© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ethics adviser recommends sanctions for Madison County Board chairman over business cards

Madison County Chairman Kurt Prenzler speaks into a microphone at a desk.
Derik Holtmann
Belleville News-Democrat
Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler, shown at a board meeting in 2022, is accused of violating a county ethics ordinance. The Republican is in the midst of a contentious reelection campaign.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

Madison County’s ethics adviser is recommending that the County Board sanction Chairman Kurt Prenzler for handing out “campaign-style” business cards while on the job.

Adviser Bruce Mattea, a Collinsville attorney, stated in an investigative report that Prenzler violated a county ethics ordinance when he gave the cards to a vendor working at the county administration building last fall and to an assistant state’s attorney.

The orange cards with black lettering included a list of Prenzler’s accomplishments and links to his “political campaign fundraising website,” according to the report. He had written his cellphone number on the card given to the vendor.

“This innuendo is highly improper, it diminishes public confidence, and such actions could lead to distrust of the County’s elected officials,” Mattea wrote. “It reinforces the concept of political quid-pro-quo.

“It could result in the albeit mistaken impression on the part of the recipient that a political contribution to the Chairman’s campaign would result in economic advantage to the vendor.”

The Madison County Ethics Ordinance prohibits soliciting campaign donations or votes on county time or property.

Prenzler, a Republican, blames the investigation on politics and insists that he wasn’t campaigning when he gave the card to Mark Weimerskirch, an employee of Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations, who had been hired to perform a security analysis of the county administration building.

Prenzler told the BND that he spoke to Weimerskirch on a variety of topics, including his “whistle-blowing” against former county Treasurer Fred Bathon, who was sent to federal prison in 2013; and gave Weimerskirch the orange card because it listed the Bathon case as one of his accomplishments.

Prenzler noted that Weimerskirch is an Ohio resident who can’t vote in Illinois elections.

“(The investigation) is just another attempt by Chris Slusser to weaponize the criminal justice system against me — like they’re doing with Pres. Trump,” Prenzler wrote in an email.

“This doesn’t even meet the low standards of Chicago Democrats. This was sent to the Democrat Illinois Attorney General and the Illinois State Police, and they saw nothing wrong.”

Prenzler was referring to the fact that State’s Attorney Tom Haine’s office forwarded the allegations to the Illinois State Police and Illinois attorney general’s office for review. Both declined to investigate or file criminal charges, according to county emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Prenzler is facing a contentious primary challenge by Republican county Treasurer Chris Slusser.

“Slusser’s own conduct is similar to Fred Bathon’s conduct,” Prenzler wrote in the email. “A county board member has asked the ethics officer for an opinion on Slusser’s unethical conduct.”

Slusser isn’t mentioned in Mattea’s report on Prenzler.

This isn’t the first time campaigning on the job has been an issue in Madison County. Four years ago, the County Board fired Administrator Doug Hulme and IT Director Rob Dorman, both hired by Prenzler, for allegedly spying on county employees by accessing their emails.

Hulme and Dorman denied wrongdoing and argued that they were trying to document what they described as widespread campaigning by Democrats on county time and property.

“My job was to make it stop and let the County Board know about it,” Hulme said in a interview last year.

The Madison County Board is scheduled to discuss Mattea’s report on Prenzler at an Executive Committee meeting at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, according to board Chairman Pro Tem Mick Madison.

Madison, a Republican, was appointed chairman pro tem in 2022, when the County Board voted 19-6 to strip Prenzler of some of his powers due to complaints about his leadership.

On Dec. 5, 2023, Madison asked Mattea to review the allegations against Prenzler, as suggested in an email from Haine, a Republican.

“We gave this allegation, an initial review ... and concluded that it potentially implicated not only the County Ethics Ordinance but also state law,” Haine wrote to Madison, county Administrator Dave Tanzyus and Human Resources Manager Andrew Esping.

Haine stated that his office would normally prosecute or decide not to prosecute in such cases but the “likelihood for a conflict of interest here (Chairman Prenzler being a current county official) was high.”

Madison notified County Board members in an email that he was referring the case to Mattea, noting that the Illinois State Police and Illinois attorney general’s office had declined to act.

“Just because certain issues are not found to be illegal, or prosecuted, does not, necessarily, mean they are not unethical,” Madison wrote.

Madison declined to comment Thursday on the allegations against Prenzler, other than to say that he has asked for a list of potential actions available to the board in response to the report.

“We’re getting pretty close to an election here, and I don’t want to give the look of impropriety by playing politics,” said Madison, of Bethalto, who represents county District 5.

County Board members received Mattea’s 13-page report and two-page addendum on Thursday.

Mattea didn’t respond to a BND request for comment.

The report refers to Weimerskirch, but his name is redacted in emails that the county released earlier this month in response to a FOIA request. The documents present the following timeline:

  • Weimerskirch was working at the county administration building last fall, when he got into a conversation with Prenzler, who gave him the orange business card.
  • Weimerskirch spoke by phone to Annette Schoeberle, the county’s director of safety and risk management, on Oct. 26, 2023, and mentioned that he thought the card was “odd” compared to official business cards from other county officials.
  • In a video conference later that day, Schoeberle reported her conversation with Weimerskirch to Assistant State’s Attorney David Livingstone.
  • Livingstone spoke to Assistant State’s Attorney Paul Evans, who told him that Prenzler gave him the same orange card after an “awkward” discussion about politics last year, when Evans was assisting with a county real-estate transaction.

Livingston outlined the allegations against Prenzler in an email to Haine on Nov. 3, 2023.
“The alleged distribution of a ‘business card’ with political content which implicitly requests or solicits campaign donations and potentially votes (both of which would grant a personal advantage to the Chairman) appears to be forbidden by County Ordinance if it occurred,” Livingstone wrote.

On Nov. 5, 2023, Haine asked First Assistant State’s Attorney Chad Loughrey to refer the allegations to the Illinois State Police and Illinois attorney general’s office, which Loughrey did.

ISP Sgt. Windy Westfall responded by stating that the case “does not meet our criteria to conduct a criminal investigation.”

Loughrey had asked that the attorney general’s office “accept the matter as a special prosecutor.” The response came from Richard Cenar, deputy chief of its criminal enforcement division.

“I regret to inform you that our office is unable to provide the assistance that you are requesting,” Cenar wrote in an email.

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

Teri Maddox is a reporter with the Belleville News Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.