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New law holds Will County appointees more accountable

Published: Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 1:38 p.m. CDT

A new measure signed into law gives Will County Board members more authority to remove county appointees who violate ethics standards.

It's a move welcomed by county appointees such as Nick Palmer, chief of staff for Will County Executive Larry Walsh. Palmer was appointed by Walsh in 2004 as deputy chief of staff but was later promoted to chief of staff in 2010.

“I think it's good. It's what I've always known,” Palmer said Friday. “If it restores any confidence of the taxpayers in the board, I think that's a positive thing. It could also discourage people who might want to do something that's not in the public's best interest. Hopefully it discourages them because they know people are watching.”

Senate Bill 3552, signed earlier this month by Quinn, applies only to Illinois counties with populations of 300,000 to 2 million. That includes Will, DuPage, Lake, Will, Kane and McHenry counties.

Under the bill, county boards can adopt code of ethics for accountability, fiscal responsibility, transparency, procurement authority, efficiency and ethics for appointees. Appointees will be held to those standards, but can be removed by a two-thirds majority vote from the county board. State law allows board members to remove appointees for criminal acts.

In Will County's case, 18 of the 26 board members would be needed to vote the individual out. Reasonable notice of the violation and a hearing would be required before the vote takes place.

Palmer said government officials — both elected and appointed — are already held to fairly high standards, including in matters such as conflicts of interest.

For example, he said, officials are required to submit to the Will County Clerk's office a Statement of Economic Interest each year. The form essentially asks the individual to list any companies they are affiliated with or have interest in, which could help avoid any conflicts, Palmer said.

State Rep. Larry Walsh. Jr., D-Elwood, who voted yes on the bill back in May, said the new law only means good things for taxpayers.

“We got thousands and thousands of boards throughout the state, whether it be through the county or municipalities, and to be able to have a little more teeth in the law to address that issue is just better for the people,” Walsh Jr. said.

The new law is effective Jan. 1. It passed both the House and Senate this spring without opposition.

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