Comings and goings on county board

By Stuart R. Wahlin

Staff Writer

Winnebago County Board member Randy Olson (R-1) announced he’ll be stepping down after accepting a chief helicopter pilot job offer from the non-profit Law Enforcement Aviation Coalition (LEAC).

Olson has served as chief pilot for five years in a volunteer capacity, but because of increased demand from participating law enforcement agencies for air support, LEAC determined a full-time paid position was needed.

In October, the board agreed to let LEAC use half of the county’s $90,000 support for the program in 2010, by way of federal grant dollars, toward the $102,500 position.

When voting on the issue, most board members agreed it was a foregone conclusion Olson would be offered the job, leaving some to question whether such a vote was ethical.

Until the chief pilot position became a paid one, Olson was rumored to be the strongest Republican contender to run for sheriff, for which he has run before. But when the deadline came, Olson only filed for re-election to his board seat.

Because Olson will be receiving paychecks and benefits from the county, however, his chief pilot and county board positions will be incompatible.

With the sense Olson’s tenure on the board would soon come to an end, his board seat has become the most contested in the county for 2010. Democrats Wendy Schneider and David Hassell are hoping for their party’s nomination, but an objection could strike Hassell from the primary ballot. A ruling in the matter is expected Nov. 30.

With Olson now out of the February primary race, fellow Republicans Robb Firch, Richard Sneath and Lynne Strathman will compete for the nod.

As noted in the Nov. 18-24, 2009, online edition, the term of another Republican board member may also be coming to an early end.

It’s been a waiting game for Ted Biondo (R-9) since the Illinois Supreme Court overturned an appellate ruling in September, thereby upholding Judge Ronald Pirrello’s (D) earlier decision that Loves Park Democrat Carolyn Gardner should have been a candidate in a special election last November—an election for which Biondo did not file as a candidate, because he said he believed he was appointed to serve the entire unexpired term of the late Mary Ann Aiello.

State election statute specifies, however, that if a vacancy occurs more than 28 months before the end of a term, a special election must be held to serve the remaining two years.

The appellate ruling in Biondo’s favor the day before the November elections meant no special election would be held, on the basis that Biondo had been appointed within the 28-month period.

Despite the last-minute ruling, Gardner’s name still appeared unopposed on some ballots, however, and Democratic attorneys are seeking to have those votes certified, in which case Biondo would have to yield the seat to Gardner.

Judge Pirrello will preside in a hearing on the matter scheduled for Nov. 25. Regardless of the outcome, Biondo and Gardner will face off again for the seat in the November 2010 general election.

In other county races, an election commission determined Sheriff Richard Meyers (D) would remain on the primary ballot, despite an objection by another candidate for sheriff, Cherry Valley Township Supervisor Randy Sturm (R).

Prior to the decision, Sturm said he expected either he or Meyers would appeal the decision in the Circuit Court, depending on who’d been ruled against. Meantime, Sturm is competing with Aaron Booker in the Republican primary race for sheriff.

The commission upheld an objection to the candidacy petition filed by Democrat Nancy Edwardsen for not having enough eligible signatures. As a result, fellow Democrat Chuck Knight will run unopposed in the District 8 primary. He’ll face Republican Jenn Tate in the general election.

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