Fired Vermilion finance director's appeal rejected

Fired Vermilion finance director's appeal rejected

DANVILLE — The abrupt firing of Vermilion County's top finance officer three years ago did not violate Nicole Bogart's First Amendment rights, according to a federal appeals court.

The recent decision by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is likely the end of Bogart's quest to get her job back as the county's financial resources director.

The law firm representing Bogart, O'Connor O'Connor in Elmhurst, said its client has no plans to seek an appeals court rehearing or a review before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bogart was financial resources director for seven years under two county board chairmen prior to her firing by Republican Mike Marron (now state representative in the 104th District) in December 2014, about a month after Marron was elected board chairman.

Bogart, a Democrat who had just lost a run for county recorder prior to her firing by Marron, presented evidence in her case that the previous Republican board chairman, Gary Weinard, endured political pressure from members of the local Republican Party to fire her as his chief financial officer.

But Bogart's job, the appellate court explained in its Nov. 26 decision, was a policy-making position, "effectively a cabinet-level" post in Vermilion County, requiring trust and confidence, and therefore, a position exempt from the ban on political patronage dismissals.

Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Colin Stirling Bruce of the Central District of Illinois reached that conclusion in his decision — which Bogart appealed. Granting summary judgment in favor of Marron and the county, Bruce concluded that the substantial fiscal and budgetary responsibilities of Bogart's position fit an exemption defined in two other cases, known as the Elrod-Branti exception.

In those cases, the U.S. Supreme Court "held that, while public employers cannot condition employment on an individual's political affiliation, an employee's First Amendment right of political association leaves room for employers to dismiss employees in positions where political loyalty is a valid job qualification."

Both Bruce and the appellate judges agreed that Bogart's job responsibilities — as described by herself and others and defined in written job descriptions — fit the exception.

The focus, the appellate court said, is whether the job entails substantial policymaking responsibility, meaningful discretion in implementing policy goals of elected officials or a need for confidentiality.

"Bogart held a senior position requiring the trust and confidence of the elected Board members, including the County Chairman, and entailing substantial policymaking authority," the appellate judges said, adding that "budgeting decisions often are to municipal government what matters of foreign policy are at the national level."

Municipal leaders need, the court continued, skilled and trusted confidants to shape and execute their fiscal policies.

"Bogart's position as Financial Resources Director was such a position," the court stated in affirming Bruce's decision earlier this year.