Thursday, April 14, 2011

Honey I Shrunk the County Board

As if their 50 minutes with the shrink was up, this committee convened with one purpose in mind and one purpose only: shrink the Lake County Board. As readers of this blog are acutely aware ...
The Incredible Shrinking County Board
the 2010 Census requires the Lake County Board to draw a new map for itself. What the 2010 Census does not require is for the Lake County Board to eliminate some of its own seats so that the reins of county government remain firmly held by the interests of a powerful & well-connected few. Nonetheless the County Board did not decline the opportunity -- and a hand-picked committee of board members was created, made up of five of the sharpest knives in the Republican drawer plus two of the sharpest crayons in the Democratic box.

As every operative knows, it's good to have a cover story before commencing a job, and this crew seemed to settle on two. As reported by the Daily Herald, committee vice-chair Aaron Lawlor framed their plan as a cost-cutting measure:
Cutting two commissioners from the roll also will save the county money, Lawlor argued. The savings could be as much as $80,000 per person once salary, health benefits, mileage reimbursements and other job-related costs are totaled
Lake Co. Board could shrink this year
Back in the day, your LakeCountyEye fondly remembers, the rallying cry on everyone's lips was:
No Taxation Without Representation!
Nowadays the slogan seems to be: "No representation, if that means tacking a couple grand more on the budget!" Of course $80,000 could also be saved by cutting commissioner salaries -- but that was a motion that never made it to the table.

As every operative knows, it's good to have a plausible cover story before commencing a job. So the committee also waved about an obscure Illinois Statute capping board districts at 18 members, for counties with more than 800,000 people. Currently standing at 709,000 in population, Lake County would not be bound by the statute -- but the committee seemed to regard this more like a rounding error to be corrected in the 2020 Census:
Lawlor's plan had several vocal supporters, including board veteran Stevenson Mountsier. "We need to start planning now (for the expected mandatory reduction in 2022) and take the first step," said Mountsier, a Lake Barrington Republican.
Lake Co. Board could shrink this year
The county population only increased by some 60,000 during the 2000-2010 period, which saw Lake County's biggest housing boom since the post WWII 1950s. Given the county is currently mired in its biggest housing bust since the Great Depression, operatives are no doubt wondering where are these additional 90,000 people coming from? Is Disney building a park in one of the Forest Preserves?

Let's suppose they do, and the county population doubles. The Lake County Board still lobbies Springfield for legislation it wants, on a regular basis. There is one law on the books requiring counties with more than 800,000 people to have a separate and independent Forest Preserve Board. Informed sources tell your LakeCountyEye that lobbying efforts made sure there was legislation prepared in Springfield to repeal that law, in case Lake County exceeded 800,000. Lake County Board members do double duty as paid County Forest Preserve Commissioners and do not want give up their control over the county forest preserves.

Why haven't they put any energy into repealing the law capping board members at 18, as well? The fact that Lawlor, Mountsier and the rest of the committee were eager to accept the 18 member requirement as a fait accompli suggests one thing to your LakeCountyEye: the entire meeting was more tightly scripted than Kabuki Theater. Your LakeCountyEye wants to know why the State's Attorney isn't investigating the committee for violating the Open Meetings Act.

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