Winnebago County residents and the chairman file lawsuit against board on voter violations

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WINNEBAGO COUNTY (WREX) — Forty-eight Winnebago County residents, including Chairman Frank Haney, have filed a federal lawsuit claiming their Constitutional rights were violated when the board voted to strip power from Haney.

The federal lawsuit is against 13 members of the Winnebago County board who voted multiple times since January to strip the chairman of his powers.

Defendants are board members David Boomer, Dave Fiduccia, Joe Hoffman, Fred Wescott, Jim Webster, Jaime Salgado, Angie Goral, Dorothy Redd, Dave Tassoni, Burt Gerl, Steve Schultz, Keith McDonald, and Paul Arena.

The lawsuit alleges the board members who voted to strip Haney of his powers are violating the rights of voters to choose who they want to represent them on the county level. There are nine counts listed in the suit, including allegations that voting rights, first amendment rights and due process were all violated.

Just last month, the county board voted for the third time this year to strip powers from Haney. Most recently in July, the board voted 12-7 to take away Chairman Haney’s powers to appoint a new administrator after Carla Paschal announced she would step down.

On April 11, the county board approved changes to Haney’s power that took away some of his day-to-day duties like negotiations, budget process and reporting structures and gave them to the county administrator.

On Jan 24, the board voted to have the county administrator report directly to the board, instead of directly to Chairman Frank Haney.

The lawsuit outlines four key points as to the impact of these actions:

  • The position of chairman essentially being terminated mid-term without voter input
  • Votes cast in the 2016 election have been disregarded and nullified
  • Basic checks and balances in county government have been significantly diminished
  • Less actual business of the people is getting done

Chairman Frank Haney released the following statement to 13 WREX on Monday:

“The illusion of democracy is not democracy. Top 25 communities don’t meddle with illusions.
They demand the real thing and that is why, with engagement, they get it. Staying silent when the actions of a small clique are so misaligned with those who cast a vote in November of 2016 is not an option. Overturning an election and ignoring the will of voters needs to be resisted in multiple ways: legally through the courts, legislatively in Springfield, and locally through the election and referendum process.”

13 WREX reached out to all county board defendants in the lawsuit. Of those we spoke to, none of them had actually seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it.

Board member Jaime Salgado did say that any ordinance changes have been made lawfully when considering state statute and county bylaws.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of additional litigation going through the courts right now. Acting as chairman, as opposed to a citizen, Haney is working to sue the board to regain his powers.

That lawsuit is held up in court, however. Haney has asked for Ken Florey to be named as a special prosecutor in the case. However, State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross moved to dismiss that petition, but that was denied.  She then filed a motion to reconsider that ruling, and that too was denied.  Despite those rulings, Honzel told the attorneys the complaint cannot yet be filed and that Hite Ross has until the Aug.30 hearing to answer the original petition.

In the case of the federal lawsuit, Ken Florey is representing Haney and the other Winnebago County residents. He says that’s because Haney is acting as a citizen in this instance, and not in his official capacity as a chairman.

13 WREX is following this story and will bring more updates as they become available.

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