WOODSTOCK – Gov. Bruce Rauner may have to turn Illinois around without the symbolic help of the McHenry County Board, which is settling a lawsuit prompted by its support of the governor’s agenda.
The County Board will vote next Tuesday to rescind its nonbinding 2015 resolution backing Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda,” in exchange for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 dropping its lawsuit alleging that board members who met with Rauner before the vote violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act. While the county admits no wrongdoing in the resolution, the settlement includes paying the union $25,000 to cover its legal fees.
The lawsuit seeks to get the vote rescinded and the resolution declared null and void, and alleges that it had its origins in an illegal meeting. Local 150 filed the lawsuit about a week after the County Board voted April 9, 2015, to approve a resolution backing Rauner’s agenda to reverse Illinois’ increasingly desperate economic fortunes, which among other things would significantly curtail union collective bargaining laws.
Union spokesman Ed Maher said Local 150 and the board have been working together to reach the settlement, but declined further comment until the County Board approves it next week. The union represents county government building maintenance workers and McHenry County Division of Transportation drivers.
County Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, was cautiously optimistic that the board will vote to settle the suit.
"I think the board wants to do it, but we'll wait and see what the board does," he said.
Local 150 alleged that enough board members attended an April 8, 2015, event with Rauner at the Woodstock Opera House to constitute an open meeting under the law, requiring 48 hours advance public notice, which was not given. Furthermore, the lawsuit alleged that union members were not allowed to attend the event, which also would be illegal if the gathering constituted an open meeting under the law.
The County Board voted the following day, 16-5, to approve the nonbinding resolution, following 90 minutes of opposition during public comment from a standing room-only audience of union members. Speakers blasted Rauner’s agenda, particularly allowing for approving right-to-work laws by voter referendum and eliminating prevailing wage laws, as a bad deal for county residents and harmful to the middle class.
A vote Tuesday to settle the lawsuit will end one of two headaches that may have originated with its approval of the symbolic resolution. Local 150, upset with the vote, tipped off the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund last year with an allegation that County Board members were not working the 1,000 hours a year required to qualify for the IMRF pensions that all but a few members had signed up to receive.
The IMRF is now investigating and asking board members to submit proof that they are meeting the annual minimum, although it is not the union but state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, who is now pressing the issue. Franks said his pursuit of the matter is independent of Local 150's complaint.