A guide to the local political board species of Illinois

In two separate conversations, a couple of Kane County politicians and I found ourselves lamenting how difficult it is to accomplish anything whenever there’s some sort of board involved. Whether it’s a library, park, school, fire protection, township, village, or county board, despite their best efforts to build a horse, they inevitably come up with the camel that Mark Twain warned us about.

And woe be to any chairman, elected official, or citizen who doesn’t fully comprehend the variety of species likely to inhabit the boardroom habitat. As the Bible put it, “Blessed are the board chairmen who don’t understand the concept of herding cats, for they shall inherit a spastic colon.”

At least I think that’s what the Good Book said.


So just like that venerable National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, in an effort to classify your basic board member phyla, I’ve come up with a field guide of my very own. So here goes:

1. The karma chameleon.

These are the folks who were always the middle school teacher’s pet. You know, the ones who, as you were about to dash out the door unencumbered, reminded the teacher that she forgot to give out the homework assignment.

Having never emotionally developed beyond the seventh grade, they simply apply that same principle to the boardroom where they’ll do anything to get on the chairman’s good side including acting as their hatchet person. And they’re usually pretty good at it.

The problem is, they’ve never had an original idea in their lives, they never seem to accomplish anything, and the other board members don’t take them very seriously.

2. The failed karma chameleon.

These board members think they’re karma chameleons only to discover they suck at sucking up. So when the political winds suddenly shift in an unsympathetic direction, they can’t understand why the chairman generally ignores them and they no longer land on the plum committees.

Unable to accept their fate, they proceed to whine, moan, go the press, obstruct, throw a temper tantrum and pout for the remainder of their term. You can always identify them by their crossed arms and consistent scowl.

3. The Quincy Wagstaff Adamser.

Whatever it is, they’re against it!

This is the most difficult and loudest of all boardroom species. They tend to be a disgruntled former karma chameleon (some chairmen do catch onto them) or someone whose political fortunes shifted so dramatically, they no longer feel the need to make an effort to govern or play well with others.

On rare occasion, it’s someone who believes they’re the rightful heir to the chairmanship, so they’re morally opposed to anyone in that position who isn’t them. Short of getting buck nekkid in the middle of a meeting, they will do absolutely anything to get all the attention including, but not nearly limited to, driving the meeting directly into the ditch.

The good news is, just like it is with Sith lords, there tends to be only one of ‘em. The bad news is, almost every board has one and there’s really no recourse but to wait for the next election cycle.

It’s important to note that the Adamser is also a favorite of the ancillary player because their cloying sympathetic interaction sets up a self-perpetuating feedback loop in which they make each other believe they’re the only righteous folks in the city, district or county.

4. The guy who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else in the room but clearly isn’t.

This is the second most heinous type of board member species and it’s important to note that they’re almost always male. The truly terrifying thing about them is, upon first contact, like Cliff Clavin, they come off as knowledgeable, thoughtful and friendly.

But when you’re exposed to them on a regular basis, you can quickly identify them by their bizarre meandering call which changes with whatever they’ve been thinking for the last five minutes. Possessing no introspective capacity whatsoever, they consistently come up with the strangest theories, the silliest ways to spend money, and a personal reality that’s bears no resemblance to any other board member’s and is invincible to any factual argument.

And you don’t dare respond to them because it will only lead to six hour board meetings.

5. The guy who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else in the room and probably is, but it doesn’t matter because he’s so bleeping annoying.

Again, we’re talking a predominantly male breed here, who can be identified by his insistent condescending professorial tone whenever he decides to wade in on something which, unfortunately, is quite often.

Instead of Cliff Clavin, this one is far more like an oblivious Sheldon Cooper who believes the rest of the board is merely an ornamental group to whom he has have to explain the very basics of everything. Instead of simply voting on whether to spend money on a consultant, they’ll have to explain what the word “consultant” actually means and how the concept of paper money changed western civilization forever.

6. The woman who’s entire self-worth is tied up in her board position.

Since we’ve already picked on the men, it’s only fair to point out the frailties of the feminine board species. And this one is a combination of Sally Field’s, “You really like me” Oscar speech and the Big Bang Theory’s Amy Farrah Fowler.

She can’t believe she actually got elected and, having never been a part of the “in-crowd” from elementary through high school, now feels a dire need to make up for lost time. You can generally identify her by either her constant look of utter shock or always overly serious demeanor.

They fancifully flit between the ancillary players, their fellow board members, and “adoring” constituents while accomplishing absolutely nothing, or worse, making it impossible for the rest of the board to get anything done.

Woe be it to the chairman who appoints one of them to a subcommittee chair because the words “delay” and “obfuscate” will take on entirely new meanings.

Though I won’t name names (yet), there are two prime examples of this species currently serving on the Kane County Board.

7. The wishy washy board member who acts like the weight of the world is always upon them.

Again, we’re talking mostly females here. And for some strange reason their last names almost always fall at the end of the alphabet so whenever at tight vote comes down to them, they act as if they were just given Sophie’s choice.

They’ll grimace, bow their heads, and frequently elicit heavy sighs until a fellow board member reminds them they’re only voting on what to have for lunch. Even if the vote is already a lopsided 22 to 1, they’ll dither over their decision like a football replay official who has to decide if the potential game winning touchdown catch was out of bounds.

8. The out of sync board member.

Equally male or female, not only is the out of sync board member almost always docile, but they’re often quite humorous as well. You can identify them by their capacity to ask a question on an issue that was resolved 20 minutes ago. Undaunted by the exasperated looks from their colleagues, they’ll take the entire proceeding right back to that previous point regardless of the fact that it’s no longer subject to a vote.

Realizing they’re impervious to logic and the meeting will go nowhere until the issue is re-resolved, their fellow board members will do their damndest to provide the Reader’s Digest condensed version so they can go home and eat dinner.

9. The tardy or invisible board member.

The tardy board member invariably waltzes in 45 minutes into an hour long meeting. Then they’ll immediately commence to asking all the questions that have already been answered and providing all the points that have already been made.

The invisible board member ran for the gig with the foolish notion that part-time political offices really are part time. Overwhelmed by family and job commitments, they end up missing the majority of meetings. They’ll even miss meetings after the entire board has changed their schedules just to accommodate them.

Of course, the real answer is to step down and give someone else have a shot, but they convince themselves they’ll start showing up as soon as they get a handle on whatever drama is currently dominating their lives which never happens.

10. The narcissistic droner.

This is actually a subset of all of the previous categories. This species is in love with the sound of their own voice and will offer their opinion on any topic just so they can hear themselves talk. They’ll even interrupt the motion to adjourn just to get in that last fix.

You can always identify the narcissistic droner by the horrified looks from the press table whenever the chairman gives them the floor. The best example of this particular breed is Terry Gavin, who currently serves on the Elgin City Council.

So there you have it! Your own field guide to the fascinating and exciting world of governmental boardroom inhabitants. Who knows! If you ply me with a bottle of Cuervo Gold, you might actually get me to start naming names!

4 thoughts on “A guide to the local political board species of Illinois

  1. No fair — you gave an example for one type, it shouldn’t take booze to get the others.

  2. Jeff, you spent many. many hours covering Kane County Board meetings.
    You’ve seen it all…..
    …you’ve seen THEM all.
    New faces, new names, but same character flaws.

    FRUSTRATING, isn’t it?

    • Yes it is! And thus column. But please remember, these species go far beyond the County Board. It’s just that, given their 24 members, you see more of ’em at the county level.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s