Tom Kacich: New county board smaller, less experienced
A little more local history will be made Monday night when a slimmed-down Champaign County Board is sworn in.
Thanks to the county's voters who approved a cutback in a ballot initiative two years ago, the new county board will have 22 members, five fewer than the 27 it has operated with for 40 years. And that 27-member board was a lot trimmer than the previous county board of supervisors that had 50 or more members. Eventually perhaps the county board may be the size of the one — six members — in Piatt County.
But that probably wouldn't be a good idea right now. The new county board needs all the help it can get as it starts with three strikes against it.
One, the smaller size means that there's more work for individual board members. Those members who have been comfortable not reading the board's agendas until the time of the meetings, or not showing up for meetings or letting others do the heavy lifting, won't be able to hide as easily. Second, many of the best and most experienced board members are among the nine who left the board after last week's meeting, including two former board chairmen and three board members who had a combined 56 years of experience. Third, although recent boards have accomplished a lot (with the help of County Administrator Deb Busey), two major ongoing issues were left for the new board: the future of the financially fragile county nursing home and what to do about the crumbling downtown county jail.
The uncertainty and anxiety ahead is no secret, either to the retiring or continuing members.
"I've got real concerns and I know you do too, about what's next," retiring Urbana Democrat Brendan McGinty told members of the Republican caucus.
"This is the end of a rather unique era in county government," said Ralph Langenheim, another Urbana Democrat, who will continue on the board. "We're losing most of the people who were responsible for it."
John Jay, the Mahomet Republican who heads the GOP caucus on the board, said it was a "bittersweet time" for him because of all the talent leaving the board.
"We are in the process of losing a lot of our expertise," he said.
Of the 22 board members being sworn in tomorrow night, four are new and six others have been on the board two years or less. Even the two announced candidate for county board chairman — Democrat Michael Richards and Republican John Schroeder — have been on the board for less than five years.
The most common piece of advice from the retiring board members, Republican and Democrat, is that the board members have to work together.
"You've got to reach across once in a while to make things happen, and we made it happen," said retiring Republican Steve Moser, a former county board chairman and a 20-year veteran of the board. His proudest achievement, he said, was working with Democrats and Republicans to pass a tax increase referendum to build a new county courthouse and youth detention center.
"It was the greatest get-together of people who didn't see eye-to-eye on many things," Moser said last Tuesday, adding that he wanted to publicly thank Urbana Democrat Tom Betz, also retiring from the board, for the help he gave him during his time as board chairman.
Soon enough we'll learn if the new county board can work together as well as the old one. Long-term decisions on both the nursing home and the downtown jail likely will be made in 2013.
Land Conservation Foundation
The Land Conservation Foundation, which is attempting to purchase 108 acres along the Sangamon River between Mahomet and Monticello, will have a reception and a fundraiser from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday at the Laborer's Local 703 Hall, 108 E. Anthony Drive. U. Admission is free but donations will be accepted.
The event is co-sponsored by retiring U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, and Joe Lamb of Champaign Asphalt Co.
The foundation also will be commemorating its receipt of a $455,000 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation that will be used to help purchase more land along the Sangamon.
There's probably nothing more "inside baseball" politically than the election of a new leader for a legislative caucus, especially among the tiny group of Republicans (19) in the 59-member Illinois Senate. But because of the way Senate districts are drawn, a large number of local legislators were a part of last week's decision to again make Sen. Christine Radogno of Lemont the leader of the GOP caucus.
Five area Republicans — Chapin Rose, Jason Barickman, Dale Righter, Bill Brady and Kyle McCarter — had roles in the decision. Most prominent among them was McCarter, who challenged Radogno and lost, and not particularly gracefully.
Hours after the vote he tweeted: "Stepped up to lead & stood by my principles but not enough Rep senators had the courage to break from the Radogno failing status quo." It was a difficult choice for the GOP senators: choosing between a leader who has presided over unprecedented electoral losses, and dumping a moderate female for a more conservative white male when the party is trying to broaden its base.
Radogno won mostly because her Senate leadership team, including Righter and Brady, stuck with her. That alone gave her seven of the 10 votes she needed to win.
The blog site Capitol Fax reported that among McCarter's supporters was Rose, whose district abuts McCarter's. Rose neither confirmed nor denied the report but he added, "I look forward to supporting Leader Radogno. It's important that we come together. There's a lot of work to do between now and 2014."
No doubt about that.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.