For more than three decades, a prominent Southern Illinois family has kept a closely guarded secret: One of their own was sexually abused by her stepfather when she was a girl.
Now 43, Kristen Poshard, daughter of five-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Glenn Poshard, finds herself in a political controversy in Madison County government that she links to molestation she suffered as a fifth-grader when she lived in Missouri with her mother and stepfather.
Her criminal record — the latest arrest coming in 2008 for reckless discharge of a firearm — is the result of past self-destructive behavior, Kristen Poshard said in a statement.
That behavior began as a way to cope with the abuse and shouldn’t threaten her recent appointment to a $92,000-a-year job as the county’s chief deputy and administrator of community development, according to Poshard and her father.
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Poshard’s record also shows she was arrested in 2001 in Jackson County and charged with drunken driving, resisting a police officer, possessing drug paraphernalia and smashing her car into a bar where the bartender refused to serve her alcohol and asked her to leave. The charges, all misdemeanors, were dismissed except for damage to property, for which Poshard received a conditional discharge.
At the time, Glenn Poshard publicly apologized for his daughter’s behavior.
“While I received unconditional love from my family and counseling to help me deal with the shame and depression I felt, I turned to self-destructive behaviors in high school to cope with the pain,” Kristen Poshard said in her statement.
Newly elected Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler, a Republican, appointed Kristen Poshard, a Democrat, as the director of community development, a job previously held by Frank Miles, a one-time political rival of Prenzler.
Poshard’s appointment created controversy
County Board member Mike Parkinson, a Democrat, and others objected to some of Prenzler’s appointments, including Kristen Poshard, because background checks weren’t done. Prenzler then pulled Poshard’s appointment and named her deputy director, which does not require County Board approval. Her annual salary is about $8,500 less than Miles, the former director.
While I received unconditional love from my family and counseling to help me deal with the shame and depression I felt, I turned to self-destructive behaviors in high school to cope with the pain.
Kristen Poshard, deputy community development director
“This is not about Kurt Prenzler. This is not about Kristen Poshard. It’s not about being a Democrat or Republican,” Parkinson said. “I think we should be doing things better.”
County Board members specifically requested a background check for Poshard and others, but Parkinson, who also works as a Granite City police lieutenant, said they still haven’t received it.
“How is she hired to be the head of a department without the authorization of the County Board? How is she paid a salary without the approval of the County Board? Why wasn’t that job advertised? I just want to know if the most qualified people were hired for those jobs. Prenzler campaigned on that,” Parkinson said.
Miles received a $100,526 annual salary when he headed the Community Development Department. He signed a separation agreement and received a lump sum payment of four months salary after Prenzler was elected.
Prenzler said he named Poshard to the position because he said he is impressed by her community service work record.
“Kristen Poshard was hired based on her skills and background,” Prenzler said in a written statement. Referring to her former duties with an Illinois regional development agency, Prenzler said, “Ms. Poshard served under 19 county boards and has experience in grant writing, administration, housing rehabilitation, historic preservation and community development.”
Kristen Poshard didn’t want to expose the family secret, but said she did so to explain the behavior that led to her arrest by Maryville Police in 2008. The criminal complaint stated Poshard was intoxicated when she fired a .357 magnum through a bathroom door at a boyfriend’s home. The bullet went through a dresser. The slug was later found in a mattress.
Records show the charges were dismissed on the condition that Poshard be treated at a mental health center, Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said. The case was filed before Gibbons took office and he had no role in the case. Poshard spent two weeks at the mental health center receiving treatment. Poshard said Friday that she was willing to receive mental health treatment no matter the outcome of the criminal case.
“I made some really poor decisions concerning my personal life for which I am deeply sorry and accept complete responsibility,” Poshard said. “One of those poor decisions culminated in me being admitted to a mental health facility for treatment of the depth of pain the child abuse I endured created.”
In Madison County, an order of protection brought by Poshard against her child’s father remains in effect. Poshard is now married to Edwardsville attorney Thomas Lech.
How is she hired to be the head of a department without the authorization of the County Board? How is she paid a salary without the approval of the County Board? Why wasn’t that job advertised? I just want to know if the most qualified people were hired for those jobs. Prenzler campaigned on that.
Madison County Board member Mike Parkinson
Kristen Poshard’s stepfather left Missouri shortly after she reported the abuse to a school nurse more than 30 years ago. Poshard said she didn’t know whether police investigated. Kristen Poshard’s stepfather is now deceased, the Poshards said.
In an interview with the BND, Glenn Poshard said he anticipated that his daughter might face difficulty from the County Board concerning her job unless she openly admitted the abuse and acknowledged that this had led to her self-destructive behavior.
“I told her, ‘You are going to have to put this in a public way if you are ever going to get past this,’” Glenn Poshard said.
“It took a lot of courage for her to turn her life around,” he said, “She was full of shame and full of guilt, things that young people of this age struggle with, with this kind of abuse.”
Glenn Poshard said things turned around for his daughter after her brief admission to the Choate Center in Anna.
“For the first time she got the kind of directed trauma counseling that finally took hold,” Glenn Poshard said.
In an interview last week at her county office in Edwardsville, Kristen Poshard talked about her early days while still in high school when she worked in volunteer programs to help the poor in Louisville, Kentucky, where she had been assigned by a Baptist church group in her hometown of Carterville.
“My service kept me in the dark alleys. We weren’t serving the low-hanging fruit,” she said. “I understand poverty. I understand suffering. ... I learned that this job is not sitting in an ivory tower. It’s humbly serving. And that’s what your leadership has to be based on.”