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Oncken returns to DeKalb County Board

Open seat filled by way of 20-2 vote

SYCAMORE – The DeKalb County Board overwhelmingly approved the appointment of a former member Wednesday, despite two members of his own party opposing it.

County Board members voted 20-2 to appoint Riley Oncken to Ken Andersen’s vacated seat in District 3. Two Republicans, Anthony Cvek and John Gudmundson, of Districts 4 and 11, respectively, voted against Oncken’s appointment.

Oncken said he was grateful to be back, but was disappointed the vote wasn’t unanimous.

“I’m disappointed I don’t have the support of my fellow board members, but I have to respect their opinions,” Oncken said.

Cvek circulated a letter to his fellow Republican board members detailing why he would not be voting for Oncken’s appointment. Oncken said he received a separate letter from Cvek on the matter.

None of those issues were discussed at Wednesday’s meeting. Cvek tried to tie Oncken’s appointment to another issue regarding the board’s economic development commission, but the proposal was shot down. Cvek said he would have mentioned some of the issues if the vote did not immediately occur after that.

For Cvek, the fact that Oncken lost in November to Andersen and Democrat Mark Pietroswksi Jr. was key.

“Voters had a choice, and they spoke resoundingly,” Cvek said in an interview before the meeting.

Andersen resigned in February after losing the board chairmanship to fellow Republican Jeff Metzger, who had the support of Democrats. Andersen said he had lost the will to fight for what he believed in. DeKalb Republicans named Oncken as Andersen’s replacement, but Cvek had an issue with the process.

“It’s an issue that’s less to do with Riley individually and more with the process that’s bringing him back,” Cvek said.

But in his letter, Cvek also had other issues with Oncken. In his days as a lame duck board member, Oncken changed positions and backed hiring another attorney for the public defender’s office.

Oncken said he did not approve the request earlier because he was trying to “save himself politically,” and that he saw a need for another attorney. Cvek criticized Oncken for wanting to save himself politically in his letter.

“I think the voters that he hopes to represent deserve an explanation,” Cvek said.

Cvek noted that Oncken received a $1,000 campaign contribution from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 in January, a union the county will be negotiating with. Cvek said there could be a conflict of interest.

“We, as a board, sign off on those negotiations as a result of them,” Cvek said.

Oncken admitted that he made a mistake on the public defender issue, and that he took the politically easy way out. He said if he could, he would go back and reverse his initial position against hiring another attorney.

“When I was not re-elected, I had an opportunity to right that wrong,” Oncken said. “That’s the mistake that I made: to do what was politically easy, when I should have done the right thing.”

Oncken said he did not solicit the donation from the union, and compared the union to any other local group that gives money to candidates for office.

“I will generally accept any contribution,” he added.

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