'Stymied' by Lawlor case, Lake County Board to seek power to remove leaders
Frustrated by their inability to legally remove their chairman last year despite a police investigation into his conduct, Lake County commissioners will lobby state lawmakers to give them that power.
The board voted Tuesday to add such a request to the legislative proposals it's pursuing in the General Assembly.
Unlike in neighboring McHenry County, Lake County's chairman is appointed by the board from its members every two years, not directly by voters. There are no provisions to remove the leader until the next election.
Last summer, then-Chairman Aaron Lawlor began an extended leave of absence after announcing he was seeking treatment for an unspecified drug addiction.
Documents subsequently reviewed by the Daily Herald revealed the Vernon Hills Republican had improperly used his county credit card to make personal purchases totaling thousands of dollars. Illinois State Police launched an investigation, which is ongoing.
Lawlor's absence led the board to promote its vice chairwoman at the time, Libertyville Republican Carol Calabresa, to interim chairwoman. She served in that role until last month.
Lawlor never returned to work and left elected office when his term expired in December. He collected a salary and other taxpayer-funded benefits until then.
County commissioners publicly discussed if they had the power to remove him as chairman last year. They were told they didn't.
Many board members "felt stymied" by that, Lincolnshire Republican Ann Maine said Tuesday.
"We were handcuffed," Maine said. "That inability (to act) made for some rough going."
Lake Bluff Democrat Sandy Hart, who was named the board's chairwoman in December, is leading the push to give the board the power to remove its leader.
Hart -- and the board's legislative committee -- support a 2017 proposal from Republican state Sen. Chuck Weaver of Peoria that didn't get far in the General Assembly.
Under Weaver's plan, a county board that chooses its leader could unseat that official "with or without cause" if at least four-fifths of the panel supports the move. The board would elect a new chairman at its next scheduled meeting.
The board approved adding the issue to its legislative agenda without opposition.
Reached via email this week, Lawlor said he received no requests from his fellow board members to resign last year.
"If members felt that I should step down, I wish they would have communicated that with me," said Lawlor, who hasn't been charged. "Had I gotten any communication from a majority of the board, I would have resigned as chairman."
Lawlor, who eventually reimbursed the county for the charges he identified as personal, said he supports the board's proposal.
County board member Judy Martini, a Fox Lake Republican, said she hopes the Lake County Forest Preserve District board also formally endorses the plan. The forest board consists of the same 21 politicians who serve on the county board. The members choose their president.