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Our View: Oncken’s return raises eyebrows

DeKalb County board member Anthony Cvek raised some good points in objecting to Riley Oncken’s nomination to return to the county board last week.

Like Oncken, Cvek is a Republican. Unlike him, Cvek won an election last fall to take his seat on the board representing District 4. Oncken, on the other hand, was a distant third in a three-way race in District 3, receiving 1,102 votes, 550 less than the second-place candidate.

That was part of Cvek’s argument against Oncken’s appointment.

Oncken, who is a local attorney, also pulled a couple of blatant flip-flops during the “lame-duck” period after he failed to win re-election in November.

He admitted that he had opposed adding lawyers to the public defender’s office merely because he was trying to “save myself politically.” After he wasn’t accountable any longer, he switched his position.

“Based on the need I actually see, I think it is necessary,” Oncken was quoted as saying about the added lawyers at the public defender’s office.

He did the same with a proposal to fund the county convention and visitors bureau, recommending after his election defeat to fund it with $5,000 in property taxes rather than other means.

Sometimes lame-duck legislators behave that way when they’re not going to be publicly accountable any more. Without lame ducks, big income-tax hikes might never get passed in Springfield.

But when an elected official makes those kinds of statements, it’s kind of like telling off your boss on the way out the door. Those who do it don’t generally re-apply for their old job a couple of months later.  

That’s what Oncken did, though. As a Republican precinct committeeman, he was the insider in the two-way caucus race for the seat that Ken Andersen resigned after Andersen was aced out of being county board chairman back in February.

Oncken was one of four District 3 precinct committeemen whose votes mattered in the caucus. He and two other committemen voted for him.

The person who didn’t vote for Oncken? That would be Andersen, who had served on the board alongside him. Andersen voted for Oncken’s opponent, Stephen Ward.

After Oncken’s name was put forward, the DeKalb County Board on Wednesday approved his appointment to the board by a 20-2 vote – only John Gudmundson, R-11, and Cvek voted no – and Oncken is once again a county board member from District 3.

For his part, Oncken said Wednesday that his mistake had been doing the politically expedient thing – opposing spending more taxpayer money – even though the spending was necessary. Changing his vote after losing the election was a way to right that wrong, he said.

Maybe so. Then again, maybe that’s just the politically expedient thing to say now.

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