Friday, November 4, 2016

BCJ: Toria Funderburg’s article on “Powers of Boone County Chairman”

NOVEMBER 4, 2016

Powers of the Boone County Chairman

If you don’t know how your tax dollar is spent or the workings of your county government, I urge you, as citizens and taxpayers, to attend the county committee and board meetings, which are open to the public and watch your representatives that you elect in action. A schedule of the county’s board meetings and the different committees are posted on the county website at Past minutes, voting records and appointments are listed as well.

Our county “chairman,” who has held this position for 8 years, will retire the first week of December, but his policies will continue. As “chairman,” he has the power to appoint more than a 100 individuals to county positions and committees. The “chairman” receives the applications, which he reviews, and then presents his selection of appointees to the county board members for their approval, who usually vote in his favor. County board members (at least some) are not informed who or how many applications come in. In some cases, the “chairman” has appointed multiple family members, cousins, and friends to these influential positions. These appointments can last from one to five years thereby extending the “chairman’s” political position on matters for years to come. In a required open and transparent government, these applications should be reviewed by ALL of the county board members! But the “chairman, withholds that information sharing only with those of his choice.

Some of these appointments and positions include, Health Board (11), Housing Authority (7), Building Board of Appeals (5), Conservation District (5), Soil and Water (8), Zoning Board of Appeals (5), Regional Planning Commission (5), Regional School Board (2), Boone County Agri. Commission (7), Fire Districts (15), 911 Board (8), Mental Health Advisory Complex (5) and some to the Community Building Complex to name a few.

Being able to appoint members to the county committees, the “chairman” also appoints or doesn't appoint elected county board members to the 7 standing committees, which run the central government. If you don’t support his position on matters, you are likely overlooked for a committee position where you might present opposition to his plans. He is thereby also controlling the small stipend, ($65 plus mileage per meeting) which the board members are paid to attend assigned committee meetings. Some board members attend at their own expense even if they are not appointed to a committee or receive any stipend for which I commend them. These 7 standing committees direct the future of our county, how it will grow, what projects get done and who gets their budgets approved.

A list of our elected officials and the committees they are appointed to as well as those county positions and appointees are printed in the “Boone County, IL Year Book” which is available at the county administration building on Logan Ave in Belvidere. It’s full of other county information as well and I suggest interested citizens obtain a free copy and learn "who" directs the growth, actions and spending of your county tax money.

Last October 2015, our “chairman” met with Mr. Frank Patton at a RMAP meeting (Rockford Regional Area Planning) when the original GLB RR plan was to travel through Winnebago Co. At that meeting, our “chairman” invited Mr. Patton to bring his train through Boone County if Winnebago didn’t want it saying it would bring “economic growth” to Boone County.

During the first week of March 2016, because of this “extended invitation,” the breaking news left our citizens blindsided and scrambling to protect their homes, property and farms. This proposed privately owned toll railroad, which would most certainly carry chemical/freight-trains, had changed its route and presented a new route through the middle of Boone County and oddly enough across the “chairman’s” property. GLBT’s compensation for land purchased had a suggested selling-price of $20,000 an acre.

When confronted in early March of this year, our “chairman” told a large number of our citizens attending a board meeting; he knew nothing about the train’s proposed new route. But, WIFR TV newscasts proved different. As the Boone County representative to RMAP meetings, how could he not know about the train! At the October 2015, he (the “chairman”) extended that invitation directly to Mr. Patton, suggesting he (Mr. Patton) consider bringing the train through Boone County!

Did the “chairman” consult with the entire county board before he spoke to Mr. Patton?? Some members said “NO”!!! What about the others? Did he consider other county citizens who could lose their land? NO!! To the “chairman,” it offered “economic growth” to the county, but this county is mostly a "farming" community. What about the farmers? Yes, we do have some commercial industry, but Boone County has the richest soil and the greatest percentage of it is farmland with abundant clean ground water.

The citizens packed the county meetings and called for the board to compose a "Letter of Resolution” to be sent to the STB in Washington, D C, before the deadline of July 15th OPPOSING the GLBRR. The “chairman” didn't want a "Resolution" or any opposition. He supported the GLBRR and invited them here, so he directed the state's attorney to write a "strong letter" listing the counties "concerns”!!

