Board to decide next week whether to boot 2 fire district candidates

A decision that will shape the future of the Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District left a team of election judges seeing red Thursday afternoon.

James Wegman and Michael Safranski both seek spots on the fire district's board of trustees. They have the backing of former fire district President Jim Gaffney, who helped craft and circulate their nominating petitions to get on the April ballot.

But Gaffney found himself up against another person Thursday who has played a significant role in the fire district: longtime Trustee John Gamboa.

Gamboa filed objections to the nominating petitions of Gaffney's candidates to keep them off the ballot. That would pave the way for incumbents Tom Mollenhauer and Carl "Rudy" Herout to retain their seats and be joined by Fox Mill Homeowner's Association President Kristin LeBlanc. Gamboa is not seeking re-election.

The petition battle is the latest dust-up between Gaffney and his former fire district colleagues. Gaffney abruptly left the fire district about a year ago. Since then, he's publicly blasted various spending and staffing decisions made by the board he quit.

On Thursday, it was Gaffney's actions that were under the microscope.

Jeffrey Meyer, the attorney representing Gamboa for the petition hearing, engaged Gaffney in a line of questions based on the idea that Gaffney improperly altered Wegman's petitions after getting the necessary signatures.

Meyer argued that Gaffney clarified the petitions to denote Wegman's pursuit of a full 6-year term on the board only after collecting signatures. There are two 6-year positions and one 2-year slot up for election in April.

Gaffney used a red pen in filling out the candidate information section and term length on Wegman's behalf on several of the petition sheets. The red ink stood in contrast to the black and blue ink shown everywhere else on the forms.

There was also a suggestion that Gaffney used two different red pens at uncertain times.

Similarly, on Safranski's petitions, the questions centered around the timing of Gaffney's use of a red pen to fill in a 2-year term of office and failure to circle the office sought on the petition forms Gaffney circulated.

Gaffney maintained that everything he wrote with the red pen occurred before collecting any signatures so as to avoid any perception of trying to mislead people about the offices the candidates sought.

Meyer disagreed, citing various case law, in support of petitions he said were wrought with confusion for anyone who signed them.

An electoral board, which includes Kane County Clerk Tom Hartwell, will not rule on petitions until Thursday, Jan. 12. In the meantime, the existing fire district board of trustees, including the two incumbents on the April ballot, will host a special meeting Monday, Jan. 9. That meeting will feature a vote to place a tax increase on the same April ballot the trustee candidates will appear on. The board will decide the dollar figure of the tax increase at the meeting.

Trustees have been saying for the last year that the district will likely go broke without a cash infusion by local taxpayers. If that happens, all or portions of the district could be swallowed up into South Elgin or Elburn's fire districts. An Elburn fire official was present to watch the petition challenge proceedings Thursday.

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