Should voters select the Lake County Board chairman?

  • State Sen. Terry Link wants voters to elect the Lake County Board's chairman.

    State Sen. Terry Link wants voters to elect the Lake County Board's chairman.

  • Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor believes voters should decide if the way the chairman is chosen should change, instead of leaving the decision to state lawmakers.

    Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor believes voters should decide if the way the chairman is chosen should change, instead of leaving the decision to state lawmakers.

 
 
Updated 1/31/2017 6:22 PM

Of all the county boards in the Chicago suburbs, Lake County's is the only one with a chairman selected by its members rather than voters at large.

Newly proposed legislation could change that.

 

State Sen. Terry Link, a Vernon Hills Democrat, has introduced a plan in Springfield that would let voters decide who serves as the Lake County Board chairman, starting in 2020.

Traditionally, the chairman is chosen every other December by county board members after that year's general election. By law, the chairman is chosen from the board's membership.

Vernon Hills Republican Aaron Lawlor has been the board's chairman since 2012.

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, and in November voters there elected former state lawmaker Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat and proponent of the change.

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"All the other counties have it, so why shouldn't Lake," Link said.

Link said he first proposed this change about a decade ago but the plan didn't gain traction.

He believes voters should decide who leads the board.

"It's just bringing us to the same level as all the other counties," he said, adding that he has no interest in the job.

Link also said he has "no problem" with Lawlor's leadership of the board.

In a news release and in comments Tuesday, Lawlor voiced support for the change, but said voters should decide whether to alter how the chairman is elected.

"Obviously, it's a tectonic shift in how we run county government," he said.

Lawlor said he will ask Link to amend the legislation to allow a referendum on the issue, as was the case in 2014 when McHenry County voters chose to elect their board's chairman.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Voters should be able to say what they want, rather than Springfield dictating what they need," he added.

Link said he is open to Lawlor's proposal.

"That's not a bad idea," Link said. "That's what they did in McHenry and it worked."

Beyond just the chairman issue, Lawlor also proposes asking voters if the county board should be reduced by at least four members and if decennial redistricting should be reformed using an impartial, nonpartisan mapping process.

"(Link's bill) is an important step forward, but doesn't go far enough in enacting meaningful good government reforms and safeguards that protect professionalism over political patronage," Lawlor said.

"We have the ability to use county board redistricting reform to serve as a model for the state," he added.

Link insisted the redistricting issue is a state concern, not a county one.

As for asking voters if the board should shrink, Link said the board has the power to do that itself. In fact, it went from 23 to 21 members in 2012.

Lawlor intends to ask the county board's finance committee Wednesday to put the measure on its Feb. 8 agenda in support of his position. Wednesday's meeting is at 1 p.m. at the county government center in Waukegan. The full board could vote Feb. 14, Lawlor said.

"I'm seeking the board's support for my position on the bill and then we'll go from there," he said.

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