County combines campus precincts for spring votes; Democrats still in conflict
URBANA -- Nine polling places near the University of Illinois campus will be consolidated into one for municipal elections on Feb. 26 and April 3, under a proposal given preliminary approval Tuesday by the Champaign County Board.
Also Tuesday, three Democrats who had been named vice chairmen and assistant deputy chairs of board committees by new board chair Alan Kurtz, turned down their appointments.
A statement to Kurtz signed by Champaign Democrats Lloyd Carter, Josh Hartke and Rachel Schwartz, said they "have no wish to feed the misperception that you are governing as a Democrat and not as head of a Republican-led county board. We worry that you cut a deal with the Republican caucus in order to fulfill your own ambitions without being open about it."
Last week Kurtz upended fellow Democrat Michael Richards, who had been the choice of the Democratic caucus, by working with all 10 board Republicans and two other Democrats, to win the board chairmanship.
In their statement Carter, Hartke and Schwartz accused Kurtz of maneuvering "behind the scenes, while lying to us about what leadership role you desired within the board. You enticed other caucus members to do the same, and to misrepresent themselves in the same way when asked where their support lay. We feel that these actions not only betray us as fellow caucus members, but the voting public of Champaign County at large who elected Democrats to govern as a majority. Our roles as vice chairmen or liaisons in this administration would only serve to legitimize your deceptive power grab."
Three other board members appointed as committee vice chairmen are Republicans -- Aaron Esry at environment and land use, Jeff Kibler at policy and Diane Michaels at finance.
Kurtz, who said he was surprised by the announcement, said he would defer filling the other committee vice chairs until the Dec. 20 meeting.
"I can only say that it's a sad day when representatives of a district would put their personal agendas before their constitiuents' concerns," he said. "Fore me I can only say that we move forward. I legitimately won with a majority of this board, with both Republicans and Democrats. We need to put this behind us."
The polling place consolidation plan, presented by County Clerk Gordy Hulten, would save the county an estimated $8,000 to $10,000 by merging nine polling places in Champaign and Urbana with a single voting station at the Illini Union. The idea already has been endorsed by the UI Student Senate.
The precincts, generally populated with students, frequently have low voter turnouts for municipal elections.
"I don't anticipate more than 300 voters for either of those elections" from the nine precincts, Hulten said.
The Illini Union already has been used by students for early voting, he said, and it would be more convenient to publicize a single, centralized polling place for UI students living in the area between Lincoln Avenue on the east and the Canadian National Railroad tracks on the west.
The nine precincts covered include City of Champaign 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 and Cunningham 2, 3, 4 and 5.
After concerns were raised by board members about elderly voters living at Skelton Place, the polling place for City of Champagn 7, Hulten promised to work with managers at the public housing complex to encourage residents to vote early by mail or to make some other arrangment to ease their voting at the Illini Union.
The full board is scheduled to give final approval to the proposal at its Dec. 20 meeting.
The board, meeting as a committee of the whole, also forwarded without recommendation an invitation to spend approximately $14,000 to join a consortium of governments and groups that plans to petition the U.S. EPA to designate the Mahomet Aquifer as a sole source aquifer. The designation would require review of any federally funded projects over the aquifer to ensure that they do not pose a contamination threat.
The board also gave tentative approval to several appointments and reappointments, including Deborah Townsend and Julian Rappaport to the county mental health board, and Don Uchtmann to the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District board.
Urbana Democrat James Quisenberry said the board has scheduled a Jan. 29 study session regarding the county's nursing home, including its future financing, nursing home rates and related topics.
Only one of the board's 22 members, Champaign Democrat Lorraine Cowart, was absent.
Before the meeting the board's Democats met in caucus and elected Richards as caucus chair and Pattsi Petrie as vice chair.