SYCAMORE – Before John Hulseberg left the DeKalb County Board on Monday, he had one request for new and returning members.
He told the 24 members of the board to forget about the Ds and Rs in front of their names, call each other more often and work together to address the issues the county faces. Moments later, party lines were firmly established between members as Democrats and Republicans butted heads over who should be the new chairman.
On one side, Republicans nominated Ken Andersen – a person they believed both parties supported in an unspoken understanding during negotiations days before. Democrats countered when Anita Jo Turner nominated Republican Jeffery Metzger for the position.
The maneuver allowed the Democrats to keep their promise to Republicans by supporting a Republican for chairman in exchange for Democratic chairmanship of four of the seven committees, said Mark Pietrowski Jr., a board member and chairman of the DeKalb County Democrats.
Pietrowski said Metzger has a reputation of working across the aisle and was the best candidate to bring everyone together to solve county problems. Metzger was voted chairman with full Democrat support and no votes from Republicans.
“[Republicans] made it explicitly clear that we weren’t going to discuss names in term of a chair,” Pietrowski said of the pre-meeting negotiation session. “We voted for the best person to lead the county forward. It wasn’t about politics.”
Metzger said his decision to accept the nomination for the chair came after he received multiple phone calls from former Republican board members and high-ranking party members both in and out of county.
Metzger, who considered a run for state representative before his mother fell ill, said he did not pursue the position to use as a stepping stone for a higher political office – a precedent set by state Rep. Robert Pritchard. Metzger said he believed he could bring everyone to work together and was excited to get started with a strong group of board members.
“Unfortunately it turned ugly,” Metzger said of the process to be elected chair. “But I have been a member that has really crossed the aisle to work on both sides, do what’s best for the county and not myself.”
DeKalb County Republican Chairman Steve Kuhn was not one of the high-ranking party officials who endorsed Metzger for the position before the meeting, but said Metzger would make a good chairman.
Kuhn said many Republican board members left the meeting upset, and Metzger would have to bring people together to smooth the situation.
“I wish it would have gone better and I would have rather had a Republican nominate the chairman,” Kuhn said. “I was disappointed in the process.”
The process also included a potential violation of the Open Meetings Act. As members argued about the Metzger nomination, a suggestion was made to go into recess and meet in a separate room to negotiate. The proposition was shot down by DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack, who said members could not stop a public meeting to talk about public business.
Instead, the board stood “at ease” for 10 minutes, splitting into two groups to discuss the situation without microphones or video picking up on the audio. Pietrowski called it a situation that should be avoided, while Don Craven, general counsel for the Illinois Press Association, said it sounded illegal.
“I see a major problem with that scenario,” Craven said.
Schmack could not be reached Friday for comment.
Andersen, who walked out of the meeting after Metzger was elected chairman, called the whole process “very embarrassing” to the county board and Republican Party. While he said Friday that he still is disappointed, he said the voters decision to reelect him is enough for him to move on from the situation and continue serving.
But the political divide may be more defined than in years past, he said.
“I don’t know, I really just don’t know,” Andersen said of politics’ role politics on the board. “We’ll just have to see how it plays out.”