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Committee assignments split DuPage County board
By Jake Griffin | Daily Herald Staff

Robert Schillerstrom


James Healy


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Published: 1/28/2009 12:02 AM

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The usually mundane task of setting DuPage County Board committee assignments set off a split Tuesday that threatens to divide the board for at least the next two years.

Chairman Robert Schillerstrom's recommendations were rejected by a 9-8 vote. Because it's the second time his recommendations were dismissed, it's now up to the board to set the assignments themselves. That mission proved too treacherous for the majority to fulfill as well.

At the heart of the rift are chairmanships for several influential committees. Board members assigned chairmanships of the committees are able to set the agendas move or block legislation at their will. But in a broader sense, control of the board is at stake and could influence the shape of the next round of board elections in two years when six seats and Schillerstrom's post are up for grabs.

Chairmanship and vice chairmanship committee positions used to receive extra salary stipends, but the board discontinued those expenditures last year.

Schillerstrom wanted Debra Olson to chair the finance committee that oversees the budget and Don Puchalski to oversee the transportation committee.

An opposition group led by board members James Healy, Paul Fichtner and Brien Sheahan called for Healy to lead transportation and Fichtner to head finance. Healy has served as the transportation committee's vice chairman for several years, while Puchalski is not currently a member of that committee.

Healy presented his recommendations after Schillerstrom's failed, but after several minutes of heated debate, the issue was tabled until the board's Feb. 10 meeting.

Healy said he expected his recommendations to be tabled and only brought them up for a vote to ensure the issue would appear on the next agenda.

Schillerstrom argued Healy doesn't have the votes for his committee proposals and called Healy's excuse for failing to pass them "revisionist history." Board members siding with Schillerstrom blasted Healy for trying to push through his own list of committee assignments without consulting all board members.

"To get this at 11:35 this morning and expect to vote on it when I've had no input is inappropriate and unfair," Puchalski said. "I should have some say in the committees I want to be on."

Some board members siding with Schillerstrom said they felt "back-stabbed"

Healy said his list was merely a place-holder for the next meeting.

"We need a place to start talking," Healy said after the meeting. "If we didn't have this, we'd be floundering around next meeting."

The vote to reject Schillerstrom's recommendations is the latest blow to the longtime board leader's power. Last year, voters rejected many of the Republican candidates Schillerstrom endorsed in the primary, and in November elected three Democrats to the then-all-Republican board for the first time since the 1970s.

The three Democrats - Dirk Enger, Rita Gonzalez and Tony Michelassi - all voted against Schillerstrom's recommendations, joining Republicans Healy, Fichtner, Sheahan, Olson, Grant Eckhoff and J.R. McBride.

There are only 17 board members currently due to District 5 board member Michael Connelly's resignation to become a state representative.