Metro-East News

Madison County Board to address legality of first organizational meeting

A proposal to resolve the controversy surrounding the Madison County Board’s reorganizational meeting in December will come before the board for a vote Wednesday, as well as votes on replacing two more department heads.

County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler has proposed a resolution drafted by attorney Don Weber that would declare the meeting of Dec. 5 legal by consent of the board. It was sent to the government relations committee last week and approved for consideration by the full board.

The meeting of Dec 5 was a reorganizational meeting, at which the new and re-elected County Board members were sworn in, an interim treasurer was named to replace Prenzler upon his election as board chairman, and other business was conducted. Prenzler had been sworn in earlier in the day as chairman, and this was his first full board meeting.

But at the very beginning, Prenzler said he was handing the gavel over to Steve Adler, a former board member, because of Adler’s experience. Prenzler did not speak publicly for the rest of the meeting, and Adler called each question and vote.

Adler had stepped down from the board and at that time held no elected or appointed office. The County Board ordinances state that only the County Board chairman, chairman pro tem or a temporary chairman appointed by the board can preside over a meeting.

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons had issued a written opinion to the County Board members that he believes the meeting was illegal, and since they were sworn in at that meeting, it could make subsequent actions by the board susceptible to litigation.

Prenzler has strongly disagreed with that opinion, stating that he was presiding over the meeting even if Adler was the one speaking. The resolution is intended to put the issue to rest, Prenzler said, but does not concede that the meeting was illegal.

“It’s an issue I’m bored with, frankly,” Prenzler said. “I did preside over that meeting. … It’s just silly.”

Prenzler said that in retrospect, having Adler preside over the meeting was “a bad idea” and he would not have done it that way if he had it to do over again.

At the last two meetings, County Board member Art Asadorian (D-Granite City) has tried to call for a special meeting to have the board sworn in again, retroactive to Dec. 5.

“We need to fix this. It’s no big deal, why not just do it? It’s a five-minute meeting,” Asadorian said.

Each time Prenzler has gaveled Asadorian out of order. After the January meeting, Asadorian said he intended to collect enough board members’ signatures to call the meeting without Prenzler’s consent. Ten signatures are needed, and he said he had more than enough willing to do so - including Republicans who Asadorian said want the issue resolved.

However, Asadorian later said he was willing to wait and see what the attorneys think of Prenzler’s new resolution before proceeding with that plan. “If in the state’s attorney’s opinion it does rectify it, then we can move on,” he said.

Asadorian said his main concern is that eventually the board will make a decision such as denying a zoning variance, and that person will then sue the board on the basis that they were not legal, costing taxpayer money in litigation.

Weber said he believes the issue is a “tempest in a teapot” created by Gibbons.

“(Prenzler) has important things to do. I believe that if they do nothing, they’re fine,” Weber said. “(Gibbons) just wants the political circus to go on and on.”

Weber said his interpretation of the ordinance is that the board was duly empowered on day one, whether or not they were formally sworn in. He also believes the board cannot be sworn in again, because it was supposed to happen on Dec. 5. Instead he referred to the proposed resolution as a compromise.

“This is the theater of the absurd, and only for political purposes,” Weber said. “With one step we say we didn’t do anything wrong, but just in case, we’re approving everything we’ve done before.”

Weber said he does not formally work for the county. He said he is a “friend to the board” and has donated his services to work on the resolution.

In other action, the board is expected to vote on dozens of appointments to boards, committees and county leadership positions. When Prenzler took office, seven department heads were fired and offered severance packages. Of those, three replacements have been approved by vote of the County Board: county administrator Doug Hulme, animal control director Mike Firsching and information services director Rob Dorman.

Facilities management director Kurt Geschwend was removed as director but remains a county employee. Christopher Doucleff was originally proposed to replace him, but his name was later withdrawn. The board will vote Wednesday on Rob Schmidt as the permanent director.

Remaining open are three more positions:

▪  Director of community development. Prenzler had nominated Kristen Poshard, then withdrew the nomination and Poshard has since been hired as chief deputy of community development at $92,000 a year. Prenzler said he intends to “formally appoint” Poshard in the near future, and introduced her as “heading up community development” at a recent economic conference. “I think Kristen’s doing an outstanding job,” Prenzler said.

▪  Director of administrative services. Prenzler had nominated Adler, and later withdrew the nomination. Adler has since been hired as deputy county administrator at $44.80 per hour, or an estimated $93,184 annually, based on a 40-hour work week.

▪  Director of employment and training also remains open.

In addition:

▪  Todd Fulton has been nominated as emergency management director. Prenzler said current director Larry Ringering had been offered a severance package. Ringering has been director of Madison County EMA for nearly 10 years. He could not be reached for comment.

▪  Other appointments include the Madison County Transit board, SWIDA, the Metro Board of Directors, Great Rivers Scenic Byway Council, and the New Douglas and Salem Cemetery Association Boards.

The board meets at 5 p.m. in the County Board chambers in the County Administration Building in Edwardsville.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald