Newly elected Champaign County Board members held their organizational meeting Monday night. The meeting opened with Champaign County Clerk Aaron Ammons swearing in the assembled board members, which include six new Democrats replacing four Democrats and two Republicans.
After losing two seats in the November election, Republicans have just six of their own on the 22-member county board. That’s the smallest Republican minority since Democrats gained majority status in 2000.
Former Champaign County Board member Jennifer Putman was part of both the minority and the majority on the board.
The 74-year-old Putman attended Monday’s organizational meeting and addressed the county board, with advice for the minority party, based on her own experience serving on the board in the 1980s, when Republicans outnumbered Democrats 21-6.
“So, what do you do when you’re in the minority?” said Putman. “You make common cause, you build relationships and you serve the people of Champaign County. And that’s what we did.”
Putman went on to thank the families of elected officials for tolerating the time commitments of public office, and to thank those ran but lost elections. She noted one incumbent Republican in particular who lost his reelection bid after a decade on the county board.
“I am so grateful to people like Jim McGuire, who, on the day when it became clear what the election outcome was, he phoned in to the call-in show Penny For Your Thoughts (on WDWS Radio),” said Putman. “He wasn’t bitter. He said thank you for the privilege of having been able to serve you in the Champaign County Board.”
Voting along party lines, the county board re-elected Democrat Kyle Patterson to a second two-year term as county board chair, over Republican nominee Stan Harper.
In his statement to the county board, Patterson addressed past criticism of the board as dysfunctional, by nothing it’s administration of $41 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for everything from homeless shelters to aid to small businesses and farmers. He also noted the ongoing bipartisan projects to enlarge and renovate the Champaign County Satellite Jail as a new central jail facility, and to renovate the County Plaza office building to provide larger and centrally located space for county offices.
“We work together, different members of the board taking on different projects and collaborating with local governments to fit their needs,” Patterson told the county board members. “I’m excited to move forward with our new county executive and see out these plans to make the county a better place than we found it.”
Patterson referred to new Champaign County Executive Steve Summers, who had previously been county board vice-chairman. Summers succeeded fellow Democrat Darlene Kloeppel as executive. Kloeppel and the county board had disagreed on who had authority to fill vacant election positions and in the redrawing of county board district maps.
Champaign County Board members elected Democrat Samantha Carter to be their new vice-chair, defeating Republican Aaron Esry.
Esry was chosen by his fellow county board Republicans to be their caucus leader. Leah Taylor holds that post for Democrats.
With their diminished numbers on the county board, Esry said Republicans’ goals for the term ahead included seeing the county jail and County Plaza projects through to completion, keeping an eye on the county budget and making sure rural residents continue to have a voice in Champaign County government.
One concern of Esry is increasing the number of sheriff’s deputies on highway patrol in rural areas and in small towns without police departments that rely on the deputies for protection.
“I believe we’re still down at least a couple from back when Deb Busey was county administrator (in the early 2000s)” said Esry, “that basically every department was cut, due to budget constraints, and we’ve never gotten those road deputies back.”
As for a strategy to increase Republicans’ numbers on the county board in future elections, Esry said he would leave that to others in the Champaign County GOP.