By Stuart R. Wahlin
Winnebago County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) Chairman Jim Webster (R) says a group of civilian opponents to his county Board candidacy are trying to derail his campaign.
Webster, a former county board member, lost his board seat after being defeated by Steve Schultz (R-2) in the February 2008 primary. Now, Webster is challenging Schultz’s counterpart, Dave Yeske (R-2), in the February 2010 primary.
Webster also served as chairman of the Forest Preserve District’s Executive Committee while on the board, which may have resulted in a questionable decision by a volunteer to affix a Webster campaign ad to a forest preserve sign at Prairie and South Bluff roads.
Tom Kalousek, executive director of the forest preserves, acknowledged there is an ordinance prohibiting political signs from being placed on forest preserve property, but indicated the district has taken a “soft approach” to yard signs placed on forest preserve rights-of-way.
In this instance, although the campaign sign was attached to a forest preserve sign, Kalousek noted it was on a county right-of-way, not forest preserve property.
“Although Jim was the chairman of the Forest Preserve Executive Committee when he was on the county board, and was very effective during that time, the Forest Preserve District does not endorse any political candidates, and I would not want his sign to be associated with our directional sign and imply any endorsement,” he explained.
“We did contact Mr. Webster and make him aware of the situation,” Kalousek added. “He said he would move it off our signposts and that he wasn’t aware of that sign being on our signpost.”
The sign has since been removed, Webster reported.
“There are several signposts up there,” Webster said. “Not just forest preserve, but there’s a whole row of ’em for all kinds of things. Typically, it’s a place where people post signs and notices for everything under the sun, from garage sales to God-knows-what.
“The guy that put it up there,” Webster added, “he’s aware that I had involvement with the forest preserve, and so he probably thought that would be cool.”
A recent campaign mailing by Webster was also questioned, because the mailer did not disclose who had paid for the political literature.
“Because I paid for it myself,” Webster responded. “I consulted an attorney on that, and if I paid for it myself, then you don’t have to have a disclosure.”
Contributions to Webster’s campaign are below the $3,000 reporting threshold outlined by the State Board of Elections. Therefore, he has not established a political action committee.
“If you have formed a campaign committee, then you have to do that,” he explained. “And as of today [Jan. 15], I didn’t have enough donation money or anything like that…to even have to declare.”
According to Illinois Press Association attorney Don Craven: “There is no statutory requirement that a mailing or ad have a ‘paid for by’ disclaimer on it. The statute does require such a disclaimer for fund-raising materials, but the court declared that portion of the statute unconstitutional.”
Craven, however, strongly recommends that newspapers continue to require such disclaimers on political ads as a matter of policy.
Webster’s critics also questioned the U.S. Postal Service permit number on the mailer, which is registered in Rockford. But according to Sean Hargadon, a Postal Service spokesman, the permit number is registered to Courier Printing, Inc., not the City of Rockford, as had been alleged.
“I know who’s creating the waves,” Webster told The Rock River Times, “and it’s the same little—there’s a core group of people that—and I’ll be very frank with you—I think they’re very mean-spirited people, and they were around at the last election cycle, and they’re still mean and ornery and bitter, and they’re just gonna dig and look for every little thing they can to try to harpoon Jim Webster. And that’s the bottom line on that.”
Webster noted a number of his campaign signs have disappeared recently, adding he hopes this publication is equally willing to print the names of the alleged thieves when apprehended.
From the Jan. 20-26, 2010 issue