McLean County Board chair remains in Republican hands
Within one hour, three different people held the top position on the McLean County Board on Thursday night as members attempted to replace longtime member and former chair John McIntyre who resigned due to health issues.
Catherine Metsker, a Republican from a rural district, was ultimately elected chair, ousting Democrat and board vice chair Elizabeth Johnston from the position she'd been holding since McIntyre's resignation on Sept. 5.
The vote to elect Metsker came as one in a series: First, members took an unplanned voted on whether member Jack Abraham, a Democrat from Normal, could attend the meeting remotely.
In a vote split along party lines (9-R to 8-D), Abraham was denied the opportunity to remotely participate in the meeting, an act Johnston said set a "poor precedent" since members "have always accommodated anyone who is sick or had a family emergency."
Republican Susan Schafer was then voted in as a temporary chair to oversee members' election of a new, permanent chair to fill out the remaining three years of McIntyre's term. The only two nominees were Metsker and Johnston; Metsker, a 15-year White Oak township supervisor, longtime State Farm employee, and nine-year county board member was chosen over Johnston.
Her victory echoed calls from the McLean County Republican Party on social media for conservative board members to vote against Johnston — or at least vote to keep the position within the party's hands.
"If any Republican Board member should vote for a Democrat Chair, the Board will be controlled by Democrats for the first time in more than a century," the party said in a post. "This change will have dire consequences for McLean County citizens."
Following Thursday's meeting, McLean County Democratic Party chair Patrick Cortesi described the vote to deny Abraham's participation — which skewed the vote — as "purely partisan."
"Tonight, the Republicans on the county board made it clear they have no interest in doing the job they were elected to do. Instead, they are singularly focused on putting party over people," he said in a statement.
In 2022, historic election results put the McLean County Board at an even 10-10 split between Republicans and Democrats, ending the longstanding majority of Republicans on the board.
McIntyre and vice chair Johnston were able to broker a power deal that split leadership and committee assignments along party lines; whether that spirit of bipartisanship persists after Thursday remains to be seen.
A replacement for McIntyre's district seat is still pending. Applications are being taken until Oct. 5 for the position the board plans to fill on Oct. 12; since McIntyre is a Republican, his successor must also be from that party. The split between Republicans and Democrats will become even again once that seat is filled.
Eric Hansen, McLean County Museum of History volunteer director, was seated to the county board on Thursday night, following the board's election of the new chair. Hansen, a Democrat, replaced Jeannie Biles in District 8 that includes downtown and west Bloomington. Biles resigned in August to take an out-of-state job.
Overshadowed by the theater of electing a chair Thursday night was a recommended FY 2024 balanced budget presented by administrator Cassy Taylor.
Taylor said the property tax rate remains the same as it was for FY23: 0.91064. She added that some of the challenges of the previous fiscal year are likely to remain, as well.
"This year, we have weathered supply chain disruptions and increases for costs of goods and services and we anticipate hearing the same in 2024," she told board members.
Federal pandemic aid from the American Rescue Plan Act comprised more than $8 million in the county's increased revenue; increased property values brought in an additional $5.6 million in revenue, Taylor said.
The recommended budget includes a five-year capital plan for the county to invest in new building and infrastructure projects, expected to total nearly $31 million dollars and cover 130 projects across the county.
Last year's budget was over $126 million.
In other action, the board:
- Approved a $354,890 agreement with Otis Elevator to upgrade the center elevator at the Government Center in downtown Bloomington.
- Added a special assistant state's attorney to cover the county's specialty courts.
- Upped the minimum salary for assistant state's attorneys in McLean County to more than $70,000 to attract new hires.
- Approved an escrow agreement with Blooming Grove Wind Farm owner Invenergy that will provide the county 10% of an expected $4 million in wind turbine decommissioning fees
- Approved an amendment to the county code allowing the county engineer to authorize permits for license-plate reading cameras. We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. You – together with donors across the NPR Network – create a more informed public. Fact by fact, story by story. Please take a moment to donate now and fund the local news our community needs. Your support truly makes a difference.