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Madison County Board votes by wide margin to strip Chairman Prenzler of duties

Madison County Chairman Kurt Prenzler speaks into a microphone at a desk.
Derik Holtmann
Belleville News-Democrat
The Madison County Board voted 19-6 to remove powers from County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler during a special meeting Wednesday night.

The Madison County Board voted 19-6 to remove powers from County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler during a special meeting Wednesday night.

The ordinance 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 the county administrator and department heads.

Nine of 12 county board members who called for 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,” a preamble to the ordinance 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.”

A crowd of about 200 people filled the county board room to hear discussion, including five who spoke on Prenzler’s behalf to applause from a raucous crowd.

Prenzler, a Republican, was first elected to the county board chairman position in 2016 and was re-elected in 2020. He said he was disappointed by the vote.

“I obviously don’t agree with a lot of those statements made, but I will faithfully serve the citizens and taxpayers of Madison County,” Prenzler said after the meeting.

Here are the board members who 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.

Here are highlights of the changes:

▪ The chairperson pro tem may be removed with or without cause by a two-thirds vote of the county board.

▪ If the chairperson is removed, the vice chairperson pro tem immediately assumes duties of the Chairperson Pro Tem.

▪ A new chairperson pro tem shall be elected at the next regularly scheduled county board meeting.

▪ The county board chairperson pro tem will work with the county administrator and county auditor to prepare a draft county budget.

How board members voted and why

Denise Wiehardt, a Republican from Granite City, voted in favor of the ordinance. She criticized Prenzler for a campaign letter he wrote in advance of last month’s primary election in which he said women should be married.

“I feel the need to defend myself and other women who are either single, divorced or single moms,” she said.

In reply, Prenzler said he was trying to praise candidate John Janek for being married for 49 years and regretted that the “template” he followed in the letter upset Wiehardt.

“Mrs. Wiehardt, I did not intend to disparage you at all,” he said.

Republican Chris Guy, of Maryville, voted against the ordinance. He said his vote wasn’t specifically in support of Prenzler but “is about protecting the chairmanship.”

“The taxpayers elected a county board chairman to be their voice and to be their vote,” he said. “Silencing the voters’ choice in the middle of his term goes against the wishes of the voters who elected him to serve.”

Is it illegal to change the chairman's duties?

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Haine, who also serves as the attorney for the county board, said the board is fully within its rights to approve the ordinance.

Haine issued a legal opinion on the issue in March 2021. He noted that Madison County has a township form of government and under Illinois law, this means the county board as a whole controls the county and can approve or reject ordinances that establish the duties of the county board chairman.

Madison County voters decided in 2003 to allow the voters across the county to decide who serves as county board chairman instead of the previous manner, which called for county board members to choose a chairman.

“The fact remains that Illinois law does not give the office of Board Chairperson, whether elected by the people or by the Board, much innate power,” Haine wrote in the memo.

Haine said that changing the way in which a county board chairman is elected did not change “the nature or powers of this position.”

Mike Koziatek is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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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