Aiello booted from Republican caucus?

Winnebago County Board member Mary Ann Aiello’s (R-9) public comments about the controversy surrounding Sjostrom & Sons and Rockford Ald. Ann Thompson (D-7) were among topics discussed during a June 5 Republican caucus.

Those comments allegedly got Aiello booted from the caucus. According to Aiello, her public reaction to Winnebago Board County Chairman Scott Christiansen and Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli’s joint June 1 press conference regarding the controversy served as the final straw.

“That tipped the scales,” Aiello said.

Republican Caucus Chairman and County Board Member Jim Webster (R-2) disagreed, “It wasn’t designed as ‘Jump on Mary Ann Day.’”

He said Aiello’s fellow caucus members were reacting to her “beating a dead horse. “We all know now what happened. We all know it was a dirty, rotten deal.”

He noted that since the County hired Sheila Hill to serve as its equal employment officer, nothing similar has occurred. According to Webster, three or four caucus members commented on Aiello’s public observations, which she shared on WNTA 1330-AM Ken DeCoster’s show. Aiello said six members, including County Board members Chris K. Johnson (R-4), Bob Kinnison (R-10), Tim Simms (R-14), Eugene Quinn (R-14), Patti Thayer (R-9) and Webster objected to her comments.

Depending on who’s asked, caucus members allegedly spent 15 to 60 minutes talking about Aiello’s take on the situation. According to Aiello, her opinions got her booted from the caucus.

Simms stressed it was Aiello’s decision to leave the caucus, and the caucus honored her request. He said only 30 minutes were devoted to Aiello’s public comments. Simms alleged, “She has a history of leaving caucuses,” adding that Aiello was once a Democrat.

Webster said Aiello’s supposed request was granted after he surveyed 16 caucus members. He said he didn’t speak to Aiello about whether she’d actually made the request, because he said County Board members Dave Yeske (R-2) and David Krienke (R-3) confirmed it.

Quinn said the caucus only spent 15 minutes discussing Aiello.

Aiello said, after an hour of debate during that meeting, she took a break and Yeske and Krienke joined her.

Krienke said she told Yeske to inform the caucus that if she got her dues back, she’d leave.

Aiello remembers the event a bit differently. “If they throw me out of caucus, I hope they send me my $50,” Aiello recalls saying. “I didn’t know talking to one person is a request.”

Krienke said he took her “request” seriously, but he said he’d welcome Aiello back, if she chose to return.

“I’d like to see every Republican (in the caucus)…even Pete MacKay,” he said.

According to MacKay, he’s been kicked out of the caucus twice. MacKay said he was first ousted from the caucus in the early 1990s for not paying dues. The second time, he alleged, was because caucus leadership decided he wasn’t a “real Republican. It’s typical of the way they think. They think they own the government,” MacKay said.

He wondered whether adequate public notice is given for caucus meetings. MacKay said the caucus dues seem to transform into something other than a government body.

“That’s a private club,” he said.

According to MacKay, County Board Republicans’ first allegiance is to the party.

According to Aiello, returning to the caucus is highly unlikely because she doesn’t support proposed caucus rules, which she alleges include forbidding rank-and-file members from talking to the press.

“I was not elected by the caucus. I was elected by my constituents,” Aiello said.

Though she’s no longer a member of the Republican caucus, Aiello vowed to continue attending its meetings. She noted they were open to the public.

Krienke said he wouldn’t relish that rule, either. “I wouldn’t support rules that would bind me,” Krienke said.

Thompson owns Galaxy Commercial Cleaning Services. Sjostrom subcontracted her company to supply concrete for the new Winnebago County Justice Center construction project in December 2004 for $526,000. She declined to say how much of that amount was profit, citing business privacy. She admitted she only did the paperwork to procure the concrete and did not manufacture, transport or install any. Contrary to published bid requirements, County officials could not provide any insurance or supply tickets for Thompson’s concrete endeavor.

It’s been alleged Sjostrom subcontracted with her firm to pad its minority participation numbers in order to better its chances to get the contract.

Though Thompson wasn’t on City Council at the time she got the contract, she was planning to run. According to Thompson’s Economic Interest Statement, filed March 22, her company cleaned for the Rockford Public Library. But, according to the local daily, the statement failed to note her contract with the Winnebago County Forest Preserve. She also did not state the county jail contract.

Johnson, Kinnison and Thayer were unavailable for comment.

From the June 21-27, 2006, issue

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