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McLean County Board fills vacancy at special meeting

Ryan Lawler swearing-in
Eric Stock
McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael swears in new County Board member Ryan Lawler on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022.

The McLean County Board on Friday approved a Heyworth High School social studies teacher and girls’ basketball coach to serve on the board until shortly after the November election.

“I know it’s only (for) a couple of months, but I teach this stuff. I love it. (People) say, ‘You teach civics, you teach government, how boring must that be.’ Well, it’s fun,” said Jay "Ryan" Lawler Jr., a Democrat who resides in Normal.

Lawler’s term will expire in December, when 20 new county board members are sworn in.

Board chair John McIntyre called the special meeting after the board rejected a previous applicant as the county approached a deadline to fill the seat within the state-mandated 60-day window.

Republicans on the board rejected the appointment of Krystle Able of Normalto the same District 4 seat earlier this month.

The county board voted 16-1 to approve Lawler’s appointment. Democrat Shayna Watchinski cast the only "no" vote.

She initially declined to comment after the meeting, then later said her vote was in "support, not just of Krystle Able, but of every woman who has run or will run for office. When women make the commitment to run for office, we know we must sacrifice our time, energy, privacy, etc., to earn our place at the table."

Watchinski indicated she heard prior to the meeting "several people tell Mr. Lawler that 'if he has a heartbeat' he would get approved."

"I expect more for the people of McLean County than 'just a heartbeat,'" Watchinski said.

During public comment at Friday's special meeting, McLean County Democratic Party chair Patrick Cortesi urged the board to approve Lawler and alluded to the board’s earlier vote against Able that temporarily left District 4 (west and northwest Normal) with only one representative.

“It is vital that the voters of District 4 have a voice as significant items come before the county board in the next few months, including an appointment for a new state’s attorney and budget negotiations,” Cortesi told the board.

Lawler's appointment also brings the 20-member board to an equal share of Democrats and Republicans.

Able was the only previous applicant for the post. Lawler was the only applicant after Able’s bid was rejected.

Lawler said it may seem “odd” that a 29-year-old is seeking political office, but noted he’s following through with a promise he made to students.

“I’ve told my (students) since I started teaching in 2015, one day I will run for public office. One day I will do this. One day, one day, one day. I finally said it’s that one day and I’m going to stop talking about it and do it,” Lawler told the County Board's Executive Committee.

The seat has been vacant since July 1 when Democrat Matt Coates resigned to serve on the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. The county was required to fill the seat with someone from the same party as Coates.

Lawler did not file for the November election, but Able is running for the seat this fall.

Updated: August 26, 2022 at 6:55 PM CDT
This story has been updated to include County Board member Shayna Watchinski's comments regarding the board appointment.
Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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