Drama mars search for Lake Co. board replacement

Published: 6/15/2009 12:00 AM

Last Thursday, Waukegan Democrat Keith Turner was preparing to become the Lake County Board's newest member.

Turner was so confident of the appointment, which was planned for this Tuesday, he e-mailed a news release about it to the media that included information about a celebration to follow his swearing in.

By early Friday afternoon, however, Turner -- Waukegan Mayor Bob Sabonjian's choice to fill his former seat on the county board -- was out. According to an e-mail board Chairwoman Suzi Schmidt sent to the rest of the board and County Administrator Barry Burton that day, Turner pulled his name from consideration.

But on Sunday, Schmidt said she and Turner had agreed he should withdraw because of several factors, including a perceived lack of support from some of the board's Democrats.

The announcement Turner prematurely sent to the media didn't help matters, either, Schmidt said.

"I was very upset that he contacted the press," said Schmidt, a Lake Villa Republican. "It was very presumptuous."

Turner could not be reached for comment Sunday. Sabonjian called the unraveling of the appointment "disappointing."

Turner's decision not to seek the 8th District seat leaves Schmidt with less than a month to find a replacement for Sabonjian, who resigned in May to become mayor.

Schmidt must appoint a Democrat to the post because Sabonjian last was elected to the board as a Democrat, even though he later left the party to be an independent.

Legally, Schmidt has 60 days from Sabonjian's May 4 resignation to recommend a candidate to the board, which must vote on her choice. She hopes to find a candidate by the board's July 9 meeting.

Turner, 57, has unsuccessfully run for public office in Waukegan, both for the city council and the park district board. He's a political ally and longtime friend of Sabonjian's and worked on the mayor's campaign.

In an interview last month, Turner said he was overwhelmed to have Sabonjian's endorsement for the county board post. He was one of seven or eight candidates for the job.

State Sen. Terry Link, chairman of the Lake County Democratic organization, had recommended Waukegan Park District board member Bill Durkin for the post, Schmidt said.

Schmidt said she refused to consider Durkin, however, because his sister is county Recorder of Deeds Mary Ellen Vanderventer.

"It smacks of nepotism," Schmidt said.

Schmidt said she liked Turner's resume and didn't mind that he'd run for office a few times but lost.

During a meeting in her office Friday, however, Schmidt said she and Turner agreed he wasn't right for the job.

The expected lack of support from some of the board's Democrats contributed to the decision. Sabonjian said he knew Democrats wanted someone else for the post.

"There was a lot of back and forth in the party about it," Sabonjian said. "I would've liked to have seen Keith in the post... Obviously the party disagreed."

County board member Melida Bush was one of the Democrats who planned to oppose Turner's nomination. On Sunday, she said she was concerned Turner wouldn't run as a Democrat if he ran for election in 2010.

"It's incumbent upon the Democrats that we have a Democrat in that seat," said Bush, of Grayslake.

Schmidt said other factors led to Turner's reversal, too, but she declined to talk about them on the record.

Schmidt is now back to searching for appointees for three seats on the board, which doubles as the county's forest preserve district commission.

Lake Zurich Republican Michael Talbett resigns effective today to take over as Kildeer's village administrator, which leaves his 19th District seat open. Additionally, Long Grove Republican Pam Newton has been expected to resign to take a job this week as Hawthorn Woods' chief operating officer.

Newton has not resigned from the county board, however, despite saying in May she would do so.