JOLIET – Will County Board member Ragan Freitag, R-Wilmington, has accepted an offer to become the board’s chief of staff.
She will take over a vacancy created in December when former chief of staff Bruce Friefeld retired after 28 years in different county roles.
Freitag said her tentative start date is March 1. As a practicing attorney, she said her current position is not a job in which an employee can give two weeks notice and drop everything. She's been wrapping up files the last few weeks, she said.
County Board Speaker Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort, commended Friefeld for his service at a Dec. 15 board meeting. Moustis said Wednesday that Friefeld gave formal notice of his retirement Dec. 14.
The appointment of a replacement chief of staff is up to the speaker of the board and doesn’t require a board vote.
Freitag, who was first elected to the board in 2012, was re-elected in November to a two-year term representing District 6. Some have called the timing of the appointment into question.
Minority Leader Herb Brooks Jr., D-Joliet, said Wednesday that Freitag is "very well-qualified" for the role and he has no problem with Moustis’ pick. But Democrats on the board are curious about the timing after Freitag won re-election.
Brooks has said he and other leaders were aware of Friefeld’s retirement before the election.
“The suspicion among my caucus was, when did she know about [the offer]?” Brooks said. “We have no way of knowing that, so the best thing I can tell now is that I hope she is able to be bipartisan.”
Moustis said Friefeld had been thinking about retiring for the past year, but never set an official date.
“I knew he was thinking about it, but I was thinking more toward the end of 2017 or early 2018,” Moustis said. “I was not expecting it [in December]. It didn’t give me a lot of time [to find a replacement]."
Moustis said anyone commenting on the timing of the offer to Freitag as it relates to the election is speculating with no facts to back it up, noting that he himself was up for re-election.
Freitag said Moustis approached her about the job in December after Friefeld retired. At the time, it was just an idea, she said, but she discussed it with family over the holidays.
“It wasn’t a formal offer [before the holidays], it was something to consider,” Freitag said. “... He might have been thinking about other people, I’m not sure.”
Moustis said he formally offered the position to Freitag on Friday, Jan. 6, and gave her the weekend to think it over. He said she tentatively accepted Jan. 10. Moustis said he informed Brooks, Majority Leader Chuck Maher, R-Naperville, and Minority Whip Lauren Staley-Ferry, D-Joliet, of the news Jan. 12.
Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow took issue with people speculating on the timing of the appointment without evidence that Freitag knew of Moustis' offer before the election.
“It’s calling her integrity into dispute,” Glasgow said, “with no evidence. People are assuming. But we’re seeing that all over politics right now, and I think people are fed up with it.”
Glasgow said Freitag has showed the highest level of integrity in her time on the Wilmington City Council and later the Will County Board.
He said he thinks Freitag is a perfect fit for the job, citing how fast the county sheriff's office and courthouse projects have moved along since she became head of the Capital Improvements Committee.
Glasgow said he was always able to work with Friefeld to move the county’s business forward in an effective way, and he expects the same from Freitag.
Moustis said he hopes to bring forward a candidate to fill Freitag's spot on the board in April for a full county board vote. Minus Freitag, there are 15 Republicans and 10 Democrats on the board.
Freitag said she wasn't planning to run again for county board, but she loves being a part of projects and helping constituents.
“But now it’s not just District 6, I get to help all of Will County,” Freitag said.
In the role, she will be advising and counseling all 26 board members – both Republican and Democrat.
“Any issue they have I am here to do research on,” she said. “I think being an attorney is very helpful. I’ll be looking at new legislation and how that affects the county. Knowing how it impacts us is integral for this role.”
Moustis said Freitag "uniquely fits the bill" of what he was looking for in a chief of staff – someone familiar with local government and the executive form of government, and someone who interacts well with the state’s attorney and is an attorney or has a law degree.