ROOTS: What's the County Board?

How The Democrats Grew and What We need to do now

 Laurel Prussing, Stan Summers, Steve Summers

Laurel Prussing, Stan Summers, Steve Summers

Champaign County, founded in 1833, got its present form of government in 1972.  In 1964 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government districts must be of near equal population (“one-person, one-vote.”)

Before 1972 we had a County Board of Supervisors, 30 elected township supervisors—all men, all white and overwhelmingly Republican.  The 28 rural townships with far less population dominated the two city townships for Urbana and Champaign.   To offset the imbalance, extra representatives from the cities were added, bringing the Board of Supervisors up to 50 men.

My involvement began with a women’s environmental group, Housewives Interested in Pollution Solutions (HIPS).  We got recycling started in Champaign County and helped start two businesses, a recycling business on North Lincoln Avenue begun by Dick Squire and a recycle garbage route started by Charlie Johnson. I wrote the first legislative proposal and became the first Legislative Chair, testifying to the Illinois House and the Urbana City Council, and talking with the Chairman of the County Board of Supervisors.

We let men join the work and the fun and became Households Involved in Pollution Solutions.

The late Barbara Anderson, HIPS’ first President, was inspired to found the group by long-time environmental activist and all-round mover and shaker Bruce Hannon.

Barbara’s husband, Jim Anderson, came over to our house one day and asked me to run for the new County Board.

“What’s the County Board?” I asked (as probably most voters today would). 

I found out by going to a Board of Supervisors committee meeting and was taken aback.  They had 26 committees (literally, from A to Z).  They didn’t keep minutes.  And of the 50 men, fewer than 5 were Democrats.

After the 1970 Illinois Constitution, the legislature created new County Boards, not to exceed 29 members, to be elected from districts of equal population.  Our County Board of Supervisors voted to create a 27-member County Board with three members from each of nine districts.

Champaign County Democrats under the leadership of Harry Tiebout sprang into action for the Democratic primary election for the new County Board in 1972.  

 In County Board district 9, seven people filed to run, four women and three men. 

My campaign consisted of finding what the County was responsible for and then talking with voters about what needed to be done. 

The top vote getters in the primary were the women: Jeanne-Marie Wyld and Amy Kummerow came in first and second.  As for the third spot, I squeaked by Anna Wall Scott by one vote.  

Harry Tiebout was shocked.  Great liberal that he was, he feared having three women on the ticket.  But after we trounced three Republican incumbents in April to become the first women ever to serve on the County Board, it became o.k. for women to run.

Technically, we had 11 Democrats elected in 1972, a big improvement over the previous system. However, two rural Dems who had served on the Board of Supervisors, caucused with the Republicans, so we only had 9 Democrats to rely on.

Over the next 28 years the Democrats gradually gained seats and won the majority in 2000 with 14 Democrats and 13 Republicans. Tricia Avery was elected Chair, the first woman and the first African-American.  The Board was cut to 22 in 2012 with a slim 12 to 10 Democratic majority. 

The latest change in County government comes this November with the election of the first County Executive. The County Executive will play a major role in the next redistricting which is why the Republicans really want this job.  Our job is to elect Darlene Kloeppel County Executive. She will treat everyone with respect and fairness.

We need Aaron Ammons for County Clerk because he will end the long-term practice in this county (and nationally) of Republican County Clerks who consistently try to discourage the “wrong people” from voting, i.e., groups that tend to vote for Democrats.

To find funds for what we need to make this a better community for all, the county needs the best possible financial management.  George Danos, CPA is our excellent candidate for County Auditor.  Together Darlene, George and I would be a strong and innovative financial team.

Dustin Heuerman would bring a new perspective as the first Democrat elected Sheriff in at least 70 years.

Our job is to get voters to vote the entire ballot for Democrats.  We have great candidates for Congress, State Representative, County-wide offices and the County Board.

Our County Board candidates include Leah Taylor (CB 5), Mike Ingram and Charles Young (CB 6), Eric Thorsland (CB 7), Stephanie Fortado (CB 8), Pranjal Vachaspati (CB 9), Tanisha King-Taylor and Chris Stohr (CB 10) and Lorraine Cowart (CB 11)

Local governments are the governments that function best in America today. Local government is at the bottom of the ballot but is at the top for service, delivery, and public responsiveness.  

Vote for local government as if your life depends on it.

It might.  We fund 911.