Can suburban mayors serve on county board?
BY ANDREW SCHROEDTER April 8, 2012 11:26PM
Commissioner Peter N. Silvestri. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times
Updated: May 10, 2012 8:12AM
Should a suburban mayor be allowed to have a second job as a county board member?
That’s a question at the center of a political debate in DuPage County where Elmhurst Mayor Pete DiCianni and Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso say they plan to continue running their respective communities if elected to the DuPage County Board in the general election in November.
And it’s a question now being raised in Cook County, because Peter Silvestri and Jeffrey Tobolski are county commissioners who also serve as elected leaders in their municipalities.
Silvestri has served as Elmwood Park’s village president and a Cook County commissioner for nearly two decades. During that span, he says no one has challenged the legality of his holding dual offices.
But observers say if DiCianni and Grasso win in November and are pressured to step down as mayors — a possibility ever since DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin crafted a legal opinion that found such dual roles are “incompatible” — it could make it easier for someone to come after Silvestri or Tobolski, the mayor of McCook since 2007 and a Cook County commissioner since 2010.
“I think [they] would have reason to be nervous,” says Jack Siegel, a veteran municipal attorney not involved in the matter.
Silvestri says he’s not concerned but acknowledges he heard about the debate in DuPage and brought it up to state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park.).
That led Harmon to introduce a bill on Feb. 7 that would make it legal across the state to serve as a mayor and county commissioner, even if the agencies have basic contractual agreements such as those involving 911 dispatching or sewer services. Under the state’s Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act, a county commissioner isn’t supposed to serve on a community’s governing board if the county government and the community have a contractual relationship.
Cook County has had no contractual relationship with Elmwood Park or McCook over the past five years, a county spokeswoman says. In recent years, DuPage County has had at least seven legal agreements with Elmhurst and Burr Ridge, including intergovernmental agreements that address road and storm water management projects, records show.
Harmon’s bill has been making its way through the Senate, but Harmon now says he’s backing off because he doesn’t want to affect a political race.
This story was written and reported by BGA investigator Andrew Schroedter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 821-9035.