URBANA – Democrat Cameron Raab was appointed and sworn in to fill a vacant seat on the Champaign County Board Thursday night. But the appointment came with a testy legal debate that may not be over.
The debate was about who’s in charge of the county board’s agenda: county board chair Kyle Patterson, or County Executive Darlene Kloeppel.
Raab, a video game artist for the game design firm Volition, was appointed to fill the District Six seat at a special County Board meeting called by Patterson and conducted on Zoom. After the county board gave its unanimous approval, Kloeppel declared she was vetoing the appointment, because it didn’t follow state law for counties with an elected executive. Kloeppel planned to send the question of filling the vacant seat to a county board committee. She called for the special meeting to be adjourned, and said that objectors could appeal the matter, and it would be brought up again at a later meeting. But Patterson opposed Kloeppel’s veto, citing procedural rules for county board meetings, which are guided by Robert’s Rules of Order.
“I appeal the decision of the chair,” Patterson objected. “I got my second. This is discussion. And I’m calling the question.”
“And I’m saying you’re out of order and I’m chairing this meeting,” Kloeppel responded.
“No that’s — so — I’m appealing the decision of the chair,” said Patterson. “You can’t call that out of order.”
“Well, I think I can,” said Kloeppel. “You’re doing something illegal, Kyle. We’re not doing this illegally.”
The argument continued, until Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz was called in to offer her opinion. Speaking by Zoom from her car, Rietz told the meeting that a judge earlier in the day had rejected Kloeppel’s request for an emergency order seeking to block any action by the county board on Patterson’s nomination for the vacant county board seat. Kloeppel had sought the order after previously asking the court to rule on whether her office or the county board chair had the authority to nominate candidates to fill vacant seats in county government.
The state’s attorney noted that Judge Jason Bohm found that since the previous county board chairman, Giraldo Rosales, had made appointments to fill vacant positions during Kloeppel’s tenure, Patterson could do the same for now, while the larger questions of the case were considered.
“And so the court found that the status quo was, that there was not a need for an emergency order,” said Rietz, “that the issues that were brought forward in the lawsuit can be litigated, and there would not be irreparable harm to the executive, if Mr. Raab was to be seated in the manner suggested.”
Raab took his seat on the county board, filling a vacancy created when Mike Ingram was elected Champaign County Recorder of Deeds in the November election. The county board went ahead with the regular meeting agenda set by Kloeppel, with some members noting that they were a bit flustered from the quarreling from the special meeting.
But disagreement continues over the scope of the county executive’s authority. Kloeppel argues that the county executive holds administrative power in Champaign County that previously belonged to the county board and its chair.
“The voters elected to have a county executive form of government,” Kloeppel told Illinois Newsroom earlier this week. “And the board has resisted that in every way possible, because they don’t want to change. It splits the power of the board.”
In fact, Kloeppel argues that with the launching of the county executive’s office, the county board chair no longer has the legal power it previously had. She notes that in Will County, which also has a county executive, the county board calls its leader a speaker, instead of chair, because of the change in its powers since the office of county executive was created.
But as the new Champaign County Board chair, Kyle Patterson says he, not the county executive, has the last word in matters like setting the board’s agenda. He objected to Kloeppel’s decision not to put a vote on Raab’s nomination on the regular meeting agenda for Thursday night.
“The county executive assists, and our rules even dictate that the county executive assist in posting the agenda,” said Patterson earlier this week. “But our current executive has taken the liberty to see herself as the individual who also makes the decisions on the agenda. And that’s where our disagreement lies.”
The next hearing on Kloeppel’s request for a court ruling on the “disagreement” is set for Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 11 AM before Judge Bohm.