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JOLIET – Two of the three candidates vying for a two-year term to serve Will County Board District 6 in the Nov. 8 election are at odds.
Two of the candidates are currently on the board – Don Gould, R-Shorewood, and Ragan Freitag, R-Wilmington.
But challenger Joe VanDuyne, D-Wilmington, has a problem with Freitag’s representation of the district, so he’s campaigning to take her spot.
VanDuyne, like Freitag once did, currently serves as an alderman for the city of Wilmington. He’s also a maintenance electrician for the city of Joliet.
One of the main reasons VanDuyne decided to run for District 6 office, he said, is “a lack of representation because of the humongous conflict of interest that Freitag has.”
Freitag, who has served on the Will County Board since 2012, is an attorney with Kavanagh, Grumley & Gorbold LLC, a Joliet law firm that represents the Forest Preserve District of Will County.
In accordance with Illinois statutes, members of the County Board also serve on the Board of Commissioners of the Forest Preserve District of Will County. Freitag currently is vice president of the Board of Commissioners.
VanDuyne said Freitag, in the past few years, has regularly missed Forest Preserve Board meetings or abstained from voting on the schedule of bills, which includes the law firm.
“Every taxpayer knows the most important vote [an elected official can have] is how to spend taxpayer money,” VanDuyne said. “We’re not getting that from our representation.”
Freitag said she’d “like to thank VanDuyne for letting constituents know she’s an ethical attorney as well as a transparent board member.”
Freitag pointed out she does not vote on the schedule of bills because, if she did, it would then create an actual conflict of interest that could bring legal consequences.
She added that many board members have voted “abstain” for various reasons on various matters. In these instances, she said, board members had some sort of a prior or existing business relationship with said entity.
“That’s why it’s not just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote,” Freitag said. “It’s to prevent conflict, and I’m one of many who has taken a vote of abstention.”
VanDuyne said it’s unavoidable for an elected official to have a conflict of interest once in a while, as he may if he’s elected to District 6 and remains employed by the city of Joliet. The city often has intergovernmental agreements with the county.
“But what I’m saying is with my opponent, it’s every month that the entire Forest Preserve District is conflicted,” VanDuyne said.
According to Forest Preserve District chief operating officer Ralph Schultz, Dick Kavanagh has represented the Forest Preserve District of Will County since 1983.
Kavanagh, Grumley & Gorbold LLC is currently paid $1,100 in monthly retainer fees by the Forest Preserve District. Additional fees are charged in accordance with an approved hourly rate schedule based on the legal service and personnel required to complete the work, Schultz stated in an email.
VanDuyne noted it’s a no-bid contract, and said Freitag can’t oppose to it or consider sending it out to bid because she works for the firm.
However, Schultz stated in the email the Forest Preserve District does not bid out legal services because it is a professional service and not subject to open bid requirements.
Meetings and votes
The full Board of Commissioners meets once a month.
According to the Forest Preserve District, Freitag has attended eight of 10 board meetings so far this year and abstained from the schedule of bills vote each time. In 2015, she attended 10 meetings, abstained six times, voted “aye” once and arrived after the vote three times. In 2014, she attended nine of 12 meetings, abstained eight times and voted “aye” once. Wilmington City Council meets two to three times each month.
According to the Wilmington City Council meeting minutes posted to the city of Wilmington’s website, VanDuyne missed four meetings this year, five meetings in 2015 and zero in 2014.
Most Will County meetings are during the day and almost always in the morning, while Wilmington City Council meets in the evenings.
Although VanDuyne works daytime hours, he said this will not be an issue if elected to Will County Board and the Forest Preserve Board of Commissioners. He said he will use the Time Off for Official Meetings Act, 50 ILCS 115, which allows elected officials to attend open meetings without repercussion from an employer.