Metro-East News

Madison County board overturns Prenzler firing

Another Madison County official was to be replaced by Chairman Kurt Prenzler, but the county board rebelled and kept him Wednesday.

Joseph Dauderman has been the Madison County chief county assessment officer since 2013. Prenzler planned to replace Dauderman with a new appointee, who was not named.

Thus, Prenzler offered a resolution to the county board at its regular meeting Wednesday that reappointed Dauderman as acting assessment officer for 60 days retroactive to the last board meeting. His term would have expired shortly before the July meeting, at which point Prenzler would have named a new person — or Dauderman again — retroactive to the expiration date.

However, board member Kristen Novacich, D-Granite City, made a motion to amend Dauderman’s reappointment from 60 days to four years.

Prenzler objected, stating that he did not believe the amendment was appropriate. “It’s my appointment to make,” he said. He initially said he would not allow the board to consider it.

However, county administrator Doug Hulme read the statute, which says that the appointment must be approved by the county board. Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said it was up to the county board whether or not to amend a resolution, and should be voted up or down before the resolution was considered.

Board members of both parties expressed dismay at the ongoing process of firing existing employees and replacing them with new ones.

“People keep losing jobs, and getting put where Chairman Prenzler wants them,” Novacich said. “It’s really a shame to mess with people’s lives and livelihood just because you can. I’m trying to be respectful of your chairmanship, but you keep asking people to resign so you can put someone else in that position.”

In this case, Novacich said, the unnamed new appointee was unable to take the job because the requirements are established by statute. “If a qualified person had been appointed in the first place, we wouldn’t be dealing with this,” she said.

Later, Prenzler said he had not officially appointed anyone to the job.

Prenzler took office in December, at which time he fired seven department heads and replaced most of them with new appointees. Some late-term appointments made by his predecessor, Alan Dunstan, were rescinded to be replaced with new people. Since then, he has also replaced two more department heads and multiple people on various boards and commissions, often over the protests of the board members representing those areas.

In April, Prenzler proposed replacing Bill Ellis on the State Park Fire Protection District board, which was strongly opposed by the representatives of State Park and the fire chief and firefighters of the department. The board initially voted Prenzler’s suggestion down, but the next month Prenzler proposed another person to replace Ellis, which was approved even though the firefighters returned again to protest.

Board member Michael Walters, R-Godfrey, said he believes a new administration has every right to replace people. “It’s time to move forward with Kurt’s agenda,” he said. “He is the chairman.”

But board member Ann Gorman, D-Edwardsville, disagreed. “Mr. Prenzler has the authority, but he does not have the ability to do it arbitrarily,” she said.

Several board members on both sides said Dauderman has done a good job as assessment officer, and there is no reason to replace him.

“It should not be about Republican or Democrat, it should be about who is doing a good job,” said board member Judy Kuhn, R-Trenton. “People are losing their jobs.”

Prenzler said he did not believe the amendment was appropriate and would ask the state attorney general to give an opinion, but allowed the vote. The amendment passed 16-10 with two people absent and former board member Helen Hawkins’ seat remaining vacant. The appointment itself passed 20-6, which places Dauderman back in his position for four years.

In addition, Prenzler proposed to replace Highland Police Chief Terry Bell on the county’s 911 board with former St. Jacob Fire Chief Scott Prange. While board members said Prange was qualified, several — including Republicans — said Bell is an excellent public servant and did not believe it was appropriate to remove him.

Prenzler said he believed law enforcement officials were frustrated at Madison County’s 911 consolidation progress, and by appointing new people to the board, he could help speed the process along.

However, board member Nick Petrillo, D-Granite City, pointed out that the 911 board approved a consolidation plan last week. It was developed by a subcommittee of law enforcement leaders and 911 operators to reduce Madison County’s 911 centers from 16 to 8 under the statute, and it would be going to the 911 committee for submission to the state next month.

“New people are not going to make a difference in the next 30 days,” he said.

Board member Phil Chapman, R-Highland, pointed out that at the meeting last week, 911 board chairman Terry McFarland advocated ignoring the subcommittee’s recommendations in favor of consolidating to one county center, which Sheriff John Lakin and many other law enforcement officials strongly opposed as an additional layer to emergency response and additional cost to the county, since 911 responses would still have to be dispatched through the individual departments.

“When you have a chairman over the whole shooting match who suddenly decides, with a month to go, ‘Let’s have one call center to handle the whole county,’ you wonder if it’s really Terry Bell’s fault, or the chairman’s,” Chapman said.

Kuhn said she and Bell had personally met with Prenzler on the issue and Prenzler had said he would reconsider. “Taking Chief Bell off the 911 board is taking a Highland representative off the board,’ she said. “This is definitely not a negative vote on Scott Prange; he is a good person.” However, she said she believes the board needs representation from the eastern side of the county.

However, the board narrowly approved Prange’s appointment in a 14-12 vote, effectively removing Bell, who must still brief the 911 committee soon on the consolidation plan.

Also approved: Wood River Mayor Cheryl Maguire was approved to replace longtime Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer on the Southwestern Illinois Law Enforcement Commission in a 24-2 vote, over the protests of other board members who praised Hagnauer’s firefighting background and years of service.

Prenzler said that Hagnauer had resigned from the board, but board member Michael Parkinson, D-Granite City, said he believed Hagnauer was pressured to resign. Maguire, a retired teacher, defeated three challengers in November to become the first female mayor in Wood River’s history.

Other action

The board approved a measure to phase out health insurance for part-time employees working 20 hours or more. The resolution stated that the Affordable Care Act’s health benefits marketplace would provide those employees with access to health insurance, but several board members argued that the ACA is currently being considered for repeal and/or replacement in Washington. Nevertheless, the measure was approved with only two no votes.

The decision only affects employees who are hired after Aug. 1. It also affects county board members, most of whom have declined the insurance, according to county officials. Current part-time non-union and grant-funded employees who work fewer than 30 hours a week who have declined health coverage will not be allowed to elect it going forward. Existing employees will be grandfathered in.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald