Lake County Board supports plan to ask voters if they want to pick chairman

A key Lake County Board committee on Wednesday overwhelmingly supported a plan to ask voters if the board's chairman should be independently elected rather than selected by the panel's members.

Chairman Aaron Lawlor is championing that plan and two other proposals that could significantly change the board's appearance.

Lawlor, a Vernon Hills Republican, wants voters to decide if the 21-member board should shrink to 17 or fewer members and if board districts should be redrawn after the 2020 census using an independent mapping process.

Lawlor proposed the three referendums last week after state Sen. Terry Link, a Vernon Hills Democrat, surprised the board by introducing state legislation that would make the chairman a voter-elected position without first asking voters if they want that responsibility.

The county board's financial and administrative committee backed Lawlor's proposals Wednesday during a meeting in Waukegan. Republicans and Democrats on the panel criticized Link for trying to change how the chairman is chosen without input from the board or voters.

Antioch Republican Linda Pedersen said it's "mind-boggling" that Link would "tell us what to do."

Waukegan Democrat Diane Hewitt was similarly incensed.

"I think it's important for them to stay in Springfield and do their job and keep their nose out of the county business."

No committee members spoke against Lawlor's proposals. Lawlor and others acknowledged Link has the political muscle in Springfield to change how the chairman is chosen if they do nothing.

"The bill is passing," said Lawlor, the board's chairman since 2012. "This is an opportunity for us to shape it."

The full board will vote on the proposals next week.

The chairmen of the Cook, DuPage, Kane, McHenry and Will county boards all are chosen by voters. McHenry County switched to that system last year.

Link's bill would change how Lake County's chairman is chosen starting in 2020.

Lawlor's plans would put questions on ballots in 2018, and changes would be implemented in 2022 - the year districts already are scheduled to be redrawn based on 2020 census results.

Delaying implementation would give Lake County officials time to "study issues (and) potential outcomes," Lawlor said.

To that end, Lawlor said he wants to form a special commission that would investigate county government reform.

Link has said he's open to amending his legislation to bring voters into the process, but such a change hasn't been made.

Lawlor said he wants to work with Link on changing the bill and has been trying to reach the senator.

"We need to make sure that we do this right," Lawlor said.

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Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor
State Sen. Terry Link
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