A confused and somewhat contentious meeting opened the new Madison County Board, as board members voted to hold off a plan to replace seven department heads amid debate about whether the meeting or their actions were legal.
The County Board had a special meeting Monday evening to swear in its new board members and vote on a reorganization plan that involved firing seven department heads and replacing them with new employees. New County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler had provided a slate of nominations for a vote Monday.
But at the beginning of the meeting, Prenzler handed the gavel over to Steve Adler, an outgoing Republican County Board member, to conduct the meeting. Prenzler did not publicly speak for the rest of the meeting.
According to county ordinances, only the chairman or the chairman pro tem can conduct a meeting of the county board, according to State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons. Gibbons said upon hearing that Adler would be conducting the meeting just prior to opening the session, he informed both Prenzler and Adler that it would be in violation of the county ordinance.
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Adler was an 11-year member of the county board, but had not run for reelection this fall. The chairman pro tem under the previous administration was Jack Minner (D-Edwardsville), who was reelected, but his status as chairman pro tem expired with the old board, Gibbons said.
However, Gibbons said it is his role merely to advise, and county leaders make their decisions. Upon opening the session, Prenzler said he was handing the meeting over to Adler because of Adler’s experience.
Gibbons said he has since been asked by several board members to research whether any of the actions taken Monday were legal because of this issue.
The board was to vote on the slate of new department heads. Adler himself is one of the appointees, as Prenzler has nominated him as director of administrative services to replace current director Barry Davis. Among others: county administrator Joseph Parente was to be replaced by current chief deputy treasurer Doug Hulme; community development director Frank Miles was to be replaced by political consultant Kristen Poshard; and animal control director Dr. David Hall was to be replaced by former Republican Congressional candidate Dr. Michael Firsching, among others.
But several board members said they did not receive the amended agenda with the list of names, and proposed tabling the appointments, which was approved. Some members also questioned whether they could proceed with the agenda at all because not all members had received it.
Adler proposed that the board reconvene on Thursday for the appointments, but board members said they wanted more time to look into criminal history and qualifications of the nominees, as some of them would be working in sensitive departments with access to personal information. They requested resumes and job descriptions for each of the appointees.
At one point board members suggested going into closed session “so we can ask any questions we want.” That proposal never came to a vote, however. The Illinois Open Meetings Act specifies certain circumstances that allow for a closed session and certain topics that can be discussed without the observance of the public.
Board members eventually voted to postpone the appointments until the regular County Board meeting on Dec. 21.
The board was also to consider committee assignments and chairmanships, but that item was pulled from the agenda before the meeting; Prenzler said the slate had not been fully decided yet. Under former Chairman Alan Dunstan, most of the committees were chaired by Democrats, with at least two Republicans also in leadership positions.
In the November election, the balance of power on the board changed from an 18-10 Democratic majority to a 15-13 Republican majority for the first time since the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, at least as far as county leaders can remember. One independent also serves on the County Board.
Another special meeting has been set for 5 p.m. Thursday to approve committee assignments and chairmanships, to allow those committees to meet throughout the rest of the month. Some board members also requested a chance to see the assignments in advance before voting.
However, Adler requested that they approve Candance Gilstrap as interim treasurer due to legal requirements for that office. Prenzler had resigned as treasurer in order to take the chairman’s position. Gilstrap was approved and sworn in by County Clerk Debra Ming-Mendoza.
Prenzler was sworn in earlier in the day Monday, in a ceremony that had strong religious overtones. The key speaker was the Rev. Danny Holliday, pastor of the Victory Baptist Church, who spoke at length stating that public officials are endowed by their creator and not by the government.
“God our creator gives us our basic rights, and it is up to government to do the will of God,” he said.
Holliday said that “laws are founded on Biblical truth,” and that the presence of a higher power is recognized in founding documents. “The United States says abortion is a woman’s choice, the Bible says it is murder,” he said. “That’s not political, I’m just saying it. The ultimate public official is God.”
Prenzler’s remarks were brief, thanking his family, the taxpayers and God for “the opportunity to serve.”
The judge who swore in Prenzler was Associate Judge Luther Simmons. Prenzler and Simmons are both graduates of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and Simmons is currently assigned to the criminal docket in Madison County Circuit Court.
“He’s a few years older than me,” Prenzler said, recounting that when Simmons was a freshman at the school, President-Elect Donald Trump was a junior.