So the new county board is already something old again. Or that’s the first bipartisan signal they chose to send to the voters who just elected them.
Jeff Metzger, Sr. (R) is the new county board chairman. He was elected by the eleven Democrats that just took their seats on the board (plus his vote). He defeated John Gudmunson (R) who received the other eleven Republican votes (including his own) in a roll call vote on an action item so hotly debated that a “Stand At Ease” session was called so board members from their respective political party could huddle up in public view to privately discuss the public’s business.
As entertaining as that might be to watch on the TV picture box it is not a shining example of open, honest government — and meanwhile back at the ranch — DeKalb County is one of the nation’s highest taxed counties and its largest employment sector (Government) is in desperate need for more tax revenue and seems willing to do about anything to get it.
Blast from the Past.
For those who’ve lived in DeKalb County for a while, and paid attention to county government, a 12-12 split on the county board and the name Jeff Metzger may ring of Yogi Berra’s “deja vu all over again.” The last time there was a 12-12 split, in 2004, it was the Jr. Jeff Metzger (R) who broke ranks with his party to support the Democrats.
At its first meeting after the 2004 election the Republicans thought they had agreed to a compromise that split the chairman position into two one-year terms. An appointed adhoc committee consisting of three members from each political party negotiated the compromise. But neither of the Sandwich (Dist 12) board members, Metzger, Jr., or Marlene Allen (R) showed up for the December 6 meeting. That left the Democrats with a 12-10 advantage.
Dennis Sands (R) moved to approve a resolution to elect a Republican nominee as chairman for two years and then in December 2005 that Republican chairman would resign and members would elect a Democratic chairman. Howard Lyle seconded the motion. The motion failed by an 11-Democrats to 10-Republicans vote (Steve Faivre (D) abstaining). Steve Slack (D) then made a motion seconded by Frank Van Buer (D) to nominate Ruth Anne Tobias (D) as the chairman.
The ten remaining Republicans immediately walked out and the meeting was adjourned due to a lack of quorum present.
At the Dec. 15, 2004 meeting Tobias became the first woman to serve as chairman of the DeKalb County board by a 14-10 vote. Metzger, Jr. and John Gudmunson (R) from District 11 were the two Republican votes for Tobias. Metzger, Jr. was appointed chairman of the economic development committee.
There was much gnashing of teeth in the local media, including this one. Sands was especially critical of Metzger, Jr.
“We were all disappointed in the one Republican turning on us, and his reasons for doing it were purely personal,” Sands told the Daily Chronicle. He and most of the local GOP thought Metzger, Jr., helped orchestrate the Democrats maneuver to gain control of the board.
The Democrats had been complaining loudly, before the election, about the Republicans’ indulgence during their decades of majority control of the county board. It was Time for a Change in DeKalb County government!
Soon after the election the board voted to send Ruth Anne Tobias, Sue Leifhiet, Eileen Dubin and Jeff Metzger, Jr., to Hawaii to attend a conference. County officials in other areas either scaled back delegations or decided not to attend the conference. The local media was critical of the expense while voters felt betrayed.
But Metzger, Jr., saw things differently. On his blog, Illinois Political Climate, he wrote about the NACO conference in Hawaii and wondered why the local media didn’t send anyone to Hawaii to check up on the DeKalb County delegation:
I have recently returned from representing DeKalb County at the annual National Association of Counties Conference which was held this year in Waikiki. This conference has received much criticism in the media prior to it being held. Certain elected officials, citizens and members of the media pointed fingers at those elected officials attending, as abusing tax dollars to take a vacation. Prior to the conference and at the conference I pondered these allegations. I tried to put myself in their shoes and see this from their perspective. Certainly, I can understand how taxpayers may have seen this as a frivolous expense. However, elected officials and members of the media were just looking for a way to make headlines. Because members of the media took this story so seriously, some devoting entire columns and editorials on it, I felt for certain that while at the conference I would encounter those members of the media at the conference to check up on us. I met zero members of the media from Illinois. They may have been there, however, they certainly were not at any of the many workshops and meetings I took part in, they certainly were not at the State of Illinois caucus meeting. Where were they? Some were back in Chicago covering a protest Luau of our attendance at the conference. Why were they not at the conference itself? They certainly had enough negative to say about it in advance. Had they been there, they would have seen their elected county officials spending at least 5 hours a day in a conference center meeting room taking notes and listening to speakers…hardly a lush vacation. It may also be interesting to note, that I took vacation time from my place of employment to attend this conference. Vacation time that I could have used to go on, well, vacation. But instead I spent it indoors, in meetings but technically in Hawaii.
Metzger, Jr. later resigned from the board for professional reasons. He was replaced by his father, Jeff Metzger, Sr.
