by Randy Pierce
MADISON COUNTY — Whether or not the Madison County Board Executive Committee, chaired by Chris Guy of Maryville, takes any further action this month on an “ethics” violation admitted to and apologized for by Kurt Prenzler is yet to be determined.
That committee, other board members, Prenzler and State’s Attorney Tom Haine discussed the matter at length at a meeting in January with Guy concluding that it appears there is still some interest in talking about it some more along with the possibility of deciding what to do about it.
The county board executive committee is scheduled to meet again at 4 p.m. on Wednesday evening, Feb. 21, an hour prior to the start of the regular monthly meeting of the full board.
Prenzler, who is chairman of the county board, was named in the results of the findings of Bruce Mattea, for giving an orange-colored business-type card used for political campaign purposes to an Ohio man inside the county administration building.
Mattea, who has a law office in Collinsville, is the Madison County ethics advisor who was reappointed to that position in 2022.
At the crux of all of this is legislation in place prohibiting political activity on county property. At the executive committee meeting last month, the consensus of the majority of those board members present was inconclusive concerning possible sanctions, punishment or discipline concerning Prenzler’s actions as reported by Mattea based on his investigation into the matter.
The most recent time this issue surfaced at a public meeting was at the last one held by the full county board when a resident of Edwardsville, Pam Moody, spoke during the time set aside for public comment.
Moody, not certain if anything concerning the ethical violation would surface that evening, began by quoting renown banker J.P. Morgan’s saying, someone “generally has two reasons for doing a thing. One is the one that sounds good and one is the real one.”
“Tonight, you are considering sanctioning a person for a reason that sounds good, but I suspect it is not the real one,” Moody said, “From that time I began attending board meetings in July of 2022, Mr. Prenzler seems to have faced a lot of opposition. I saw his powers removed for questionable reasons including hurt feelings.”
Citing what she called “personality conflicts” and “character assassinations” which interfered with the governing process, Moody told the board, “Your top priority is to serve.”
Along with addressing other county-related issues regarding taxation, spending, school districts, appointments and lawsuits from former employees, Moody likened the climate of the current ethics situation to “a Mel Brooks comedy” and further stated, “To suggest that no county official on county time has ever handed out any type of campaign literature is an insult.”
“The impression is that many of you simply do not like the chairman and if you can’t get rid of him, you will work to hamstring him, too bad that Madison County ethics only applies to little orange cards,” Moody said.
Mattea’s findings were presented to the county board last month in the form of a 13-page report and two additional addendum pages along with a brief response from Prenzler plus illustrations of the card in question which was handed out by him. In conjunction with that report, many of those present at that committee meeting offered a multitude of comments, ideas and thoughts in response to it.
Guy initially expressed his preference to “pass this off to” the county board chairman pro-tem, Mick Madison of Bethalto, who then explained he had learned by email that Haine’s office had contacted the Illinois State Police concerning the ethics violation with the response being that the latter did not wish to pursue it any further.
Madison also explained that Mattea had informed him of giving Prenzler two weeks to respond to the allegations, but no immediate answer was provided until the chairman was recontacted at which time a large number of questions directed to him had still gone unanswered.
Earlier in January, Prenzler did send an email to Mattea saying, “I was not electioneering. In fact, the man was not a Madison County resident. I see this as another attempt by Chris Slusser to weaponize the criminal justice system against me – like they’re doing with Pres. Trump.”
“However,” Prenzler’s message to Mattea concluded, “in order to put this issue to rest, and without giving any credibility to the allegations, I have decided not to hand out these cards on county property.”
Prenzler’s mentioning of Slusser is an obvious reference to the fact that the latter, currently serving as county treasurer, is running against the incumbent for the board chairman position in the November 2024 election.
Madison remarked he was happy with the process and the report from Mattea who he believed had “acted very fairly on this.”
Later, after some input from Haine at the same meeting, Madison made it clear it would be the decision of the entire board, not his, on whether or not to pursue any action against the chairman concerning the ethics matter while adding he feels Prenzler, who was present, “deserves a say in this.”
Prenzler said as he was leaving his office on the day in question one day in late October 2023, he saw an unfamiliar male adult and discovered the individual, identified in Mattea’s report as Mark Weimerskirch, was in the county administration building on behalf of the Pinkerton private detective and security agency.
During the ensuing casual conversation, during which Prenzler said he made a reference to Abraham Lincoln, the county board chairman told Weimerskirch if he had any questions to make contact by telephone.
At that point, Prenzler said he reached into his pocket and pulled out one of the aforementioned orange cards, wrote his phone number on it and handed it to the Pinkerton rep.
“I should have put it (the phone number) on a piece of paper,” Prenzler commented. “I didn’t think about it, I just pulled out something small that I could write my phone number on and that’s all I did. I will not do it again. I wish I had not done it but that’s what I did.”
The card, which identifies Prenzler by his CPA designation and as county board chairman, has “Promises Made…Promises Kept” on the front of it and also includes the chairman’s Facebook and Twitter addresses plus his web site, www.prenzler.com. On the reverse side are accomplishments of Prenzler during his time as chairman and a notation stating, “Paid for by Citizens for Kurt Prenzler.”
The three bulleted items on the reverse of the card are: (1) “cut county-portion of property taxes by $1.8 million. No increase since 2017,” (2) “Before I was Chairman, 2/3 of cats and 1.3 of dogs were euthanized. Now, Madison County Animal Control is ‘no kill.’ 8000 dogs and cats adopted.” (3) “Blew the whistle on criminal tax sales. Former treasurer Fred Bathon went to federal prison for bid rigging.”
County board member John Janek of Granite City, who was at the meeting of the executive committee but is not a member of it, accused the others pursuing this of “headhunting” and asked them “just try to be kind.”
Another board member, Bill Stoutenborough of Alton, said that although “hesitant to bring this up,” he felt it was germane to the situation at hand — recalling when he was being interviewed by Prenzler in 2021 as the eventual replacement for the District 9 seat held by Jim Dodd who had passed away.
Stoutenborough explained he was given a similar orange card by Prenzler and “thought nothing of it” until recently when this ethics violation accusation came forth. While Prenzler never specifically asked Stoutenborough for anything, including political support, at the time of that interview, the latter said he now wonders if anyone else who has been appointed to any sort of position by the chairman was given the impression that could have been construed as suggesting the individual provide a campaign contribution.
Prenzler reacted by saying that the interview did not take place on county property but instead at a local restaurant then Stoutenborough concurred. Because Stoutenborough was a Democrat, as was Dodd, Prenzler said that qualified him as a replacement for the county board seat “in the political realm” at hand during that time.
After telling Prenzler, “You present yourself as an incredibly ethical human rights person,” board member Terry Eaker of Bethalto said it appeared the chairman was soliciting support from Weimerskirch by giving him the orange card.
When Eaker said, “That’s what we’re here to discuss. You see the problem here?” Prenzler responded, “Absolutely not. You can call and talk to him. We were talking about history and Abe Lincoln.”
“But on the card, you campaigned,” Eaker fired back.
“I did not,” Prenzler answered without hesitating, “because he was from outside the county. I was not campaigning. I made a mistake.”