Wheeler re-elected county leader

December 4, 2018

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler on Monday solidified his hold on the Republican-dominated board.

At a board meeting, members unanimously re-elected Wheeler, R-Kankakee, as chairman for another two years, with his nomination seconded by Kankakee Democrat George Washington.

After his selection, Wheeler took his position on the dais, jokingly advising a photographer to use the panoramic setting.

The board next voted unanimously for Todd Sirois, R-St. Anne, to serve as the board’s vice chairman. He is replacing Steve Liehr, R-Bourbonnais.

“I want to thank Steve for his service. He has been a close ally and confidant,” Wheeler said. “He’ll have a pretty prominent position going forward.”

Afterward, Wheeler said Liehr would become chairman of the board’s finance committee. He said Liehr is changing positions because he expects to travel more.

In past years, the Republican majority met privately to select a chairman and vice chairman before the public meeting. But such sessions violate the state’s open meetings law, as the attorney general has pointed out.

After the November election, Wheeler said the majority would no longer hold private meetings.

In 2016, the majority voted 11-9 for Wheeler in its private meeting after then-Chairman Mike Bossert, a Republican, lost his bid for re-election in the GOP primary. Two years before that, Wheeler unsuccessfully tried to unseat Bossert.

During Wheeler’s time at the helm, the county’s troubled finances have turned around for the better. That’s due, in part, to the county’s sale of its portion of a youth jail in Will County and a surge in income from housing federal inmates in the county jail.

Wheeler appears to maintain good working relationships with the county’s elected department heads, with the exception of auditor Jake Lee, who has written reports on county finances that have drawn Wheeler’s ire.

Wheeler makes $48,000 per year, a salary that was cut from $60,000 earlier this year. He also receives $2,500 as the county’s liquor commissioner.

Also at the county board meeting:

County board members who won their seats in the November elections were sworn in. Five members — Republicans Antonio Carrico, Colton Ekhoff, Joe Swanson, Darrel Smith and Brenda Zuccollo — are new to the board. Leaving the board were Republicans Stephen Einfeldt, Jim Vickery, Mike Mulcahy, Sally Evans and Mike Hildebrand. The board’s partisan makeup remains the same — 22 Republicans, six Democrats.The board unanimously voted for Wheeler’s nomination of John Fetherling to replace District 7’s Jim Stauffenberg, R-Manteno, who recently resigned. Earlier this month, Fetherling stepped down as chairman of the county’s zoning board, which he headed for 15 years. The board voted to elevate Bill Hemm, the zoning board’s vice chairman, to chairman. Zoning board member Gene Rademacher is the new vice chairman, while Dennis Martin filled the seat left vacant by Fetherling.The county board approved an agreement with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, which represents highway department employees. Over four years, workers will see raises of 2 percent every Dec. 1 and 1 percent raises every June 1. Officials said it took only two and a half hours to hammer out the agreement.

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