For the first time, Democrat majority takes over Lake County Board

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

District 3 county board representative Sandy Hart was named Lake County Board chairperson, during a special Dec. 3 meeting. (Photo courtesy of Lake County government)

Lake County has formally existed for 179 years, and its county board has been ruled by a Republican majority during all that time … until now.

Two separate Dec. 3 swearing-in ceremonies, one in the new Lake County Courthouse addition and the other in the county board chambers, attested to the fact that voters put Democratic candidates in charge, following the announcement of the official results, from the Nov. 6 general election.

The Lake County Board now has a 12-9 majority in seats held by Democrats. The party also took all three major county posts that were up for election, ousting some incumbents that had served multiple terms. Lake County Regional Schools Superintendent Roycealee Wood, a Republican, did win re-election in running unopposed.

A special county board meeting, also convened Dec. 3, saw the election of Dist. 3 Rep. Sandy Hart as chairperson becoming the first Democrat, and the second woman, to serve in that capacity. She defeated the other person nominated, Dist. 12 Rep. Mike Rummel, by a 13-8 vote. Elected to the vice-chairperson position was Dist. 9 Rep. Mary Ross Cunningham, by a 12-9 vote, over Dist. 17 Rep. Michael Danforth.

“It’s a different view from up here,” said Hart, in taking the chair. She also said although elections bring change, she was hopeful board members would work together, and find common ground on divisive issues, for the benefit of Lake County residents.

Hart assumes the post from Dist. 15 board member Carol Calabresa, who was defeated for re-election. Calabresa was serving as interim chairperson after being elevated last summer, when Aaron Lawlor recused himself from the duties to seek drug addiction treatment and was being investigated by the Illinois State Police for the misuse of procurement card expenses.

The county board members elect candidates for the two positions from its membership, along with the county’s Forest Preserve District Board president and vice president, which went to Democrats, Angelo Kyle and Julie Simpson respectively, by identical 11-10 votes. The full forest preserve district board is comprised of the twenty-one members of the county board.

The oath of office was administered to the 14 county board members by Lake County Chief Judge Jay Ukena, prior to the special session. Earlier in the morning, he gave the oath of office to the new incoming officers, County Clerk Robin O’ Connor, County Treasurer Holly Kim, and County Sheriff John Idleburg, all Democrats. Idleburg had previously accepted the oath Dec. 1, in a private ceremony.

In other county news, a Dec. 3 press release announced that Lake County Circuit Court Clerk Erin Cartwright Weinstein finalized the first union contract with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and her office, in an historic action.

The circuit clerk’s office employees voted to certify the union in July 2015, ending the animosity caused during the previous administration of Keith Brim, who had refused to negotiate with the union. The release said Cartwright Weinstein began negotiations immediately after taking office, and the union employees voted to ratify the contract Nov. 26, between the Circuit Clerk and AFSCME. This is the first-ever contract between the union and the county department.

“I am pleased that my staff will be making comparable wages to other departments in Lake County,” said Cartwright Weinstein, in the release. “It has been difficult to keep staff, and as the official record keeper for the 19th Judicial Circuit Court, we have a huge responsibility to the people of Lake County. We need dedicated employees in our office; and, to have dedicated employees, you must make sure that they are being treated fairly and respectfully.”