DANVILLE — Illinois Supreme Court Justice Rita Garman will soon be the next chief justice and one of five local officials who have ascended to statewide leadership roles in their respective fields.
Last week, the Illinois Supreme Court announced that Garman will be installed next month as the next chief justice. The installation ceremony will be held at the Vermilion County Courthouse where Garman's judicial career began.
Four other officials in statewide leadership roles call Vermilion County home:
— Sheriff Pat Hartshorn is currently the president of the Illinois Sheriff's Association.
— Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer is president of the Illinois Municipal League's board of directors.
— Vermilion County Board member Jim McMahon is the president of the Illinois Association of County Board Members,.
— And retired Danville schools Superintendent David Fields is going on his 10th year as a member of the Illinois state school board.
"I think it speaks well for our city and our county," said Fields, who was appointed to the board on Sept. 15, 2004. His current term continues until January 2015.
"To have the number of individuals represented on various state boards and initiatives, I think, in our area, we can be quite proud of that and should be. And I think Justice Garman has done an outstanding job in terms of her ascent to the leadership of our judicial system in Illinois," he said.
In February, Garman traveled to Springfield to preside over the swearing-in of Hartshorn as president of the sheriff's association, a not-for-profit organization that represents the interests of sheriffs across the state and lobbies for law enforcement on various issues at the state capitol. His role with the association is in addition to his duties as sheriff, which is the same for Eisenhauer's role with the municipal league and McMahon's role with the county board association.
Hartshorn said three major issues the sheriff's association is dealing with during his one-year term include support of the concealed-carry issue in Illinois and involvement in the implementation of that new law as well as a new law Jan. 1 that switches 17-year-olds from adult status in the criminal justice system to juveniles. He said the association is also involved in discussions about how advances in technology, like cellphones and global positioning systems, affect people's rights to be free of illegal searches and seizures.
Two other local officials' statewide leadership roles are winding down as Eisenhauer's one-year term with the Illinois Municipal League comes to a close next month, and McMahon's tenure as president of the county board association ends in November.
The municipal league represents more than 1,200 municipalities across Illinois, lobbying at both the state and federal levels on issues affecting municipalities. Eisenhauer said having several Vermilion County officials involved at the state level says a lot about the caliber of leaders locally but also that the county has people willing to devote the time and energy necessary.
"It's been a tremendous experience for me personally and professionally," he said. "But I would also like to think that the city has benefited, and will in the future, from my having served in this position. The knowledge I've been able to gain on what other cities do and how allows me to bring stronger ideas back to this community."
Like the municipal league, the county board association brings together officials from all 102 counties in the state and lobbies at the state level on issues that affect county governments. McMahon said he's not surprised that Fields, Garman, Eisenhauer and Hartshorn are in statewide positions at the same time, because each of them is very knowledgeable in their areas.
Fields said the state board's major issue right now is adequate funding for education, especially finding a formula that works for both wealthier school districts and more rural districts that rely more heavily on state funding. He said being on the state board of education has been very rewarding and eye-opening as he has in the last 10 years met so many dedicated school board members, teacher and stakeholders trying to do the very best they can with the resources they have.
"That's really the challenge right now is finding a formula that eliminates the inequities we see," he said.