Democrats critical of DuPage merger plan
The DuPage Democratic Party chairman says he wants the county to revise its proposal to consolidate the election commission and county clerk's office to make the move "truly bipartisan."
DuPage officials plan to ask state lawmakers to return election oversight power to the clerk's office by merging it with the election commission.
If approved, the commission would become a division of the clerk's office. In addition, a five-member board of election commissioners would be created to set policy, hold meetings and receive public comment. The county clerk would serve as the panel's chairman.
Supporters say the plan keeps the election commission board, which currently has three seats and must have representatives from both major political parties. Republicans hold two of the three seats.
But Robert Peickert, the DuPage Democratic Party chairman, says he's concerned about increasing the election commission board to five members because county board Chairman Dan Cronin, a Republican, still would have the power to appoint four of them.
"Bipartisan means you have the participation of the Democratic Party, which he has ignored," Peickert said. "This is not bipartisan."
Cronin currently doesn't need county board approval to appoint commissioners, who are paid $27,500 a year.
Peickert said Cronin has appointed Democrats to the panel without seeking input from party leaders.
"Dan Cronin picks people that he wants," Peickert said. "They may have pulled a Democratic ballot, but they're not anybody that's associated with our party. They are not precinct committeemen. They are all beholden to Dan Cronin."
According to the merger proposal, the county board chairman would need "the advice and consent of the county board" for appointments. Elected officials "who are members of the respective leading political parties" also would be consulted.
Still, Peickert said something needs to be done to ensure Democrats feel represented.
Jean Kaczmarek, who for years has called for the commission to merge with the clerk's office, shares similar concerns.
"One person is already making commission appointments without consent of the board or the opposition party," Kaczmarek said. "It is the job of the elected county clerk to administer elections, not the county board chairman."
On Wednesday, Cronin said in a written statement that officials want "to hear from all interested parties" and are seeking feedback about the merger proposal on the county website. A public hearing will be held after the Jan. 10 county board meeting.
"We'll refrain from responding to specific comments until we've given everyone an opportunity to weigh in," Cronin said.
In the meantime, Peickert said one solution could be to have members elected -- not appointed -- to the election commission board.
Kaczmarek said the salary of the commissioners should be "cut dramatically."
"A big part of the problem is the salary," Kaczmarek said. "The perception is that when commissioners are paid very well, they are not going to rock the boat because they want to be reappointed."
County officials as part of the plan intend to impose a cap on the how much commissioners are paid.
Peickert and Kaczmarek both suggest commissioners should receive $3,000 a year. They also want the commission to stop using lobbyists and outside legal counsel.