Vermilion GOP members discuss county board chair

DANVILLE - The Vermilion County Republicans plan to caucus in the next two weeks to discuss who will be the first Republican county board chairman in more than 20 years.

Mike Marron, the Vermilion County Republican party chairman who's also a county board member in District 2, said there's been some preliminary discussion about who the Republicans might nominate for chairman, but he does not want to "be premature in putting out names."

"We've got a few good options and a couple good candidates we have in mind," he said.

Vermilion County does not have a county administrator like some counties, including Champaign County. So, the county board member who is nominated and elected chairman by the other 26 county board members when the board re-organizes in December will serve as the county's top administrator at an annual salary of $61,700. That increases to $65,000 next fiscal year, which begins Dec. 1.

Historically, the chairman comes from the ranks of the party with the majority on the county board, and Tuesday's election swung the majority from the Democrats to the Republicans for the first time since the 1980s.

Currently, the Democrats have a one-person majority with 14 members to the Republicans 13, but when the new board takes over in early December, the Republicans will have 14 members, and the Democrats 13.

When all the votes that were cast on Tuesday were totaled Tuesday night, the Republicans had a two-member majority, but when the 3,700 early votes were tabulated, it changed the totals in District 7, where three seats were available and Republican incumbent Craig Golden finished fourth. The final totals in that race had Democrat incumbent John Dreher first with 1,399 votes, Democrat incumbent Mike Dodge second with 1,249, and Democratic challenger Larry Mills third with 1,245. Golden was fourth with 1,222 and Republican newcomer Neal Boyd was fifth with 1,141.

The power shift means the end of Democrat Jim McMahon's six-year tenure as county board chairman.

Longtime board member Gary Weinard, R-District 1, said the chances are very slim that McMahon would continue as chairman. If he were nominated, it would require at least one Republican to vote for him.

Weinard said if the county were to create a county manager's position, it would be well-suited to McMahon. He said there's merit in hiring a manager for the county rather than taking a "layman" off the street and putting that person in charge of a $46 million business.

Marron said the Republicans will have a very qualified candidate from their own ranks come forward to be chairman. Marron, a Fithian-area farmer, said he would be okay with that responsibility falling to him, but he would definitely defer to other Republican members of the board with more experience on the board, including Weinard and John Alexander, R-District 6. Though Republican party chairman, Marron was just appointed last year to the county board in District 2. He was elected to that seat Tuesday.

Weinard, a Hoopeston-area farmer and Grant Township Highway Commissioner, said it's not an office he really desires at this point in his life.

"But I also realize it's an important job, and if the experience I've got on the board over the years serving on various committees is beneficial to the county, I would have a difficult time walking away from it. But as far as seeking it or campaigning for it, I have no intention of doing that," he said. "I haven't said definitely 'no,' but I haven't said definitely 'yes.'"

Alexander, who is a Danville resident and executive director of the Danville Family YMCA, said the Republicans have some very qualified candidates, and the Republican members need to sit down and talk about who those candidates will be. 

Alexander added that there has been cooperation and mutual respect on the county board, and he hopes that will continue especially with newly-elected members coming on board.

Weinard said there has been a consensus among all the board members about the direction the county should go and McMahon has helped bring that to the board.

"I've been on the board when it was very partisan and divided, and now about everyone there is interested in doing what's best for the county, and I would hate to see that not continue," said Weinard, who added that the county board members as well as county officeholders and county board staff need to feel comfortable with whoever is the next board chairman.

Weinard said there are tough issues coming up, including the future of the nursing home, which voters just gave the county the authority to sell.

"I think all the county board members need to do some thinking and evaluating," Weinard said.

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