DuPage County Election Commission director retiring

 
 
Updated 1/23/2017 7:38 PM
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  • Robert Saar, the executive director of the DuPage County Election Commission, officially will retire in March but has not been overseeing the organization since mid-December.

    Robert Saar, the executive director of the DuPage County Election Commission, officially will retire in March but has not been overseeing the organization since mid-December. Daily Herald file photo

Robert Saar, the longtime executive director of the DuPage County Election Commission, no longer is overseeing the day-to-day operation of the agency -- and hasn't been since mid-December.

Election commissioners said Monday that Saar officially will retire March 14 but has not been in the office since Dec. 16, when he informed them about his plans to step down. He has been using accrued time off since then, they said, and has no plans to return to work.

Joseph Sobecki, the commission's assistant executive director, is serving in the agency's top administrative role on an interim basis.

"The election commission wishes Mr. Saar the best in his retirement," said Cathy Ficker Terrill, chairwoman of the election commission board.

Saar has been with the commission since 1981 and served as executive director since 1997.

Pat Bond, the commission's attorney, said retirement was on Saar's "radar" in recent years.

"As each election approaches, he doesn't want to leave anybody in a lurch," Bond said, "so he stuck around."

This year, the circumstances are different.

Saar told commissioners about his retirement just days after DuPage officials announced a plan to ask state lawmakers to return election oversight power to the county clerk's office by merging it with the election commission.

If approved, the consolidation will combine the functions of both offices while maintaining the bipartisan Board of Election Commissioners. The commission itself would become a division of the clerk's office under the proposal.

Officials are planning to take the proposal to state lawmakers this spring with the goal of having the legislation take effect by September.

Leading up to the consolidation announcement, the commission had a series of high-profile errors in 2016.

Three write-in candidates were declared winners of the March 15, 2016, primary after court-ordered recounts found errors in the vote totals compiled by the commission.

Then on Election Night in November, the commission didn't post unofficial results on its website until long after the polls closed. Computer software problems, including an unexpected software update, were blamed for the delay.

Most recently, it was learned a clerical error by the commission resulted in voters being notified too early about four referendum questions that were on the November ballot. Now local, county and state officials are trying to correct the problem so the voter-approved projects can proceed.

On Monday, Ficker Terrill said Saar simply decided now was the time to retire.

Bond said be believes the consolidation plan played a role in Saar's decision.

Saar, who lives in Wheaton, didn't attend Monday's commission meeting. Bond said Saar was out of town.

Sobecki has been the assistant executive director for the past five of his 17 years with the commission.

Ficker Terrill said the board is confident the commission -- under Sobecki's leadership -- "will continue to adhere and administer excellent elections and will be responsive to the residents of DuPage County."

Ficker Terrill said there are no plans to search for a new executive director until after officials see what happens with the consolidation.

"Who would want to apply for a position when there's a potential consolidation going forward?" she said. "So we've asked Joe Sobecki to step in and do this for six months."

Even if there is consolidation, Ficker Terrill said she expects a permanent director will need to be hired. Saar was being paid more than $143,000 a year.

After growing up in Downers Grove and graduating from Western Illinois University in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in communications, he started with the election commission as a data processing supervisor.

Saar became the assistant to the director in 1991 and served in that role until the election commission board members appointed him in 1997 as executive director.

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