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UNDER THE RADAR: Fighting townships from within

Trustee's column leaves 'mouths hanging open'

Published: Saturday, March 30, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

GRAND DETOUR – John McLane is not alone in his call to eliminate township government. What makes him different is his status – an elected township official.

On March 14, McLane, a Grand Detour Township trustee, made his opposition to townships public in a guest column in Sauk Valley Media – a move that surprised other officials.

One Grand Detour resident said McLane's column left people in the township "with their mouths hanging open."

In his piece, McLane pointed to what he considered as waste in township government. Many counties have more than 20 townships.

"Illinois has more units of government than other states and is near bankruptcy," McLane wrote. "If our elected elected state, county and township representatives want to save taxpayers' money, they should eliminate townships. Smarter, smaller more efficient government is needed. It's no longer the 19th century."

In 2009, McLane, who has lived in Grand Detour for more than 35 years, was elected as a township trustee.

On April 9, he will on the ballot as a candidate for supervisor against incumbent Francis Drew, the longtime supervisor of Grand Detour Township, population 742, a few miles northeast of Dixon.

Drew didn't return a message for comment.

Townships have three mandatory responsibilities – maintaining roads, assessing the value of properties, and providing general assistance to the poor.

For years, some state legislators have introduced bills to eliminate townships, but they always fail.

Townships give 'level of convenience'

Debbie Lowry, the Grand Detour township clerk for the past 28 years, disagreed with McLane's column.

"I think townships are needed," Lowry said. "If something needs to be done, it can be done faster by the township than if we waited for the county to do it."

As for general assistance, she said, townships should keep that function.

"To ask for assistance is embarrassing enough. The small-town atmosphere is a lot cozier for someone who needs help," Lowry said. "For general assistance, we get $1,500 a year. So far, it's been enough to get us through. Most of the people in Grand Detour are able to fend for themselves."

Jim Ross, husband of Trustee Connie Ross, said turning over maintenance of township roads to the county would hurt residents.

"When it's snowing out, Ogle County has many roads to maintain," he said. "It's pretty obvious they're not going to go inside the village of Grand Detour until they get the main roads done."

Jennifer Kelly-Heppler, a trustee candidate in Grand Detour, also backs township government.

"You have a closer bond with the people who are in townships," she said. "You can call up any of the trustees. You don't have that level of convenience with a county board. I can walk to trustees' houses; they're close neighbors."

A family business in Grand Detour?

In his column, McLane said the township board could almost be called a family business. Before his term, he said, four members were related by blood or marriage.

Family connections remain. Clerk Lowry is married to Road Commissioner Kenny Lowry, both of whom are seeking re-election. Connie Ross, who is running again, is a sister-in-law of the Lowrys.

Jim Ross' brother, Joe Ross, is among five candidates running for four trustee positions.

These types of connections are common in townships. In nine of Lee County's 22 townships, for instance, at least two officials share the same last name.

Jim Ross, who regularly attends board meetings, said it's hard to find people to fill township elected positions, so that's why family members end up serving.

Clerk Lowry said having family on a board doesn't guarantee agreement.

"Brothers and sisters can have totally different ideas," she said. "Just because my husband is road commissioner doesn't mean I agree when he says he doesn't need to plow a road."

'Incumbents are entrenched'

McLane said the feedback from his column has been almost entirely positive, with the exception of an official from another township who called him and repeatedly told him he was wrong.

No one in his township government apparently knew McLane would call for the end of townships.

"He's never brought this up at a meeting," Jim Ross said. "No one here in town expected it. Everyone in town had their mouths hanging open."

Lowry said she, too, was surprised.

"Why is he running for supervisor when he doesn't want townships to exist?" she said.

McLane said that if he wins, he will have the majority of the trustees "deadset" against him.

"The incumbents are entrenched," he said. “And it's easy money."

Grand Detour Township ballot

Here's who is on the April 9 ballot in Grand Detour Township;

Supervisor

Francis Drew

John McLane

Clerk

Debbie Lowry

Road commissioner

Ken Lowry

Trustee

(vote for four)

Paul Roe

Jennifer Kelly-Heppler

John Foxley

Connie Ross

Joe Ross

Multi-township assessor

Rita Dauphin

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