Lake County Board candidates decry discord but disagree on cause  10/3/2018

By  Russell Lissau  

Republican incumbent Ann Maine, left, and Democrat Susan Malter, right, are candidates for the Lake County Board's 21st District seat. 

 Republican incumbent Ann Maine, left, and Democrat Susan Malter, right, are candidates for the Lake County Board's 21st District seat.      

Both candidates for the 21st District seat on the Lake County Board say they've noticed increased discord among the panel's members -- but they disagree about its roots.  

Republican incumbent Ann Maine believes the partisanship that has marred politics at higher levels is "contaminating" the board.      

Democratic challenger Susan Malter said the hostility she's seen doesn't follow party labels. She instead faulted board leaders, nearly all of whom are Republican, for having "a lack of decorum."   Malter and Maine will face off for the 21st District seat Nov. 6. The winner also will serve on the Lake County Forest Preserve District board.   The candidates talked about board issues in Daily Herald questionnaires and follow-up interviews.   The Republican Party always has held a majority on the county board. The panel now has 14 Republicans and 7 Democrats.   Historically, relatively few board votes have been cast purely along party lines. But some observers have noted the board's Republican leaders have faced more opposition from Democrats lately.   For example, some Democrats in July opposed a measure asking Gov. Bruce Rauner to issue an amendatory veto to stop a bill that could've changed how the county's chief assessment officer is hired. The bill was being pushed by Lake County Democrats, and Rauner vetoed it.   Conversely, some Republicans this summer publicly criticized a Democratic commissioner for speaking to the media about an issue even though Republicans had been interviewed as well.    Maine -- a county commissioner since 2002 and the forest board's president since 2010 -- said she was disappointed by the partisan fighting she's seen.   

Republican board chairmen traditionally have appointed Democrats to committee leadership posts, Maine noted, but only two of the board's 10 committees are led by Democrats today.   "It is a real loss for Lake County that the partisanship seen at the state and national level is contaminating our local board and interfering with our ability to serve our residents," said Maine, of Lincolnshire.   Using public policy to fulfill political agendas decreases confidence in the board, Maine said.   Malter, an attorney from Lake Forest, said she doesn't see the squabbling as a partisan problem.   "I hear something else," Malter said. 

"There is a defensiveness and hostility to questions and challenges from anywhere."   Although some issues have divided the board, the splits don't always pit Republicans against Democrats, Malter said. For example, Republicans Judy Martini and Jeff Werfel voted with three Democrats to oppose asking Rauner to veto the assessor bill.   

"Challenges to the way that county government is being run may be perceived as partisan because the majority has directed the government for all this time," Malter said.   

The 21st District includes Riverwoods, Lincolnshire, Bannockburn, Mettawa and Green Oaks, as well as portions of Deerfield, Lake Forest, Waukegan, Gurnee and Grayslake.

Democrat calls for ethics reforms in Lake County

By Russell Lissau

Daily Herald

Democratic Lake County Board candidate Susan Malter said her top priority if elected will be ensuring "meaningful" ethics reform in county government.

Malter, of Lake Forest, is challenging incumbent Republican Ann Maine for the 21st District seat on the county board and the Lake County Forest Preserve District board. The groups have the same 21 members.

Malter is calling for greater economic disclosure by candidates for county offices and county employees. She also wants all public meetings to be recorded on video.

Maine said the county has "robust" ethics rules but acknowledged there's room for improvement. She supports hiring an independent ethics adviser and other changes.

Malter and Maine talked about ethics and other issues in candidate questionnaires and follow-up interviews.

Ethical behavior has been a prominent issue in Lake County since officials learned board Chairman Aaron Lawlor repeatedly used a county-issued credit card to make personal purchases. Illinois State Police are investigating.

Malter, an attorney, is especially concerned about nepotism and political patronage.

She believes political candidates, county officials and county employees should disclose the names of family members who conduct business with the county. Additionally, the county should ban "no-bid contracts" with relatives of officials or employees, she said.

Typically, government contractors are hired through a bidding process that rewards the company submitting the lowest estimate. Some professionals, including architects and lawyers, are hired without a bidding process, however.

Malter also called for all public county meetings to be recorded on video and for sessions to be broadcast on the county website. She complained about some officials' "bad behavior" at meetings.

"We must not only conduct government business with honor, honesty and respect for one another, but also use care to appear to conduct government business honorably," Malter said.

Maine -- a county commissioner since 2002 and the forest board's president since 2010 -- said the county's ethics ordinance has been "very effective" in situations she's faced.

