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Out Here column: Approaches differ in Lee, Whiteside counties

Last year, my editor asked that I refer to the party affiliations of county board members, which I have done with every story.

The other day, Lee County Board Chairman John Nicholson, R-Franklin Grove, told me that it seems as if Sauk Valley Media reporters and editors are the only ones worried about whether board members are Democrats or Republicans.

On the Lee County Board, he said, members’ party affiliations don’t matter.

Nicholson is on the mark. Last week, the board, with a 20-4 Republican majority, chose Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, as its new chairman.

Can you imagine a partisan majority in Washington or Springfield picking someone of the opposite party as its leader? That’s a fantasy almost on the level of flying pigs and unicorns.

With all of the bickering between the two parties, it’s refreshing to see at least some politicians casting aside the D’s and R’s behind their names and picking who they think is the best person for the job.

The Whiteside County Board is another story.

Also last week, the board, with an 18-9 Democratic majority, unanimously chose Jim Duffy, D-Sterling, as its new chairman.

Last week, the Democratic board members held a private meeting to discuss who they wanted for chairman; Republicans weren’t invited. Such partisan meetings don’t happen on other boards, including those in Lee and Ogle counties.

During a recess at Monday’s meeting, Whiteside County Board member Bud Thompson, R-Prophetstown, asked Duffy why the chairman only picked Democrats for the Executive Committee.

Duffy said that’s the way it works.

“When there’s a Republican chairman, it’s all Republicans on the committee,” he said.

In June, the Whiteside board got in a big partisan dispute when then-Chairman Tony Arduini, D-Rock Falls, reappointed Jeri Robinson, a Republican, to the airport board.

Traditionally, the board has supported the chairman’s appointments to the airport board. But some Democrats said they wanted more partisan balance on the airport panel, contending it had too many Republicans.

Others said qualifications, not partisan affiliation, should determine appointments.

Still, a small group of diehard Democrats, including Duffy, voted against Robinson. She won with a 17-9 vote.

As it is, that type of controversy wouldn’t have happened in Lee County.

Please hold off on story, officials request

Last month, I wrote a column on our difficulties in getting documents from Lee County about an out-of-state trip in 2011.

In early November, then-State’s Attorney Henry Dixon informed us in a letter that he wouldn’t release the records, saying doing so would compromise an investigation. Shortly after, though, an assistant state’s attorney, Peter Buh, said he and his boss decided to release the documents after all. We waited and still didn’t get them.

Our request for the documents was made Oct. 30. The 5-day deadline under the Freedom of Information Act has long since passed.

In late November, we found the state’s attorney’s financial claims for the trip – taken more than a year ago – at the county clerk’s office. They showed the trip cost more than $5,000 and involved three people.

We had many questions. Soon after, I scheduled an interview with Sheriff John Varga, whose office was involved with the investigation. I met with Buh, Varga and two other Sheriff’s Department officials who were in Varga’s office when I arrived. They told me that any information released about the trip would hamper the investigation. It would tip off the person they identified as the bad guy.

Please hold off on a story, they requested.

For how long?

It could be months before the investigation is done, they said.

Of course, we don’t want to interfere with the cops catching someone who committed a crime. At the same time, we should be leery of government requests to hold off on publishing stories about the spending of taxpayers’ dollars.

For the time being, the bosses at Sauk Valley Media have decided to hold off on revealing details on the trip.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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