State legislation would allow Lake County Board to vote out its leader

Editor's Note: This story has been edited to note that Lawlor eventually reimbursed the county for the credit card charges he identified as personal.

State lawmakers in both chambers are moving forward with plans to allow Lake County Board members to remove and replace a chairman.

The legislation was requested last month by the county board. County commissioners were frustrated by their inability to remove then-Chairman Aaron Lawlor last fall during what turned out to be a four-month leave of absence he said was needed for addiction treatment.

State Rep. Tom Weber, a Lake Villa Republican, filed legislation that would create a removal process for any county board chairmen who are chosen by their fellow commissioners rather than voters at large.

In the Chicago area, only the Lake County Board fits that definition.

Under Weber's plan, which was submitted last week and subsequently co-sponsored by Republican state Rep. Steven Reick of Woodstock, the board would be able to remove a chairman with a vote of at least four-fifths of its members. Supporters wouldn't need to show specific cause for taking the action.

The vice chairman would temporarily assume the chairman's duties until a new chairman is chosen at the next regularly scheduled board meeting. The deposed chairman would remain a member of the county board.

State Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat, filed identical legislation in her chamber Tuesday, a staffer said.

Both Weber and Bush are former Lake County Board members. Although Bush has been gone from the county building for six years, Weber was on the board during the Lawlor controversy - and this bill is his first piece of state legislation.

Weber said he was stunned to learn a chairman could be awarded a two-year term and then never show up for meetings without any consequences.

"That has to change," Weber said. "This is a disservice to not only that county and its elected board, but the taxpayers."

While Lawlor was absent from work, his political and personal finances became the subject of an Illinois State Police investigation.

Documents reviewed by the Daily Herald revealed the Vernon Hills Republican had improperly used his county credit card to make personal purchases totaling thousands of dollars. Lawlor eventually reimbursed the county for the charges he identified as personal.

The case remains open, police said Tuesday.

Weber and Bush insisted their proposals aren't personal attacks on Lawlor.

"You need a chairman," Bush said. "It's a very serious position with a lot of responsibilities. Without that representation, there's a hole there."

The board actually had a leader during Lawlor's absence. The vice chairwoman at the time, Libertyville Republican Carol Calabresa, served as interim chairwoman until after the November election.

Bush and Weber agreed that requiring support of four-fifths of the board - or 17 of its 21 members - would ensure a move to unseat a chairman has bipartisan backing.

"This is not a Republican or a Democrat issue, this is a good government issue," Weber said.

Current county board Chairwoman Sandy Hart, a Lake Bluff Democrat, strongly supports the proposal.

"I am not surprised that there is a strong push to move it forward," she said.

A similar plan was proposed in the state Senate in 2017, but it died in committee. Bush expects the proposal will have traction this time.

"When you see what happened in Lake County ... it raises it to a higher level," she said.

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State Sen. Melinda Bush
Former Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor
Lake County Board Chairwoman Sandy Hart
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