Too political? Some GOP Will County Board members see politics in proclamations

Although typically cordial, some County Board members decry political acts

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At the Will County Board meeting May 16, Amanda Koch, D-Frankfort, read a proclamation to declare the first Friday in June as National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

Right after Koch finished reading the text, a handful of Republicans went on the attack – taking issue with the word “gun.”

“There is no such thing as gun violence,” said Gretchen Fritz, R-Plainfield. “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”

Steve Balich, R-Homer Glen, also decried the use of the word “gun,” saying it was “absurd” to talk about gun violence when there were other forms of violence in society.

“There’s a lot of other violence, like with turkey knives on Thanksgiving,” Balich said. “A gun is a tool, just like a fork or a knife is, and they can be used as weapons. Battery acid can be used as a weapon. A screwdriver can be used as a weapon.”

Mimi Cowan, D-Naperville, responded to the comments saying she was “astounded” the members couldn’t agree about a resolution on safety, which she said affirmed the Second Amendment.

“I look forward to the series of resolutions that Mr. Balich will bring forth regarding fork safety in the future,” she said. “That is, of course, up to him.”

Although the proclamation ultimately passed with an 18-6 majority, all six “no” votes came from Republican members. To Balich, such a proclamation crossed the line as being too political.

During the meeting, he said if Democrats were going to bring up proclamations touching on political issues such as gun control, then he would want to bring up proclamations speaking out against abortion.

“We’re going to have a problem if we’re going to bring political things up as proclamations,” Balich said as Will County Executive Larry Walsh tried to temper the conversation. “That is nuts.”

Member Rachel Ventura, D-Joliet, made a distinction about what was and was not appropriate to bring up at a County Board meeting in terms of proclamations. She said the actions the board has taken, such as passing the proclamation about gun violence awareness or speaking out against racist graffiti, speak to issues residents face.

“These are things that we need to address,” Ventura said.

Still, Ventura conceded that talking about such issues can bleed over into the political realm, although, she said, members should be cautious about using social issues as “power plays.”

Another member, Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, attributed a lot of the political back and forth to all of the legislative action at the state level.

“Republicans tend to be respectful, but now it seems that [state Democrats] are infringing on our beliefs,” she said. “We have to speak up as Republicans for what we believe.”

That's why in June, when Balich did end up trying to bring up a proclamation in response to the passage of a state law expanding abortion access, Ogalla spoke up about her feelings on the issue. During her comments, she said she felt like the board was taking actions on "many things" related to social issues, even though that typically doesn't happen at the county level.

“I think it is county business because it impacts so many of our residents,” Ogalla said.

Balich’s proclamation ultimately was not brought up for a vote, Ogalla said, because it was felt that it wasn’t county business to vote on such matters. She said she felt the Republicans, while even in the minority, should be able to bring up their own proclamations. She added that in districts such as hers, there are many residents in rural communities who have different sets of values and priorities, and she needs to represent them.

To Ogalla’s point, at July’s meeting, about 10 people came to speak during public comments about abortion, most against, in response to the passage of the state law.

Still, Ogalla added, even if discussions get a bit heated during meetings, once the next meeting or conversation comes up, members tend to put the politics aside. She pointed to examples of members from different parties who represent the same district as being great working partners, such as Annette Parker, R-Crest Hill, and Ventura in District 9, or Gloria Dollinger, R-Joliet, and Tyler Marcum, D-Joliet, in District 10.

“We’re fighting on the floor for our values, but at the end of the day, we do get along,” Ogalla said.

Minority Leader Mike Fricilone, R-Homer Glen, said he saw nothing wrong with discussions and disagreements, and there was almost always going to be a political component to matters dealt with at the county board level. Plus, he said, the discussions have actually been substantive on matters such as expanding video gaming or legalizing marijuana in the county.

“People are actually listening to what other people are saying,” Fricilone said. “There’s nothing wrong with having a split vote.”

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.