At each monthly meeting, board member Denny Ellingson, the “chairman’s” cousin, and likeminded board members, nit-picked even the wording of the "strong letter" thereby delaying it being brought to a vote. Finally, the “strong letter” was mailed to the STB.

BUT, the CITIZENS wanted a "Resolution!" It was only at the last possible board meeting, June 29th under community pressure and in front of a packed room of 80 to 100 Boone County residents that a "Resolution" OPPOSING the train was approved. The community left the “chairman” and his board members “no choice!” The “chairman” abstained from voting like he did, at the advice of his lawyer, with members of the RMAP Committee in their support and their approval for the GLBRR to pass through Boone County.

Our retiring “chairman” with support of certain board members, severed the county’s relationship with the city/county planning dept. thereby increasing the cost of county expenses because he couldn’t control their actions. The “chairman” was against the wind farms project, as were candidates Newhouse and Ellingson. Not wanted by some, they would have had the right to say NO to any being building on their land. The “chairman” and his supporting board members voted down this revenue source, which would have brought much needed cash flow to our struggling county budget, with NO TOXIC contamination to our land and water. Farmers would have had a choice in the matter. Not so with the GLBRR. The “chairman” was in favor of routing the “GLBT” Railroad and chemical freight trains across the rich farmland and clean aquifers in the county and said it would bring us “economic growth.” To Whom?? It could have brought possible disaster to our county as well! The issue with the GLBRR our retiring “chairman” brought to our county hasn’t gone away. Boone County is still not out of the woods! It may take 4 or 5 years of unending opposition to protect what our “chairman” and his supporters were willing to sell our county for, before the STB makes it’s final decision on the trains route IF the GLB RR is ever built. Because of the “chairman’s” invitation, many citizens questioned his vision for responsible growth for our county.

Currently, all county department budgets are under review by the “chairman’s” financial committee. The county’s 2017 proposed budget is about $2 Mil. in the hole! The finance committee will use $1.4 Mil. from the “safety sales tax” but that won’t close the gap! Boone County needs to CUT costs across the board, dip into some of their $21 Mil. Reserve Fund, fire some people or raise everyone’s taxes!

The sheriff’s dept. is requesting more money to keep us safe … additional staff and more cars. Their roof leaks but they continue to move buckets catching water. The county needs proper protection and the sheriff’s dept. is trying to conserve costs.

The Health Board budget is also under review. With the nationally increased insurance coverage under the ACA (Obama Care) and a decrease in case loads the HD sees, the chairman of the County Health Committee and others are reviewing cost saving avenues that would decrease the Health Dept. need for more revenue. This fall, the HD requested the county board to change its “code” and allow the HD to charge Not-for-Profit organizations a food permit fee to raise more revenue. (Currently, county board action on the request has been postponed.) A candidate who is running for a county board seat and who sits on the HD board, supports the HD actions to charge Not-for-Profits food permit fees. The “chairman” has appointed this candidate’s family members to county committees as well.

The answer is to make ALL departments more efficient and cut waste and that task is up to the “chairman’s” finance committee.

Boone County needs OPEN and TRANSPARENT government. The citizens need to watch where and how their tax dollar is spent. We need to elect county board members that take their duties seriously and obtain all the training (OMA Open Meetings Act, required by IL State, within 90 days of election) that is offered to them. Several board members neglected to take this training for several years after taking office until this January and that included the outgoing county “chairman”!

This coming Tuesday, our citizens will hopefully go to the polls and VOTE … selecting BOARD MEMBERS from district 1, 2 and 3 who will sit on the county board and responsibility represent the spending of our tax dollars. Once elected, the board will vote among its 12 members and select a NEW county chairman. This is a very powerful position! The new chairman, as the head representative of the county, needs to represent the best and future interests of ALL the county’s citizens. Take part in YOUR future government. Vote for responsible leadership!!

Toria Funderburg
40 Year Resident of Boone County

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