By Randy Pierce
Legislation highly critical of Chairman Kurt Prenzler was approved by the Madison County Board at a special meeting held on Wednesday, July 6, with close to 200 people in attendance.
Passed by a margin of 19 yes votes and 6 no, the ordinance that was approved reduced, while not stripping completely, the authority and powers of the chairman by designating them elsewhere.
The preamble portion of the ordinance, expressed in the form of “whereas” paragraphs structured to support, explain and justify the formal action resulting from it, was pointed sharply in the direction of Prenzler without specifically notating who had put the words together within it.
After opening with “the County Board has lost confidence in its Chairman to advance a fiscally responsible future for the County,” the ordinance continued by saying he has “exhibited chronically inept management, lack of communication or research on important issues relating to lowering property taxes, lack of attention to his job which decreases the quality of services paid for by taxpayers, and multiple disastrous personnel decisions which have cost the County millions of dollars in legal costs and settlements.”
Prenzler is also accused in the legislation of continuing to “have improper communications with multiple employees terminated by the County Board while these terminated employees are in continual active litigation against the County Board.”
In modifying the personnel policies for county board appointed officials and department heads of the county “to ensure County Government is best able to serve the people and taxpayers of Madison County in a fiscally responsible and professional manner,” the provisions of the ordinance which will be in place until December 1, 2024 when it is set to revert back to what was previously in place, unless there is further action to alter that date, delineate what will happen next.
If the legislation passed July 6 is followed, at the next meeting of the county board, scheduled for Wednesday, July 20, one of its members will be elected to serve as “chairperson pro tem” while another will be chosen as “vice chairperson pro tem” both to serve until after the next general election or if the board chooses to undo this.
The chairperson pro tem has been granted the authority to appoint standing and special committees, implement the decisions of the board plus appoint and direct the work of a county administrator, department heads and other officials with the board’s approval.
Punctuated by rounds of applause at various junctures, including following statements by five people in attendance who addressed the board during the public comment portion of the meeting, plus sporadic, isolated shouts while the discussion moved forward, the session lasting over an hour and 30 minutes while focusing on this one topic also included statements by several board members regarding the matter at hand.
Serving his second four-year term as county board chairman since being elected initially in 2016, Prenzler had announced, before the actual vote on the ordinance took place, four rulings designed the negate the meeting and the action that were all overridden by the majority of the board after State’s Attorney Tom Haine was asked to provide his thoughts on each of them.
In ruling the ordinance out of order, Prenzler stated he was doing so because of insufficient public notice about the meeting in that it was announced at noon the previous Friday when that was required four working days in advance – with Monday, July 4, being a holiday, there were only two-and-a-half days between the notice and the actual meeting.
Haine shot that idea down by explaining that state regulations for a “special meeting” like the one on July 6 specifies that only two days prior notice is necessary.
At one point during this part of the meeting, Prenzler said he felt Haine “was campaigning” when sharing his opinions on the chairman’s rulings.
Prenzler further cited a section of the county’s code of procedures stating new business items such as the ordinance in question should be referred to a committee of the board by the chairman as he or she “deems appropriate.”
In conjunction with this viewpoint, Prenzler said he wished to refer the matter to the board’s government relations committee but Haine responded that this ruling by the chairman was invalid because the verbiage quoted by Prenzler does not apply to a special meeting like this.
“The chairman has no powers to unilaterally remove an agenda item from a properly noticed special session,” Haine said.
Moving ahead, Prenzler ruled the legislation out of order because it violates the state’s regulations for counties which indicate a “pro tem” chairman is only to be used by counties with a commission form of government and not set up in a township format like Madison.
In addressing this ruling, Haine said there would be no need for the board to overrule it because it was not valid to begin with, Prenzler having no authority to make it and that the board is fully within its rights to take this action.
In a township form of county government like Madison, Haine continued, as opposed to what he called a county executive form, the board can decide on the allocation of powers at the administrative level as it was doing that evening. He cited the outcome of a court case involving Winnebago County, also set up with townships within it, in upstate Illinois as being applicable in this instance.
“The county board has the unfettered discretion to modify the duties of the chairman except to the extent that those duties are constitutionally enshrined or provided for by (state) statute.” Haine explained. “This ordinance does not disturb any statutorily granted powers. In fact, it specifically preserves them. All it does is at it relates to how the board manages its own business.”
In a fourth attempt to undo what was before the board, Prenzler said he would rule the ordinance out of order because it transfers the powers of the elected chairman to the county administrator, requiring the latter’s consent along with a change in that position’s duties, job description and compensation to be considered by the board’s personnel committee because of an increased workload.
The administrator’s agreement is not necessary, Haine said, because this action is allowed because the county board has the authority to make changes to how business is conducted internally in this township form of government.