democrat-controlled House and Senate would have done. Link's bill would require voters to elect the Lake County Board chairman rather than let the 21 board members themselves determine who will lead them.

Wisely, Gov. Bruce Rauner recognized the legislation for the presumptuous overreach that it is and vetoed it last week. Lawmakers could consider whether to override him, but there don't seem to be enough votes in the House for such an effort to succeed.

Good.

Not that the notion of a general election for county board chairman is a bad one. To the contrary, a strong argument can be made that voters at large, rather than a handful of elected officials, should select the top government executive in a county as large and diverse as Lake. McHenry County voters made the shift two years ago and last year elected a Democrat to head their county board -- an action that virtually could never have occurred if the decision were left to the overwhelmingly Republican governing body.

But the question here isn't how the board chairman is determined. It is who will make decisions about the composition of county government. Will it be the county's citizens themselves, who will have to live with the consequences? Or a gathering of arrogant lawmakers from around the state who have no investment whatever in the process?

Lake County has a history of needing help from imperious meddling by the legislature. In 2013, it narrowly avoided having the ridiculous expense and bureaucracy of an election commission forced down its throat when a judge ruled unconstitutional a legislative provision that no one in the legislature would even acknowledge writing, including Link, the only Lake County lawmaker to support it. This time, it was Gov. Rauner who came to the defense of local control, labeling Link's bill "inappropriate interference," a phrase open to question only in its degree of understatement.

Republican Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor acknowledges advantages of letting voters control the seat he fills, and a county board committee has expressed support for letting voters consider the change. So, it seems a pretty good bet that in 2018 Lake County voters will have some choices to make about how their government is constituted and how its leaders will be chosen.

That, too, is good. It is their responsibility, not the state's.

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