Lake County Board supports plan to ask voters if they want to pick chairman

  • Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, right, wants to let voters decide if they should elect the chairman. Here he talks to a county board committee about the proposal last week.

    Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, right, wants to let voters decide if they should elect the chairman. Here he talks to a county board committee about the proposal last week. Russell Lissau | Staff Photographer

  • Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor.

    Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor.

 
 
Updated 2/14/2017 12:01 PM

A proposal to let voters decide if they should directly elect the Lake County Board chairman gained the board's support Tuesday.

Commissioners voted unanimously to request an amendment to legislation already in the state Senate that seeks to change how the chairman is chosen.

 

Traditionally, the Lake County Board's members choose the chairman every two years. The state legislation, if approved as written, would require voters to elect a chairman.

County board Chairman Aaron Lawlor is championing the proposed amendment and sought the board's endorsement Tuesday. He thinks voters should be asked if they want to independently elect the chairman, rather than having state legislators make the change without their input.

"(It's) critical to give voters the final say," said Lawlor, a Vernon Hills Republican.

The Lake County Board is the only county board in the Chicago area that doesn't have an independently elected chairman. McHenry County switched to that system in 2016 -- two years after asking voters if they wanted such a change.

State Sen. Terry Link, a Vernon Hills Democrat, surprised the Lake County Board earlier this month by introducing the Senate bill. During Tuesday's board meeting in Waukegan, Lawlor accused Link -- the assistant Democratic leader in the Senate -- of having political motivations and of proposing the legislation as a way to get rid of him.

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Link flatly denied that's the case and insisted he hasn't had a problem with how Lawlor runs the county board.

He's angry now, however.

"If (Lawlor) wants to play the political game, he better watch it," Link said. "(He's) picking the wrong person to have a fight with."

Lawlor wants to change Link's proposal in two other ways.

He's proposed asking voters to decide if the 21-member board should shrink to 17 or fewer members, as well as if board districts should be redrawn after the 2020 census using an independent mapping process.

The county board also backed those proposals Tuesday.

If Link's bill -- now co-sponsored by state Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat -- passes unchanged, Lake County voters would elect the board chairman starting in 2020.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Lawlor's proposed amendment could ask voters in 2018 if they want to change how the chairman is chosen, as well as if the board should shrink and redraw boundaries using a nonpartisan system. Changes could be implemented in 2022 -- the year districts already are scheduled to be redrawn based on 2020 census results.

After the county board's vote Tuesday, Link said he's open to changing the bill to include a 2018 referendum on the chairmanship. But he still wants voters choosing the chairman in 2020.

"We don't need to wait four years," he said.

As for reducing the number of board members and redistricting, Link said the county board can take those steps without voter approval or legislative action -- something Lawlor has acknowledged.

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