Gambino to Gardner: Pay your fine
• News and notes from the Jan. 14 Winnebago County Board meeting
By Stuart R. Wahlin
During the Winnebago County Board’s final meeting of 2009 Dec. 22, L.C. Wilson (D-12) commended board colleagues for working together in a dignified, respectful manner throughout the year. During its first meeting of 2010 Jan. 14, however, Wilson said the board is starting off on the wrong foot after Frank Gambino (R-14) aired what George Anne Duckett (D-12) called “dirt” about newcomer Carolyn Gardner (D-9).
After prevailing in a year-long legal battle for the seat of the late Mary Ann Aiello (R-9), which ousted Ted Biondo (R-9) as Aiello’s successor, the court also ordered that Gardner be paid $5,500 for the year she should have served on the County Board in Biondo’s place, plus $1,369.71 in costs.
When the budget amendment came to the floor for a first reading and procedural layover, however, Gambino moved to send the ordinance back to committee, angering several Democrats, including Duckett.
“I just am questioning your reasons behind it,” she told Gambino, stressing the importance of obeying the court order. “As a body of law-abiding citizens, I think it’s very important for us to respect that.”
Doug Aurand (D-3) concurred, “If we start playing around with this and sending it back, we’re gonna end up in court again, and we’re gonna get sued again, and we’re gonna have more expenses to the taxpayer.”
Gambino agreed wholeheartedly that the law should be respected as he turned his attention to a $377 traffic fine from 2004 that he said remains unpaid by Gardner for allegedly driving while uninsured. According to Gambino, Gardner arranged to make payments through the Financial Compliance Unit, but has not followed through.
“What kind of an example does that set to our citizens when we are going to go out and ask for everybody else to pay their fines, but our county board members do not?” Gambino responded. “I don’t believe that anybody in this county board should be considered for any kind of a pay raise, or any kind of pay, until they have met their obligation to the county as a citizen.
“We are held to a higher standard than the citizenry,” he added. “We need to be upfront and disclose if we owe fines, and take care of those fines.”
Referencing his motion to send the matter back to committee, Gambino explained: “Let’s get it corrected. Let’s get a receipt of the correction and the payment, and then let’s reconsider it again. I am sure that Ms. Gardner is going to receive her pay as the court ordered. I would just ask for a delay in that process to make sure that she becomes on an equal footing with the rest of us, as well as the citizens of Winnebago County.”
Gambino indicated he also plans to ask State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato (D) to look into whether it was proper for Gardner to be on a 2008 District 9 special election ballot in light of the allegedly delinquent fine.
“We may need to go back and send this back to the courts to re-look at it,” Gambino asserted.
Shaking her head in disbelief after Gambino’s comments, Duckett responded, “I can’t believe what he just said.
“I hope nobody’s digging in my trash, because there’s probably something there that I shouldn’t have done,” she joked. “This woman was elected, and if you’ve got a problem with her other problems, it would be nice for you, as a county board member, and now her colleague and peer, to sit down with her and say, ‘Are you gonna pay your fine?’ You know, that’s the kind of stuff you do. But to sit up here and drag out that kind of dirt…is just so disrespectful to this body. I think we’re all grown enough to sit down and talk to one another.
“This isn’t about Democrat or Republican,” she argued. “This is about serving this community, and it’s about time we do it with some kind of dignity.”
Asked by Paul Gorski (D-5) to clarify whether the county would have the authority to withhold a board member’s paycheck because of a delinquent traffic fine, board counsel Dave Kurlinkus answered, “Not without further action, no.”
With only Gambino, Kyle Logan (R-3), Tom Owens (R-1), Lynne Strathman (R-1), John F. Sweeney (R-14) and Fred Wescott (R-9) voting in favor of sending the matter back to committee, the motion failed in an 18-6 vote.
Gardner was not present at the meeting. Neither she nor her attorney, Winnebago County Democratic Chairman Dan Lewandowski, could be reached by phone for comment after the meeting.
When Lewandowski returned a call from The Rock River Times Jan. 15, he argued the allegedly delinquent fine and Gardner’s back pay are two separate issues.
“Certainly, if she owes any fine, that should be resolved, and that’s something for her to address,” Lewandowski acknowledged. “But as far as the payment owed to her from the county, based on Judge [Ronald] Pirrello’s [D] order, which was implementing the [Illinois] Supreme Court decision, they need to get that done immediately. They’re, I believe, past due and should have made that payment to her. Clearly, it’s an order of the court, and if they choose to violate it, then certainly the appropriate steps may be taken to enforce it.”
Board approves legislative priorities
Board members passed a resolution approving the county’s 2010 legislative package of priorities for consideration in Springfield.
Notably, the county is requesting a one-time exemption from tax cap legislation for the Tort Judgment Tax, related to $17 million in recent settlements resulting from a fatal traffic accident involving a sheriff’s deputy in 2006.
The county is also asking for legislation granting counties authority to issue tickets for ordinance violations, such as unkempt properties, animal welfare and building code issues. Being a non-home rule community, Illinois Supreme Court rules would also have to be adjusted before the county would be able to issue fines for the violations. A separate request specifically asks for authority to issue fines for nuisance noise from dogs in unincorporated subdivisions of the county.
The board is also seeking legislation to provide countywide collection of garbage and yard waste, citing “inconsistent” pickup in unincorporated areas, because haulers say they lose money, unless they provide both garbage and yard waste removal. In a voice vote, Paul Gorski (D-5) voted “no,” citing a preference that constituents have a choice of haulers through a competitive bidding process.
As a result of the state funding only about a third of counties’ costs for probation, detention and pretrial positions, the county is requesting that the General Assembly honor its statutory obligation to reimburse such expenditures 100 percent.
As of Jan. 1, the age for juvenile misdemeanor offenders was raised to include 17-year-olds, but the state has provided no additional funding for related cost increases. The additional costs are estimated to be $1,848,000 for Winnebago County if the age-17 standard is also applied to felonies. Fearing crowding issues within the juvenile detention center, violence and separation of children as young as 10 from those who are 17, the county is asking that the state not raise the age to include 17-year-olds for felony offenses.
At the request of Sheriff Richard Meyers (D), the county is also asking for a change to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund law to permit reserve officers to work more than 600 hours per year. Meyers explained the pool of reserve officers, who provide building security, is stretched too thin, especially in winter months when many of the retirees are out of state.
Fee increased for bonding out of jail
Board members adopted an ordinance raising the Sheriff’s Department’s fee, from $15 to $30, for its personnel costs related to bond service for prisoners.
Carolyn Gardner (D-9), Karen Hoffman (D-11), Mel Paris (D-8) and Rick Pollack (R-13) were absent.
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