McConnaughay says fire board should be elected, not appointed

Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay suggested Wednesday that St. Charles Mayor Don DeWitte should look in the mirror when trying to figure out how the city lost the fire and ambulance service contract for the Fox River Countryside Fire/Rescue District.

In the aftermath of fire district trustees voting to create a new fire department and drop the city, DeWitte said McConnaughay is responsible for the department’s success or failure. McConnaughay appoints four of the five trustees.

But on Wednesday McConnaughay said DeWitte is the guy responsible for district President Jim Gaffney’s appointment.

“He’s the one who called and recommended Gaffney,” McConnaughay said. “I said, ‘I’m not appointing him or anyone else unless you’ve got a chance to sit down and talk to them. I want to make sure that you can get along.’ He called back and said, ‘I’m fine with Gaffney.’ So I find Mr. DeWitte’s assertion rather curious.”

Regardless of who is responsible for the appointment, voters should ultimately get a say on whether or not they approve of the decision, McConnaughay said. The best way to do that is make the trustees on the fire district board elected positions, she said. Trustees and/or the voters themselves should move right now to make those elected positions, she added.

“We have limited oversight of these boards,” McConnaughay said. “These are basically appointments that you make, and then they are off on their own. The only accountability for them right now is their ability to get reappointed. I do not, and neither does the county board, have the right to intervene in any of the actions they take as a board. We have no hammer over any of these boards.”

St. Charles’ loss of the fire district as a customer has also led some to suggest the need for the city’s No. 1 priority, construction of the Red Gate Bridge, is now superfluous. But McConnaughay said the bridge project should move forward — if the city can afford it.

“You can never have enough bridges across the Fox River,” McConnaughay said. “I think everyone agrees with that. Once you’ve made that determination, then it’s all about money. And it’s always about money. Can you afford it? That’s St. Charles’ call.”

Privately, McConnaughay is a St. Charles resident and taxpayer. With that hat on, McConnaughay said she does have some questions about the bridge.

“From what I understand, they have a $20 million to $30 million funding gap,” McConnaughay said. “That’s a big funding gap for a project like that. But it doesn’t mean just because you question the financial viability of a project that you’re against it. I support a lot of things that I think are good for the community. That doesn’t mean that we can afford to do them right now.”

DeWitte has always maintained funding for the bridge is well in hand. The city has more than $6 million already saved for the project.

Jim Gaffney
Karen McConnaughay