How municipal and county government really works!

How municipal and county government really works!

Alright class! Settle down! It’s time to learn how your local government really works because some of you seem to be more than a bit confused about it – and that includes some reporters and elected officials. Of course, it doesn’t help matters when the Kane County Chronicle and fake reporter Brenda Schory are bound and determined to spread misinformation, but what else is new?

So, get your note pads out because here we go!

There are a variety of forms of Illinois municipal government but contrary to popular belief, and with the exception of the Council-Manager version, the only time the mayor/village president gets to cast a vote is when the council/board is deadlocked. The same goes for any chairman in the Chicago Collar Counties.

So, while most of us tend to think of the mayor/president as the all-powerful Oz, the truth is 99.5 percent of the time they can only sit back and watch the council/board make that fateful final decision.

For reference purposes, and to the best of my recollection, the only Kane County municipality that applies the Council-Manager mien is the City of Elgin. That means Mayor Dave Kaptain can vote on any resolution that comes before the council. But before you get to excited about it, he’s but one of nine votes and it’s the City Manager who holds the real power in the Council-Manager construct.

Those council/board ties votes are quite rare, too. There were all of two during former Chairman Chris Lauzen’s tenure, and to her credit, former Chairman Karen McConnaughay voted ties down because she said they demonstrated a lack of board commitment.

Put more simply, and to quote the Illinois statute, nothing happens without the “advice and consent” of the councils/boards who always get the last word. Of course, the mayor/village president/chairman will frequently lobby the council/board to get them to see it their way, but the best way to describe a local government head honcho is as a “coach” who presides over council/board meetings.

That means if the mayor/chairman isn’t particularly adept at the fine art of political persuasion, trust me, it’s going to be a very, very long term.

“So, Jeff! What power do mayors/village presidents/county chairman really have?”

Excellent question class! Aside from the general gravitas of the role, their only real capacity is to set the meeting agenda. With rare exception, they get to determine which issues come up for a vote and which do not.

But that’s a power that isn’t a power because most mayors/presidents/chairmen are quite laissez-faire on the prospect. Unless the potential “resolution” is “way out there,” like any good coach, they’re willing to put it before the council/board and let them discuss it.

The exception to this process was, once again, former Chairman McConnaughay who wielded the agenda power with an iron fist. If a board member failed to amuse Her Majesty, then their prize issue would never see the light of day.

So when Kane County auditor Penny Wegman tried to cover her ample ass in regard to the endless tuition reimbursement non-story by telling the Chronicle that:

When he [Lauzen] was county board chair, it was his responsibility to run the meetings and he never instituted a vote on p-card transactions. They are put on file and when a vote comes before the board, it’s not for a specific p-card transaction, it’s for the payment of Fifth/Third. … He should have known that specific p-card transactions are never voted on.

She was dead wrong – again! And that’s particularly terrifying when you consider she’s spent the last six years in county government. I’ll repeat it one more time! The chairman sets the meeting agenda, and aside from a little cajoling and enforcing Roberts Rules of Order, they can’t even direct the discussion.

But like that proverbial broken clock, Wegman was right about one thing! Unless councils/boards harbor a masochist compulsion to make meetings last forever, the most recent expenses are lumped into one “consent agenda” item for a single vote.

After that, it’s up to the individual board members, NOT the chairman, to “pull an item” off the “consent agenda” for further discussion. Not only that, but unlike smaller city government, those tuition reimbursement expenses had to make it through four levels of county government – the finance committee, executive committee, committee of the whole, and finally, the full board.

And they could’ve been discussed and voted down at any one of the levels.

Since some board members do take the gig seriously, “agenda pulling” is not rare, in fact it happens all the time. If you recall, in a regular effort to get Chairman Lauzen’s goat, Board Member Myrna Molina regularly scoured the consent agenda for expenses she considered to be “foul play.” The most infamous example of this was a $50 block chain technology book Lauzen purchased.

And the papers had a field day with it, too!

So, no! It’s NEVER up to the mayor/chairman and ALWAYS up to the council/board to perform that kind of due diligence. And all it takes is one board members to request that review, something Wegman completely failed to do in her four wasted years on the Kane County Board.

Her fellow board members used to joke that, when she actually did show up to the various meetings, she dressed like she was homeless and never said a word. And that’s the biggest problem in local government, very few council/board members take their watchdog role seriously.

The best example of someone who does is Elgin City Councilperson Rose Martinez.

I suppose the bright side here is the Chronicle finally admitted it was the board’s responsibility to review County expenses. But the not-so-bright-side is, Schory decided to undermine that reality by knowingly printing Wegman’s “it was the Chairman’s responsibility” lie.

Brenda’s a really classy gal!

So, with time running out, what I’m really trying to convey here class is, contrary to conventional wisdom, mayors, village presidents, and county chairmen have very little power. And if they’re not accomplished at the art of herding cats, they’ll be absolutely miserable and the process inevitably bogs down into a pointless running battle of attrition.

As far as those tuition payments go, it was up to Wegman and her board compatriots to challenge them, not former Chairman Lauzen.

That’ll do it for today, class! Your homework is to write a five-page paper on how local government works. And when you’re done, please turn them in to Auditor Wegman, she could really use the help!

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