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Officials question Madison County Board chairman over ethics violation

Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler sits while being questioned by other board members regarding ethics violation.
Joshua Carter
Belleville News-Democrat
Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler sits while being questioned by other board members regarding ethics violation.

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

Madison County Board members met Wednesday to question Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler and decide what to do about a recent finding that he violated the county’s ethics policy by handing out “campaign-style” business cards twice while on the job.

Prenzler gave cards with a list of his accomplishments and links to his political campaign fundraising website to a vendor working at the county administration building last fall and to an assistant state’s attorney last year, according to an investigation by Bruce Mattea, a Collinsville attorney and the county’s ethics adviser.

Board members, the county prosecutor and chairman went back and forth for about 45 minutes on Wednesday: If the recipient of the campaign material can’t vote in an Illinois election, is handing it to him a breach of ethics? Will an apology and promise not to do it again suffice?

During the executive committee meeting, appointed board member Bill Stoutenborough, an Alton Democrat representing county District 9, revealed that he, too, received one of the cards from Prenzler during an interview for the open seat.

“I hesitate to even bring it up now, but is it germane to the situation?” Stoutenborough said.

Prenzler told board members it was a mistake to give out the campaign card to vendor Mark Weimerskirch, an employee of Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations, who had been hired to perform a security analysis of the county administration building. The chairman apologized for doing so during Wednesday’s meeting. Prenzler said he should have given Weimerskirch a county-issued business card or written his contact information on a piece of paper instead.

The county’s ethics adviser determined the action could give the impression that a contribution to the chairman’s campaign would result in economic advantage to the vendor, the investigative report states.

Prenzler, a Republican, contends he wasn’t campaigning because the vendor is an Ohio resident who can’t vote in Illinois elections. He said he couldn’t recall giving a campaign card to Assistant State’s Attorney Paul Evans, as Mattea’s investigative report states. And Prenzler noted the interview with Stoutenborough took place at St. Louis Bread Company, not on county property.

The Madison County Administration Building on Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Edwardsville.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Madison County Administration Building in April 2023 in Edwardsville.

State’s Attorney Tom Haine declined to answer a board member’s question about whether the location makes a difference under the ethics policy, saying Mattea’s investigative report didn’t cover the incident with Stoutenborough. It was Haine who first received the ethics complaint, but he referred the investigation to the Illinois Attorney General’s office and Illinois State Police to avoid the appearance of any potential conflict. Both agencies determined the situation didn’t warrant a criminal investigation.

“My recommendation is don’t tread closely towards the line of mixing an official function with campaign literature,” Haine told board members. “Everybody here has cards paid for by the taxpayers. You can use that if you want to give somebody your phone number.”

Board members plan to continue discussing possible action they may take in response to the ethics violation at their next meeting in February. Haine and Stoutenborough noted the board’s decision in this case will set a precedent for how they enforce the policy in the future.

On Wednesday, they asked Prenzler himself to weigh in on what the board should do.

Executive committee member Mike Babcock, a Bethalto Republican representing county District 14, asked Prenzler what he would do if one of his employees had distributed campaign material on the clock. Haine also pressed Prenzler for an answer.

“I would just have to review all the circumstances,” Prenzler said. “For example, in this circumstance, the gentleman is from Ohio. I shared my number, pulled out the card and I wish I hadn’t pulled out the card. I could have put it on a piece of paper.”

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

Lexi Cortes is an investigative reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.