• James Claeyssen continues to serve both roles, as village attorney seeks statutory clarification
By Brandon Reid
Senior Assistant Editor
Cherry Valley Village President James Claeyssen’s simultaneous holding of the village’s budget director position has been deemed incompatible by the Opinions Bureau of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.
In a June 26, 2014, letter to Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato (D), Assistant Attorney General Kristin M. Creel, chief of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s (D) Opinions Bureau, explained: “… based on common law principles which have been incorporated into Illinois law by section 1 of the Common Law Act …, a village president may not serve simultaneously as the village’s budget director, if the budget director is appointed under section 8-2-9.1 of the Municipal Code.”
Creel concluded the letter by stating, “This is not an official opinion of the Attorney General.”
Creel’s letter was in response to a request from Bruscato’s office seeking legal clarification on the matter.
In her letter, Creel cited a 1998 Attorney General’s opinion. She wrote: “With regard to the specific concern raised by the village attorney, informal opinion No. I-98-003 cites to two cases from other jurisdictions for the proposition that ‘[u]nder the common law, it has long been accepted that two offices are incompatible where one of the offices has the power to appoint the incumbent of the other office.’ (Emphasis added.) Ill. Att’y Gen. Inf. Op. No. I-98-003 at 3. It is a well-settled principle that the common law, including the doctrine of incompatibility of offices remains in full force and effect in Illinois unless expressly repealed by the General Assembly or modified by court decisions.”
Bruscato said his office does not believe Claeyssen should simultaneously hold both offices. However, he said his office does not plan to take legal action at this time to rectify the matter.
“We would not want to expend the resources of the community seeking and pursuing legal action that could be easily clarified through the legislative process,” Bruscato said.
Instead, Bruscato said Cherry Valley Village Attorney James E. Stevens is seeking a legislative resolution to clarify what has been termed unclear statutory language. Bruscato said if such a resolution cannot be reached, the State’s Attorney’s Office would again review the matter and consider other solutions.
Bruscato said his office has received complaints from two individuals regarding Claeyssen’s simultaneous holding of both offices. The first complaint came from a Cherry Valley trustee, and the second came from a Cherry Valley resident.
Claeyssen was first elected village president in 2005 and was re-elected in 2009 and 2013. He has appointed himself and served as budget director each year he has held the village president’s office.
Appointment of the budget director must be approved by the village board. The appointment is lumped together with other proposed appointments and voted on as a package.
Once the budget director’s appointment is approved by the village board, the budget director then serves at the discretion of the village president, according to state statute. In this case, Claeyssen serves under the discretion of himself.
Claeyssen establishes and approves the budget for presentation before the village board, which pays him a salary for serving as budget director. From May 1, 2007, to April 30, 2011, Claeyssen collected $7,000 per year as budget director. Since that time, he has been paid between $6,000 and $6,500 per year. The compensation is determined by the village board.
Although the Cherry Valley Village website, www.cherryvalley.org, lists elected and administrative office holders and their contact information, no information is provided for the budget director.
The Village of Cherry Valley has an annual budget of around $10 million.
According to his campaign Facebook page, Claeyssen has worked as a manufacturing engineer with Schneider Electric since September 1979 and holds an associate’s degree in technology from Rock Valley College.
Messages left for comment from Claeyssen and village attorney James E. Stevens of Barrick, Switzer, Long, Balsley & Van Evera, LLP, were not returned by press time.
From the Jan. 14-20, 2015, issue