Winnebago County is taxing more than 14,000 people who have had no representation on the County Board since March 12, the night David Boomer quit his elected District 4 seat on the board.
Boomer is a Republican, which means the District 4 seat he left must be filled by a Republican who lives in the district. That person will represent District 4 until a new board is seated after the November election.
The County Board chairman must nominate an eligible Republican and a majority of the board must approve that appointment, according to state law.
The process seems straightforward enough, but it hasn’t been. Three individuals responded to Chairman Frank Haney’s invitation to apply for the County Board job: Mark Olson, Scott Anderson and Michael Vaughan.
Olson dropped out. Anderson and Vaughan participated in interviews with Haney and board member Keith McDonald, the County Board Republican caucus chairman, a leadership post previously held by Boomer.
McDonald said that a majority of Republicans on the County Board won’t support Anderson or Vaughan. Anderson last year joined Haney and dozens of other Winnebago County voters in a lawsuit against the County Board. The suit alleges that the board violated the constitutional rights of county voters by changing the chairman’s job midterm through more than a dozen board-approved ordinances.
Republicans on the County Board simply won't support someone who is suing them, McDonald said. Vaughan doesn't excite the board's GOP members, either, because there are questions about his voting record. Vaughan acknowledged during his interview with Haney and McDonald that, in years past, he often didn't vote because work and family commitments got in the way.
When a County Board vacancy occurs in the middle of a term, state law says it's supposed be filled within 60 days. But the law does not address what happens if no appointment is made within that window.
The chairman and the board face no consequences if they fail to appoint someone to represent District 4. The only ones who stand to lose are those who live there.
Until the position is filled, District 4 residents will be voiceless when the board decides how to spend their tax dollars on public health and safety, road projects, economic development and all the other county services.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Winnebago County Republican Central Committee are asking Haney to consider nominating someone else to represent District 4: Mike Zintak. The GOP central committee is a party organ comprising precinct committee members who promote the party at the grassroots level.
Former County Board member Eli Nicolosi is the new chairman of the Republican Central Committee and former board member John Guevara is vice chairman.
Nicolosi told Haney in an April 20 email that the six GOP precinct committeemen who live in District 4 support Zintak. Another District 4 candidate has emerged, too: Brad Lindmark, the brother of the late Rockford deputy police chief Greg Lindmark.
As fate would have it, Boomer is among the precinct committeemen supporting Zintak. On Saturday, Boomer told me — in the half-joking way that only Boomer can say things — that he initially considered himself for the job he quit not two months ago.
"If my wife wouldn't divorce me, I was going to put my name back in there," he said.
It's now up to McDonald to help Republicans on the County Board decide whether they’ll support Zintak or Lindmark. McDonald said he expects that he and Haney will interview the two candidates within the next week. He’ll then schedule a May 4 caucus meeting, he said, so that Republicans on the County Board can discuss the two candidates and make a decision.
Haney said he finds it bizarre that the County Board has cast aside the "transparent nominating process" that he established and will instead put the fate of District 4 in the hands of an arcane precinct committee process that few people understand.
"A precinct committeeman tells everyone what to do? I don't get that," Haney said. "And the epic part of all of this is that it's the guy who quit who is telling everybody what to do, along with two former board members who are now running the Central Committee."
Republicans hold 12 of the 20 seats on the County Board. Achieving consensus among them — on any issue — isn't always possible, McDonald said, but he's determined to try. In his new role, McDonald said he will encourage the board to do more listening and thinking and less talking.
"I have two younger sisters and if we were at odds when we were growing up, mom and dad would make us sit on the couch and hold hands until we got over it," McDonald said. "Maybe that's what we have to do as a County Board — sit at the table and hold hands until we come together and figure things out.
"Let's vote on ideas and not on people," he said. "Don't vote something up or down because of who said it. Think about it intellectually and whether it's the right thing to do. Maybe we won't always agree 100%, but it doesn't have to be so personal."
Isaac Guerrero: firstname.lastname@example.org; @isaac_rrs