Will County Board divided over veto on 143rd Street project

State’s attorney says Bertino-Tarrant veto is legitimate, but county board members say no

Traffic moves along 143rd Street on an open stretch of road between Lemont and Bell Road on Tuesday, March 19, 2024 in Homer Township.

A fight over 143rd Street in Homer Glen rages on after the Will County Board settled nothing Thursday in long debates over the veto that allegedly wasn’t.

A county board majority is trying to block a planned expansion of 143rd Street amid protests from residents that the road widening will take too much private property and spoil the countryside feel they enjoy in Homer Township.

“I am a farm person, and I want you guys to understand that we want our community to stay the way it is,” Christy Nahser told the board at its meeting on Thursday.

Nahser and others contend that the expansion of 143rd Street to five lanes between Bell and Lemont roads will invite more traffic at a faster pace and bring unwanted urbanization to their slice of a rural lifestyle.

A majority of county board members sided with their case in February and voted to scale down the widening of the two-lane road to three lanes, adding only a center lane.

Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant speaks at the Will County board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 in Joliet.

Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, who supports the five-lane plan, vetoed the county board resolution to limit the expansion but not before she signed it, which Bertino-Tarrant said was inadvertent.

County board members who want to see the widening scaled back said Bertino-Tarrant’s initial signature to the legislation should stand and negate the veto.

“You can’t rely on somebody making a decision saying they made a mistake after the fact,” board Member Dan Butler, R-Frankfort said. “Once a decision is made, it can’t be gone back on.”

The situation is a little more complicated, a tangled scenario that could prove challenging for any political science professor to unwind. County board members objecting to the veto want a court to settle the matter.

Bertino-Tarrant’s explanation is that she signed the resolution that limited the 143rd Street widening and immediately realized her mistake. She set the packet including her signature aside instead of sending it to the county clerk’s office for final authorization. But a staffer later saw the signed document on Bertino-Tarrant’s desk and believing it to have been intended to go to the clerk’s office took it there.

What happened next gets more complicated.

Judy Ogalla at the Will County board meeting at the Will County Office Building. Thursday, Mar. 17, 2022, in Joliet.

But County Board Chairwoman Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, contends that the county clerk then authorized the resolution making it official.

“In this case, she did sign the resolution,” Ogalla said of Bertino-Tarrante’s signature. “It’s an undeniable fact.”

Ogalla also questioned whether Bertino-Tarrant may have been persuaded after she signed the resolution to veto it. The signed resolution was posted on a Facebook page, which Bertino-Tarrant said was the first she realized it had gotten out of her office, where she intended it to stay. Then she vetoed it.

The Will County State’s Attorney’s Office, which is the legal advisor to all county officials, has advised that Bertino-Tarrant’s signing of the legislation was not official and that her veto is legitimate.

The state’s attorney’s office points to official procedures for authenticating county legislation that Ogalla said have not been used since before the year 2000.

The county board in 10-9 votes directed the state’s attorney’s office to go to court to challenge Bertino-Tarrant’s veto.

Prosecutor Scott Pyles speaks during the People v. Ferrell hearing at the Will County Annex building. Will County state’s attorneys are motioning to remove Joliet Township Trustee Karl Ferrell from the township board as they contend his past felony record disqualifies him from holding elected office. Tuesday, Mar. 30, 2022, in Joliet.

Assistant State’s Attorney Scott Pyles, who told the county board on Thursday that Bertino-Tarrant’s veto is valid, said the state’s attorney’s office is not obligated to follow orders from the county board and would not take the matter to court.

Describing such a lawsuit as “frivolous,” Pyles said, “We would be sanctioned by the court.”

Ogalla said the legal challenge is likely to be taken up by outside parties including citizens and Homer Township government officials, who object to the 143rd Street widening.

“I know there’s a private sector ready to get together to file a lawsuit,” she said.