Lake County's first independent ethics commission has been formed
Appointments have been made to a new independent commission that will review, investigate and act on ethics complaints involving Lake County government.
The panel, intended to be free of inside influence, was the goal of a two-year effort by the county board to develop a new ethics and conduct code.
"It won't be perfect, but I think it's a quantum leap in terms of ethics and transparency in government," county board member John Wasik of Grayslake said in advance of the 19-1 vote last week to appoint five members to the new panel.
Deborah Balma, an insurance company executive; Patrick 'Sean' Ginty, a corporate attorney; Andrea Hess, an investigator; Helen Redding, a former banker and founder of the Christopher D. Redding Youth Asthma Foundation; and Harold Wallin, a lawyer in private practice, were appointed to the panel.
Board member Jessica Vealitzek of Hawthorn Woods, chair of the county board's ethics and oversight committee, led the process to create the new group and recommend appointees.
Elected in 2018, Vealitzek campaigned for ethics reform and more transparency in county government. She and Wasik were among the newcomers who gave Democrats a majority on the Lake County Board for the first time in the county's 179-year history.
"There's a lack of trust overall in government these days," she said Wednesday.
The county board previously had an ethics committee, but it rarely met, Vealitzek said.
"When I got on the board, there was definitely a need to review our process," she said. She was named chair of the seven-member, bipartisan committee that determined how best to proceed.
Candidates were sought through the county's website, social media and other avenues.
"The ultimate goal was always to establish an independent commission," Vealitzek said before the vote. "This is a really great thing that we're doing not only for the county and for government, but for residents."
County board member Dick Barr, a Republican from Round Lake Beach, was the lone vote against the appointments. He said he had no issue with the individuals chosen but did have issue with a process that resulted in four of the five members being of the same political party, in this case Democrats.
"This is a problem for me," he said. "We can't have our constituents second-guessing the results of an ethics commission or ethics finding that is based on an 80% to 20%" imbalance.
Vealitzek and others emphasized the consensus of her committee was not to look up anyone's political affiliation, voting record or contribution history in making the appointments.
"We did not know these people and certainly did not know their political affiliation," said Angelo Kyle, a Democrat on the ethics and oversight committee. He represents Park City and portions of North Chicago, Waukegan and Gurnee.
Michael Danforth, a Republican committee member from Fox River Grove, said members did not want the process to appear partisan.
"We simply care about having a good, diverse group of people who are intelligent, respected in their field and come from a broad range of the Lake County community, and I think that's exactly what we have," he said.
The new commission is expected to meet in a few weeks. The meetings can be viewed live virtually through Zoom. Visit lakecountyil.gov.