Lake County forest board likely to seek measure to replace its president if needed

Lake County Forest Preserve District commissioners likely will pursue the authority to remove its board president if needed.

There is no collective memory of that being necessary in the district's 60-plus-year history but the move is in keeping with the Lake County Board, which is pursuing state legislation for that purpose.

"We're just trying to be consistent with the county board," said forest Commissioner Bill Durkin, who chairs the rules committee.

County officials were handcuffed last year with no authority to remove former Chairman Aaron Lawlor. Last summer, Lawlor left on what became a four-month leave of absence for treatment of an unspecified drug issue.

He did not return to work but collected salary and benefits until his term ended in December. He did not run for re-election and remains under investigation by Illinois State Police regarding purchases using his county-issued credit card.

Forest district commissioners also serve as county board members but the entities are governed and operate separately and are covered by different enabling state laws. Both also approve legislative agendas regarding various matters that lobbyists push in Springfield.

The removal and replacement of the board chairman already is included on the Lake County's legislative agenda and lawmakers in both chambers are proceeding with measures to allow that.

The forest district's legislative agenda also has been set and includes measures involving potential property tax rate changes and higher price limits before competitive bidding is required.

To include the president removal authority, the legislative program needs to be amended. The rules committee Monday recommended that be done. The board's legislative committee will consider it April 1 and the full board will vote April 9.

In early December, the rules committee recommended approval of general rules of order and operation. At the time, it asked the district's legal counsel to determine whether a president or vice president vacancy could be filled after an appointment is made to replace the departing person on the board.

The forest board president is elected by the other members and the goal was to ensure the district had all 21 commissioners in place before such an election occurred, the committee said. That timing is outlined in the amended rules to be considered by the full board.

However, Attorney Matt Norton told the committee it did not have clear legal authority under the Downstate Forest Preserve District Act to remove the president in the event of absences, misconduct or other reasons and suggested specific legislation was needed to allow it.

"The county has taken a similar approach on this," he said.

Several steps are needed before the proposed legislation is drafted. Committee members emphasized there have been no past or current issues with the board president and the legislation would be insurance.

"You've got to have tough skin in this business," joked Angelo Kyle, a rules committee member and current board president.

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