For example, Maine said she regularly is asked for assistance by voters and business representatives applying for jobs or contracts, and she tells applicants county commissioners cannot intervene in the hiring process. "(I) pushed for this change," said Maine, a senior lecturer at Lake Forest College.

Still, Maine acknowledged more can be done to ensure proper behavior by board members and employees.

She'd like the board to hire an independent ethics adviser who would field complaints and inform the board about changes in the law. The county's human resources director now handles those tasks.

An independent adviser would eliminate a conflict of interest and should make anyone filing an ethics complaint feel more confident about the process, Maine said.

Maine also advocates hiring a compliance officer who will perform random audits to ensure the county's ethics and purchasing rules are followed.

She opposes forbidding contracts with relatives of county officials or employees, but she supports a disclosure requirement in the application process.

A ban is unrealistic, Maine said. Lake County has about 3,000 employees, and such a prohibition would apply to tens of thousands of people.

"Members have recused themselves from voting on a contract if the firm employed a family member," she said.

Maine also objected to Malter's use of the phrase "no-bid contracts." State and federal laws prohibit bid-based selection processes for professional services, she said.

Malter's stance "shows little understanding of existing state and federal rules, our purchasing ordinance or (the) Lake County ethics ordinance," Maine said.

As for recording meetings, Maine supports the idea. She once advocated for televising committee-of-the-whole sessions, but the idea was rejected.

The 21st District includes Riverwoods, Lincolnshire, Bannockburn, Mettawa and Green Oaks, as well as portions of Deerfield, Lake Forest, Waukegan, Gurnee and Grayslake.

Susan Wants To Empower the Voters

Lake County Board committees back opposition to putting assessor's post on November ballot

By Frank Abderholden 


Two committees of the Lake County Board voted Wednesday to ask Gov. Bruce Rauner to exercise his amendatory veto of legislation that would allow a referendum in November on whether the chief county assessor should be an elected position.

The resolution, which passed through the financial and administrative committee and an ad hoc legislative committee, still has to pass through the full County Board on July 10. It calls on the governor to place the question on the ballot at the very next election period, but include the 60 other counties like Lake County that have a peer-elected chairman of the county board and appointed assessor.

State Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, the sponsor of SB 2544, criticized the decision. For weeks, he has been using canvassing, robocalls and commercials to urge residents to call Rauner or send him a message in support of the bill, which would put the question on the Nov. 6 ballot.

“It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that some members of the Lake County Board are attempting to thwart the grassroots campaign to bring accountability to the office of the Lake County assessor,” Yingling said in a statement.

“I’m proud to be part of a grassroots campaign that is activating taxpayers across Lake County. When I’ve gone door to door in my district, constituents have been clear: the status quo is not working, and they want the governor to sign SB 2544,” he added in the statement. The bill was passed with bipartisan support and a supermajority, which could override a veto.

During Wednesday’s legislative committee meeting, there was a tie, with County Board members Paul Frank and Jeff Werfel voting no, and Mike Rummel and Diane Hewitt voting yes. Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor broke the tie in favor of the amendatory veto resolution.

More than two dozen people showed up at the meeting and stayed for the financial and administrative committee meeting, where the proposal passed unanimously. Everyone who spoke supported the referendum and wanted the County Board to support it as well.

“We have an opportunity to increase democracy in Lake County,” said Susan Malter of Lincolnshire. She also chided the committee members about worrying about the other counties.

“That’s disingenuous,” she said, “Let’s just be concerned with Lake County.”

Bill Morris said he was representing more than a dozen people from the Carillion North community in Grayslake, a community for people 55 and older. The former state senator and Waukegan mayor said that adopting an opposition resolution “is like a dagger” in the referendum’s heart, because whether it is vetoed outright or changed with an amendatory veto, the legislature is not due to reconvene until after the November election.

Lawlor said the legislature could easily reconvene, which it has a right to do, and override the amendatory veto.

“Please put this on the ballot. Don’t hide behind political mumbo jumbo,” he said.

At the first committee meeting, Morris said that Martin Paulson, the county’s current chief assessor, had over-assessed Carillion North properties the last two years and, while it was adjusted the first year, this year residents were told to file individual appeals to get it changed.

“Adding in other Illinois counties will effectively kill the legislation, denying Lake County voters the opportunity to express themselves this November,” he said.

Lawlor argued that the legislation was passed with political trickery by gutting a bill and inserting the proposal in it so it could be approved in the waning days of the legislative session.

He said the legislature did not follow its own process with a proper hearing on the issue. Lawlor and other board members complained that Yingling asked them to support the bill, but delayed showing them the actual language of the proposal.

