Kendall County Board member Suzanne Petrella’s seat , but she continues to earn the paycheck and health benefits associated with it, run committee meetings and cast votes.
And County Board Chairman John Purcell plans to reappoint her to the position next month, despite others——expressing an interest in the seat. The county board must affirm that appointment.
Some non-incumbent county board candidates have marked the situation as an example of political insiders protecting their own. But Purcell said he is honoring the voters who placed Petrella in the District 1 seat, while state statute mandated that she retain the powers and privileges of her seat until a replacement was appointed.
“As I went through it, she was the one who made the most sense,” Purcell said, adding he casually discussed the situation with multiple people.
"An honest mistake"
Petrella’s seat was declared vacant Dec. 20 after county leaders learned she listed an address outside District 1 on her nominating petitions seeking re-election as a Republican. Petrella said she stayed at the address temporarily before moving to a home in District 1.
All ten of the county board seats are up for election in November: five in District 1 and five in District 2. Eight Republicans are seeking their party's nomination in each district in the March primary.
The address listed on Petrella's candidate petition presently is in District 2, but will be in District 1 when the next board term begins. Petrella sat on the committee that oversaw the redistricting process and voted for the change in district boundaries that affected her temporary address.
Amy Cesich, a Democrat running for a District 1 County Board seat, said she was concerned about the “lack of transparency and communication.”
“Questions have been raised as to the legitimacy of Petrella’s vote in the redistricting decision with this residency question, and this issue may not simply be about her ‘location,’” Cesich said. “The County Board, and its leadership, need to present the facts to the public, go through a decision-making process that considers those facts and take the appropriate action. I believe it should be the role of the board to gather the information, get clear legal advice and proceed in the best interests of the residents of Kendall County.”
Purcell, a Republican seeking re-election in District 1, described the address discrepancy as “an honest mistake,” and said he asked State’s Attorney Eric Weis to forward him the state statute detailing that Petrella would retain the duties until an appointment was made.
“That’s the way the statute is written,” Purcell said. “Until a replacement is appointed, whether they moved across the street or to Europe, they can still vote.”
According to Weis, the state statute that applies to this situation can be found in 10 ILCS 5/25-2. Specifically: "No elective office, except as herein otherwise provided, shall become vacant until the successor of the incumbent of such office has been appointed or elected, as the case may be, and qualified."
"An unfair advantage"
But Todd Milliron, a Republican seeking a District 1 seat, said Petrella should be considered a regular citizen if her position is “vacant,” not collecting county health insurance benefits, meeting pay and mileage reimbursements.
“Why are the Kendall County taxpayers still paying Ms. Petrella these scarce funds when she no longer holds the elected position?” Milliron said. “It’s like we citizens are still required to pay the landlord, long after their uninhabitable building had to be forcibly evacuated for a major building code violation.”
Another Republican seeking a District 1 seat, Jeff Spang, said re-appointing Petrella gave her an unfair advantage in the upcoming primary election.
“An incumbent loses their position through a vacation, and they are now a candidate,” Spang said. “And you reappoint them, and that’s an unfair advantage. But that’s the way it is in Kendall County.”
Gilmour, a Republican, said Purcell should consider other people for the appointment out of fairness. She asked him to appoint her to Petrella’s seat the day after the county board voted to declare it vacant.
“I am a qualified candidate, and am well-prepared to step into this position,” Gilmour said. “For the past several years, I have regularly attended county meetings and am up to speed with county issues. As a life-long Kendall County resident, I know the county well and have devoted my entire adult life to public service.”
For his part, District 2 County Board member Jeff Wehrli, who is seeking re-election, said he thought Petrella deserved the opportunity to finish her term.
“Right nor wrong, good or bad, she was elected by the voters of Kendall County in District 1, and I don't feel I have the right to change that,” Wehrli said.
"Just another game"
Meanwhile, Michael Becker, who is seeking a Republican nomination in District 2, encouraged Purcell to consider appointing someone else. He also pointed to a similar situation that did not require County Board intervention.
“In 1974, another board member, James C. Mann, moved from District 2 to District 1,” Becker said. “Upon doing so, he announced that he had moved and promptly resigned without forcing the board to declare his seat vacant. Two years later he ran in District 1 and was elected.”
But for Evelyn Maxine Givens, a Democrat running in District 2, the situation reflects on the entire board.
“In my honest opinion, this is just another game of the ‘good old boys and girls club,’ and many residents are tired of it,” Givens said. “The vote to declare Petrella's seat vacant was just a facade for the sake of the residents. The bottom line is that they have no plans on filling that seat with another candidate, which is a slap in the face to the people of Kendall County.”
The next County Board meeting starts at 6 p.m. Feb. 7.