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Calling him 'chronically inept,' Madison County Board moves to strip Prenzler of duties

Madison County Administration Building, located in downtown Edwardsville.
Derik Holtman
Belleville News-Democrat
County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler is being accused of “chronically inept management” of Madison County.

Twelve members of the Madison County Board have called a special meeting on Wednesday night to consider a plan that would take power away from County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler, who is being accused of “chronically inept management” of the county.

Complaints against Prenzler were written into a proposed ordinance that will be considered by board members when they meet Wednesday at 5 p.m.

They also will consider an ordinance that calls for the appointment of a Chairperson Pro Tem and Vice Chairperson Pro Tem, who would assume some of Prenzler’s duties until the end of his current term in 2024. These duties would include the appointment of officials and department heads.

Nine of those who signed off on the special meeting are members of Prenzler’s own party. The three others were Democrats.

“The County Board has lost confidence in its Chairman to advance a fiscally responsible future for the County,” the proposal states.

“It is the opinion of the County Board that the Chairman has exhibited chronically inept management, lack of communication or research on important issues relating to lowering property taxes, lack of attention to his job which decreases the quality of services paid for by taxpayers, and multiple disastrous personnel decisions which have cost the County millions of dollars in legal costs and settlements.”

Prenzler, a Republican, was first elected to the county board chairman position in 2016 and was re-elected in 2020.

He said on Tuesday he was “shocked” when he heard of proposed ordinance changes that would alter his duties.

“It’s very, very harsh and of course I don’t think it’s true,” he said of the complaints against him. “It’s very harsh, I was very shocked to see that.”

Nine Republicans and three Democrats signed the petition to call for the special meeting: John Eric Foster, R-Granite City; Chris Hankins, D-Pontoon Beach; Chris Guy, R-Maryville; Denise Wiehardt, R-Granite City; Nick Petrillo, D-Granite City; Gussie Glasper, D-Madison; Mike Walters, R-Godfrey; Bobby Ross, R-St. Jacob; Stacey Pace, R-Troy; James Goggin, R-Edwardsville; Mick Madison, R-Bethalto and Terry Eaker, R-Bethalto.

The proposal has the support of the five other Republicans who hold countywide seats. They include Circuit Clerk Tom McRae, County Auditor David Michael, State’s Attorney Tom Haine, Treasurer Chris Slusser, and Regional Superintendent of Schools Rob Werden.

Haine, who serves as the attorney for the county, said in an interview that making the proposed changes are “fully within the powers” of the board.

“Every Republican county-wide elected official agrees that Chairman Prenzler’s inept management and bad judgment is wasting taxpayer resources and harming our abilities to serve the citizens of Madison County,” said Haine and the four others countywide officials in a joint statement issued Tuesday. “This action is long overdue, and we commend the Board’s leadership in pursuing these ordinance updates even in the face of personal attacks.”

The statement said the five officials have “strong support” of the plan due to a recent lawsuit that cost the county $1.3 million and “many other personnel problems.”

The county reached a settlement last year with Kristen Poshard, former administrator of the county’s Community Development Department, who had who filed a federal lawsuit accusing the county of wrongfully terminating her after she alleged that a former county board member sexually harassed her.

“The idea of additional Board oversight and involvement in County Administration has been rumored for a while, especially since Prenzler’s most recent defeat last spring when the former Community Development Director’s lawsuit for sexual harassment and wrongful termination ended up costing the county over $1.3 million,” the Republican officials said in their statement. “Since then we all have seen the continued revolving door of department heads, misguided appointments and personnel decisions, and a County Chairman who maintained an ongoing professional relationship with two fired former administrators even while these same fired employees were filing and litigating scores of lawsuits against the County.”

Prenzler said that since he became chairman, the county has been able to reduce county property taxes for residents.

He says the board members who oppose his administration include those who did not get his support in the June 28 primary. He supported candidates who backed a proposed Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, which gives voters the chance to decide tax changes and limits amounts the county can collect.

Under this system, “Increases in property tax extensions are limited to the lesser of 5 percent or the increase in the consumer price index for the year preceding the levy year. The limitation for a taxing district can be increased with voter approval,” according to the Illinois Department of Revenue.

The statement from McRae, Michael, Haine, Slusser and Werden states that property tax law changes are not the reason they want to change Prenzler’s duties.

“...The fact that Mr. Prenzler apparently thinks these changes are about PTELL just shows that he apparently has no idea what is happening inside the County government,” their statement says.

Prenzler released a statement Tuesday night in response to the other GOP officials.

“It was unfortunate that other Republican officeholders weighed in and continue to interfere in county board business. I’m in the oversight business. That’s how I got here,” Prenzler said in a statement Tuesday night in response to McRae, Michael, Haine, Slusser, and Werden.

“In 2011, 2017 and 2018, I led the fight to defeat a proposed county-wide 1 percent sales tax. In 2016, I led an effort to collect 10,000 signatures to put a tax cut referendum on the ballot, which passed 4 to 1,” Prenzler.

Dwight Kay, a former Republican state representative from Madison County who has started a group called the Madison County Conservative Caucus, released a statement on Monday in support of Prenzler.

“The charges are unsupported by facts, data or evidence rendering the charges and Special Meeting akin to a high tech lynching by a small group of Republicans against a two-time elected Chairman, who is also a Republican,” Kay said in his statement.

Kay said in an interview Tuesday that the board members opposed to Prenzler include members who lost GOP primary races last month to candidates supported by the Madison County Conservative Caucus.

In response to the statement released by the five countywide leaders on Tuesday, Kay criticized McRae, Michael, Haine, Slusser and Werden for citing the Poshard lawsuit.

“That had nothing to do with Kurt Prenzler,” Kay said of the lawsuit.

Mike Koziatek is a reporter who covers the Belleville area for the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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