Meet John Doe: Making local political appointments

Paul Gorski
Paul Gorski

By Paul Gorski

I was recently honored by being interviewed to fill the vacancy in a state representative seat. I did not get the appointment, but I was honored nevertheless. Many people asked me at the time how vacancies in political offices were filled. There is no one answer to that question, as it depends on the office. I will address some of the most common types of political appointments here.

There are appointments to fill vacancies in elected office, vacancies either created by the death or retirement of the office holder, and appointments to fill seats on certain boards, advisory councils and the like.

Those individuals chosen to fill vacancies in elected office must typically be of the same political party of the retiring office holder. These appointees must also meet the same age and residency requirements for the office as if running for that office in an election.

Political parties fill vacancies in elected state senator and state representative offices. If the retiring office holder was elected as a Democrat, the local Democratic Party chooses who fills that vacancy, per guidelines defined in state law.

The mayor fills vacancies in the Rockford City Council, and the county board chairman fills county board member vacancies. Council members, board members and the local parties often submit candidate suggestions to these leaders when these appointments arise, but these are only advisory recommendations.

City council and county board members will vote on these appointments, giving “consent” to the appointment, but rarely is there a debate.

An elected board may have to make an appointment. I currently serve as a Cherry Valley Township Trustee, and our board, sadly, has the task of appointing someone to fill the vacancy in the office of Cherry Valley Township Highway Commissioner. In this case, the township board has the responsibility of finding a qualified Republican, of legal voting age, living in Cherry Valley Township, to fill the vacancy created when Pat O’Donnell passed away recently at the age of 84.

Our local airport board is an example of a non-elected, non-partisan board. Members of the Chicago Rockford International Airport board are chosen by certain elected officials: the mayor of Rockford, the Winnebago County Board chairman, the mayor of Loves Park, and the president of the Village of Machesney Park. The rules for these appointments are less stringent than those rules to fill vacancies in elected office.

One thing in common between the partisan and non-partisan appointment processes: those in power like to keep the appointments quiet, low-key affairs. I prefer shining light on what should be public processes. To that end, I hope you found this article a useful introduction to local political appointments.

Paul Gorski ( is a Cherry Valley Township resident who also authors the Tech-Friendly column seen in this newspaper.

Posted Sept. 16, 2014

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