Fast forward to the present.
Jeff Metzger, Sr., was elected to the chairman seat over John Gudmunson with his and the ten Democrats’ votes. Paul Stoddard (D) was elected vice-chairman.
Ken Andersen (R) was the adhoc committee’s first choice for the chairman position but Anita Turner (D) made a surprise motion to nominate Metzger, Sr. Gudmunson was nominated by Julia Fullerton after the awkward-if-not-illegal “stand at ease” session. Andersen eventually walked out of the meeting.
During discussions the public could hear Charles Foster (R) criticize Metzger, Sr., and members of the adhoc committee for the manuever. Metzger said that several longtime Republicans had approached him and asked that he run for the chair. He said that at least six of those longtime Republicans would likely show up and explain why they wanted him to be the chair but it was nothing personal against Ken Andersen. Perhaps those six longtime Republicans would also let us know whether they contacted either caucus (Republican or Democrat) to explain why Metzger, Sr., should be the county board chairman?
Darn it. The November 2012 election just happened. On the local county board campaign trail were promises of open, honest government to come. Fresh faces and new ideas. A changing of the guard.
Change is needed and here’s why. Let’s look at the county board’s integrity on the landfill expansion issue. It is indisputable fact that the testimony of the county board to the Illinois courts is that the need for funding the expansion of the DeKalb County jail did not influence their approval of the siting application. In fact, former assistant State’s Attorney John Farrell told the 2nd District Appellate Court Justices that the board has still not decided how they will pay for the expansion.
It’s not about the landfill. It’s integrity.
The Daily Chronicle’s Election Central asked Jeff Metzger, Sr., if the county board made the right decision approving the landfill expansion:
I believe we made the correct decision on a landfill expansion, based on what is best for the county residents. County constituents expect elected officials to find alternate income revenue to prevent tax increases. The cost to transport inmates to alternate jail facilities outside of DeKalb County continues to rise. This staggering dollar amount will total roughly one million dollars this year, and will continue to rise each year. Beside the monetary issue, there is always an increase in security concerns whenever an inmate is relocated.
Ummm, Jeff, the question was about the landfill. Your decision was to be based on the nine criteria set by Rule 39.2. Those rules don’t include the county jail expansion.
It makes me wonder if any of those six leading Republicans have anything to do with the jail. Or, did Ken Andersen ever vote against one of their projects or a raise or something?
It was a terrible first step out of the box for the new DeKalb County Board. Those fresh faces with new ideas better step up to the task of leadership or they’ll be absorbed into the status quo in a flicker. The old guard humiliated the new members with their childish acts of partisan gamesmanship.
Here’s hoping they can recover.
Addendum: (awating response)
Acting Public Access Counselor
Office of the Attorney General
500 S. 2nd Street
Springfield, Illinois 62706
I am formally requesting your review of a possible Open Meetings Act violation.
On Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 the DeKalb County Board held its regularly scheduled meeting and officially welcomed seven new members. In the process of electing the new chair of the county board there was discussion of going into a “full recess” for private discussions during the public meeting. Some questioned the legality of doing that. The meeting was then moved to a “stand at ease” and members were divided into two separate groups to discuss agreements and talk off the public record for 10 minutes.
As I understand it under subsection 2(a), a public body may, upon a majority vote of a quorum present, vote to close a meeting or to hold a closed meeting at a specified future date. Section 2(a) requires that a citation to the exception in subsection 2(c) authorizing the closed meeting, be publicly disclosed at the time of the vote and recorded and entered in the minutes of the meeting at which the vote is taken. No such exception was cited and I believe none exists under 2(c). The agenda item was to elect a new chair, nominations were publicly made and the public discussion was on that matter.
In discussing the matter with a board member I was told that since the “stand at ease” discussion was “off record” no minutes of those discussions would be available since none were taken. I do believe the Open Meetings Act requires summary minutes and verbatim recordings of closed session meetings and would apply to “stand at ease” discussions held by an elected public body. The logic applied was that since the “stand at ease” session was held in the same room (one group on one side, the other on another side of the room) and the public was present then the session was not closed. I believe that logic fails the test of the Open Meetings Act. A member of the public, or the press, can not be on both sides of a room at the same time. In an action item of public interest voting members of the board were limited to half of the “off record” discussion.
Please review the above actions of the DeKalb County Board in connection with a public meeting to determine if OMA violations occurred. With seven new board members and a new state’s attorney it is imperative that a precedence of open, honest and transparent governance be set. I am asking for an injunction against future violations of the Act and that the public body make available for public inspection the minutes of the improperly closed sessions.
Mac A. McIntyre
Editor, DeKalb County Online