A LOOK ACROSS THE AISLE
SYCAMORE – A former DeKalb County Board chairman had one main message for current board members while addressing them Wednesday at the beginning of the County Board meeting: Don’t let partisanship get in the way of good government.
County officials hosted an open house before the County Board meeting Wednesday night at the DeKalb County Legislative Center Gathertorium, 200 N. Main St., to acknowledge the public service of former state Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, who recently was named one of the newest members of the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees.
Pritchard said he was humbled by the appreciation local officials and residents showed for him and his service during the event Wednesday. But, he said, he wanted to remind board members to always get back to the people and to really listen to what they have to say, regardless of which political party board members belong to.
Not only is it imperative to look across the aisle, Pritchard said, but government officials need to look at the issues and what’s best for constituents in the long and short term.
“And I think that’s when we’ll turn the tide of the polarization we’re seeing in government,” Pritchard said. “And we desperately need it if we’re going to save our democracy.”
Before serving as a state representative from 2003 to 2018, Pritchard was a member of the DeKalb County Board for 13 years and was board chairman for five of those years, being elected to the office in December 1998. Before then, he served on the Hinckley-Big Rock School District 429 Board from 1980 to 1988.
County Administrator Gary Hanson said Pritchard was a visionary when serving on the County Board 28 years ago. He said perhaps Pritchard’s biggest legacy was in long-term planning for the county, which included making plans to build the then-new county buildings to operate out of and creating a special committee for continued planning.
“That’s the kind of thing that [Pritchard] always did,” Hanson said. “He wanted to plan for the future and have a good discussion to know where we wanted to get to.”
As Pritchard starts to settle into his new role as an NIU trustee, Hanson said it seemed good for county officials to host something to recognize Pritchard for his public service, since a lot of the county is part of Illinois’ 70th District.
“We thought it would be good that we gave an opportunity for the citizens to say thank you to [Pritchard] not only for state representative service, but for his time on the County Board,” Hanson said.
Overall, Hanson said, Pritchard is an excellent communicator, and part of his legacy included starting a county newsletter for local news media and residents. He said he thinks Pritchard saw the value of information and how it helps residents.
“When people know what their government is doing, then they’re more comfortable with it,” Hanson said.
County Board Chairman Mark Pietrowski Jr. said he considers Pritchard to be one of his biggest mentors because of Pritchard’s knack for collaboration and being able to bring different opinions together. He said he felt it was important for county officials to host the event for Pritchard so residents can show their appreciation for Pritchard devoting most of his adult life to public service.
Pietrowski, a Democrat, said Pritchard served on the County Board during a time when the county was starting to see a lot of growth, trying to figure out what the new normal would look like and how the county would be able to best serve its residents in the future. He said one particular memory that stands out to him was reaching out to Pritchard after he voted in favor of the death penalty ban in Illinois and was one of the only Republican state representatives to do so.
“There have been a lot of other votes where he had found himself maybe lonely in terms of being one of the only members of his party to join with a particular piece of legislation, but that never was something that he was afraid of,” Pietrowski said.
Not only is it important for public officials to do the right thing regardless of party lines, Pritchard said, but it’s important for residents to engage in their government civilly and respect different viewpoints on issues in order to reach the best possible solution.
“I hope people will continue to share their views,” Pritchard said.