Lake County Board members laud new law providing ability to remove leader

Lake County Board members are celebrating Gov. J.B. Pritzker's recent signing of legislation empowering them and some other county boards to remove chairmen.

The law applies to county boards that choose a chairman or chairwoman from its members. In the Chicago area, only the Lake County Board fits that definition. County board chairmen are elected by the public in Cook, DuPage, Kane and McHenry counties.

It also applies to forest preserve district officers chosen in the same way - and again, deliberately, the Lake County Forest Preserve District meets that standard. The Lake County Board's 21 members simultaneously serve as forest district commissioners.

The proposal was drafted at the request of Lake County commissioners frustrated by their inability to remove then-Chairman Aaron Lawlor in 2018 during what turned out to be a four-month leave of absence he said was needed for addiction treatment.

Lawlor, then a Vernon Hills Republican who has since moved to Chicago and left the GOP, eventually opted not to seek re-election. After the November 2018 election, Lake Bluff Democrat Sandy Hart was named chairwoman.

Hart was an outspoken proponent of being able to depose the board's leader - even though it could cost her the big seat.

"As public servants, we need to be held accountable," Hart said in a news release. "I thank our legislators in Springfield and Gov. Pritzker for working with us to get this legislation passed."

Board member Adam Didech was similarly enthusiastic about the panel's expanded power. Not having a way to remove Lawlor even though he wasn't showing up for work while getting a paycheck for being chairman "was bad for everybody," said Didech, a Buffalo Grove Democrat.

The proposal had support from board Republicans, too.

"A need for the ability to remove a chair was abundantly clear," said board member Dick Barr, a Round Lake Beach Republican. "I'm very grateful that a bipartisan effort was led to give us that ability."

The proposal originated earlier this year as bills separately put forth by state Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat, and state Rep. Tom Weber, a Lake Villa Republican. Both are former Lake County Board members.

The power they sought to create was worked into a different piece of legislation, and that's what Pritzker signed into law Friday.

The law requires support of four-fifths of a qualified board - or 17 of Lake's 21 members - to unseat a chairman. With the board's current political makeup, that would ensure any move to dump the chairman has bipartisan support.

"It's the functional equivalent of an impeachment process," Didech said.

A deposed leader wouldn't be removed from the board itself.

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