URBANA – The Champaign County Board chose Kyle Patterson to be their new chair at Monday night’s organizational meeting.
County board members voted along party lines in the online meeting, to choose Patterson, an Urbana Democrat, for chair. He won over Republican Aaron Esry of rural St. Joseph. Democrat Steve Summers of Urbana was chosen as vice-chair over Republican Stan Harper of rural Ogden, also on a party-line vote.
Patterson, who turns 33 next week, is Champaign County’s youngest county board chair in memory. He had previously sought the chair position in 2018, only to lose to Giraldo Rosales of Champaign, who gained the post with Republican support. Rosales was defeated in the March Democratic primary by Emily Rodriguez. She was among eight new members (six Democrats and two Republicans) who took their seats on the 22-member county board for the first time Monday night.
In his candidate remarks, Patterson said he would stand up for county board autonomy, referring to an ongoing dispute over the scope of the county executive’s office.
The dispute is currently in court, seeking a judgement over whether the authority to nominate candidates for vacant county offices belongs to the Champaign County Board chair or the county executive.
Champaign County is just the second Illinois county to institute the office of county executive. The first and current executive, Democrat Darlene Kloeppel, was elected in 2018. Patterson told county board members that office should not eclipse the county board’s authority.
“Our constituents sent us here to be a voice of our communities,” said Patterson, “and I want to make sure our voices and our rights are observed.”
Patterson said he also wants the county board to use tax revenue from now-legal cannabis sales to fund criminal justice reforms and other programs to help minority communities that were disproportionately targeted under the U.S. war on drugs.
“I plan to work with the board, the executive and the relevant department heads to invest these funds into criminal justice reform programs and community services,” said Patterson.
In contrast, the Republicans’ choice for the chair says the Champaign County Board should look after its existing needs and mandated duties first.
Aaron Esry wants to take care of aging infrastructure, such as the county jail. County officials have proposed closing the county jail and sheriff’s office in downtown Urbana, and expanding and renovating the newer, satellite jail on the east side of the city, but have not figured out how to finance the project.
Esry also wants to restore sheriff’s deputy positions cut more than a decade ago during a county budget crunch. He says that’s important for rural areas that rely on the sheriff’s department for law enforcement.
“And I’d just love to see us hold the line on spending, and yet be able to work out and work through some of our mandated duties as a county board,” said Esry told fellow county board members. “Get some of those handled first, before we take on any new projects.”
The Champaign County Board seated its new members from the November election on Monday night. They are Democrats Jordan Humphrey, DeShawn Williams, Emily Rodriguez, Mary King, Jennifer Straub and Titianna Ammons; and Republicans Jacob Paul, Brad Passalacqua. Patterson says the new Democratic members push the Champaign County Board in a more progressive direction.
The board members the new members replaced include four Democratic incumbents who were defeated in the March 17 primary election: Giraldo Rosales, Charles Young, Cynthia Fears and Connie Dillard-Myers. In addition, Republican incumbent Jon Rector lost to Democrat Jordan Humphrey in November, increasing the Democrats’ majority on the county board to 14-8.
Another county board member will be appointed in a few weeks, to replace Democrat Mike Ingram, who was elected county recorder in November, and did not attend Monday’s organizational meeting.
(UPDATE: This story was revised to include more details about the makeup of the county board following the November election, and to correct the number of new members: there are eight, not seven. – JM 12/8/20 12:58 p.m.)