DuPage County Board Democrats: Committee assignments skewed against them

In what could be a sign of things to come for the next four years, the first major decision by the newly seated DuPage County Board was a divided one.

Board members on Tuesday voted 12-6 to accept board Chairman Dan Cronin's picks for what committee assignments and leadership roles they would take. All six "no" votes came from Democrats.

"I have never had an opportunity to stand up and have a committee assignment that I could fight for," said Elizabeth Chaplin of Downers Grove, previously the only Democrat on the 18-member board. Now she's one of seven Democrats on the panel.

"This is a new day," Chaplin said. "We need fair and equal representation on those committees."

Chaplin and other Democrats voiced displeasure about how Republicans were picked to chair the most prominent committees. Aurora Democrat Dawn DeSart is the only board member not given a committee chairmanship.

"This oversight appears to be intentional," DeSart said.

In a Friday email to board members, Cronin said he made the committee assignments "after a collaborative process reflecting what I hope is an equitable distribution of responsibilities." The Elmhurst Republican said he couldn't accommodate the requests of every board member.

"However, I do believe the final assignments will foster the leadership and participation necessary to successfully execute the duties of each committee," Cronin wrote.

Still, Chaplin said no Democrats were appointed to serve on the transportation committee. There's only one Democrat on the six-member public works committee and only two on the 12-member judicial and public safety committee.

It's reasonable to ask for more Democrats on standing committees "where the bulk of the work is done," she said.

But Republican board member Tim Elliott rejected the notion that the committee assignments and chairmanships are unfair.

"There are on this board 11 Republicans and seven Democrats," said Elliott, of Glen Ellyn. "I'm sure everyone on this board would recognize that the norm in legislative bodies is that the majority party would get all of the chairmanships."

Elliott noted that six of the Democrats have committee chairmanships.

"That is probably the most fair allocation I have ever seen," he said. "That is, in my opinion, the epitome of bipartisanship."

That didn't stop Chaplin, DeSart and four other Democrats - Mary FitzGerald Ozog of Glen Ellyn, Sheila Rutledge of Warrenville, Ashley Selmon of Addison and Julie Renehan of Hinsdale - from voting against the committee assignments.

In a surprise move, Democrat Sadia Covert of Naperville sided with the 11 Republicans and voted in favor of the assignments. She said she understands the concerns raised by Chaplin. However, she said all board members can sit in on committee meetings.

She also pointed out that Democrats have more than half the seats on five of the committees.

"Looking at what we have in front of us," Covert said, "I think it is a fair assignment."

Dan Cronin defended his committee assignments, writing in an email, "I do believe the final assignments will foster the leadership and participation necessary to successfully execute the duties of each committee."
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