Mike Rummel, chairman of the financial and administrative committee, said he saw the move by Yingling and some of the township assessors as an attack on Paulson, a county employee, and that was why he supported the amendatory veto resolution.

“That’s my issue. I’m standing by my employee,” he said.

Board member Steve Carlson said this was a political game started by a state representative who did a poll and found an issue to run with.

“You are not going to get a reduction in your taxes through an elected assessor,” Carlson said, adding he also disliked that the “dysfunctional state legislature” was going to tell the county with a Triple A bond rating how to run its business.

“I’m tired of the state legislature telling us what to do,” he said.

Board member Judy Martini, who was in the audience, weighed in with support for the referendum in November, saying, “It’s time to give the stakeholders a final say. We need to move forward.”

John Barrington, president of the Lake County Township Assessors Association, said township assessors are accountable to the people of Lake County.

“That improves our relationship with the communities we serve. We know that if we don’t treat taxpayers with the respect they deserve, they have the ability to fire us on election day. Taxpayers deserve to decide if they want that same level of accountability to apply to the Lake County assessor,” he said in a statement.

But Carlson also claimed that Yingling and other legislators see this as the beginning of getting rid of township assessors and township government.

“Be careful what you ask for,” he said.

Susan Advocates for All of Us

Chicago lawyers volunteer to help families separated at border

By Alison Bowen Contact Reporter

Chicago Tribune

Chicago attorneys are mobilizing to help immigrant children who have been separated from their families at the southern border.

Kristen Harris, Chicago chapter president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said she has been fielding inquiries from Chicago-area lawyers eager to volunteer their time.

“The legal community in Chicago is really a markedly special community,” she said. “There’s an overall concern and passion for justice generally, which means that when there are instances of injustice, the community is quick to respond.”

She said she has heard from not only immigration attorneys, but also lawyers of all specialties who want to be trained and to help.

“We’re pretty far from the southern border, but in the hearts of Chicagoans, it is an important issue, and it is not located thousands of miles away; it’s located with the children here,” Harris said.

Last week, the Chicago nonprofit Heartland Alliance confirmed it is housing 66 immigrant children who were separated from their parents and sent to facilities here.

Detention centers where families are held have long needed improvement, Harris added. A 2016 Government Accountability Office report recounted concerns about the conditions and overall time in custody at holding facilities. The ACLU and Chicago law students recently found hundreds of incidents of alleged abuse of children in documents recounting children’s cases from 2009 to 2014 at border facilities.

“It is very, very disheartening, to say the least, that an already bad situation has actually become worse,” she said.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth announced Monday that she and other senators are introducing a bill to improve conditions at family detention centers. It would restrict family detention and set standards for facilities.

“Our bill will hold the Department of Homeland Security accountable and ensure immigrant and refugee families are treated humanely and no longer torn apart or indefinitely detained,” Duckworth said in a statement.

Harris said the Chicago chapter of immigration lawyers will continue to organize volunteering opportunities and connect people with the Immigration Justice Campaign, coordinated by AILA and the American Immigration Counsel, which this week said it has received 5,000 offers to volunteer from lawyers, therapists, interpreters and law students.

Susan Malter, a Chicago attorney who is also a candidate for the Lake County Board, said she has signed up for a volunteering trip to a Texas detention center in October. She said that she responded to a call from Lawyers for Good Government, which created a program to help reunite children separated from their parents.

“I think it’s bringing out the best in lawyers. We have the tools to be able to help people,” she said. “The impression I get is that the people who’ve been there and seen what’s going on firsthand are horrified, and I think as many people as can go down there and be witnesses, the sooner this can end.”

Sara Dill, an attorney who is from Chicago but now lives in D.C., recently returned from providing legal assistance to parents separated from their children at Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas. She said her team of six lawyers met with about 200 people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

“Every single person that we spoke with had been separated from their children,” she said.

Many parents had no idea where their children were, she said. The attorneys asked them for children’s ages, names, and the names of any non-detained family members who might be able to care for them. But parents had no documentation on what had happened to their children, where they were or how they would be reunited, Dill said.

Many families she had spoken to had fled violence. A family whose son was killed because he refused to join a gang came to the U.S. to protect their younger son, who was put in a separate facility. A mother who said she had been raped in her home country told the lawyers that she and her daughter fled after her 12-year-old daughter was raped. That daughter was separated from her mother after crossing the border, Dill said.

“They had the strength to tell about the torture and the horrible things that happened to them,” Dill said.

“But when it got to the point where they had to ask about the children, where they had to say, ‘Where is my child, and when am I going to see them again?’ and we had nothing to tell them.” That was when she saw parents cry, she said.

“They just want to know their child is alive.”