Originally Posted Online: Dec. 03, 2012, 8:08 pm
Last Updated: Dec. 04, 2012, 12:25 am
Banaszek will lead RI County Board
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By Eric Timmons, firstname.lastname@example.org
Phil Banaszek has been elected the new Rock Island County Board chairman.
The Moline Democrat narrowly defeated Gary Freeman, D-East Moline, by a 14-11 vote Monday. All five Republicans on the board joined six Democrats voting for Mr. Freeman.
A board member since 1995, Mr. Banaszek promised to heed the 72 percent vote on a Nov. 6 advisory referendum in favor of reducing the size of the 25-member county board.
"When the people say that they want a change, I'm in favor of it," he said.
He also plans to solicit requests for proposals from developers to renovate the county's outdated courthouse and other buildings or build a new county complex.
Before Mr. Banaszek was selected to lead the board, 10 new members elected Nov. 6 -- seven Democrats and three Republicans -- were sworn-in.
Mr. Banaszek replaces Jim Bohnsack who has retired after a decade as chairman and 20 years as a county board member.After Monday's meeting, Mr. Banaszek said he will retire this week from his job as a stationary fireman at the East Moline Correctional Center to work full time as the county's chairman.
He was supported in his bid for the chairmanship by Mr. Bohnsack.
In a 13-12 vote Monday, Ken "Moose" Maranda, D-Milan, was elected vice-chairman, defeating Mr. Freeman. Don Johnston, D-Moline, nominated Mr. Freeman for both chairman and vice-chairman.
Also on Monday, Steve Ballard, D-Moline, was elected Rock Island County Forest Preserve President to replace the outgoing Tom Rockwell, who also decided not to run for reelection this year.Mr. Ballard defeated Rod Simmer, R-Rock Island, in a 19-6 vote. Mr. Freeman was the only Democrat to vote for Mr. Simmer.
Most Democrats on the board oppose reducing its size. They say the Republican proposal to cut the board from 25 to 15 members is moot because the board's size can only be reduced once every 10 years after the census.
Mr. Banaszek also had reservations about cutting the board. But after the Nov. 6 referendum result, he said it was important to investigate if it could be done outside the census.
Whether to make costly renovations to the more than 100-year-old courthouse and county office building or build new structures bedeviled previous chairman.
"I'd really like to go out for a request for proposals from several different developers," Mr. Banaszek said. "Different plans should be offered up and let the people and the board members see what the best option is."
Mr. Bohnsack said county officials have not been active enough in economic development and he'd like to see Mr. Banaszek address that concern. He suggested the county's finance committee could be given extra duties in the economic development area.
One of Mr. Banaszek's first jobs will be to pick chairmen for the county's seven standing committees.Mr. Simmer said Republicans were unhappy with some of the proposed appointments that have been floated among board members and that was one reason they voted as a group for Mr. Freeman.
Mr. Simmer said he decided to run against Mr. Ballard for Forest Preserve president because he didn't want to see the Democrat run unopposed. He said he was disappointed the vote was so partisan.
Mr. Ballard, the former East Moline Correctional Center Warden and Rock Island County Democratic Party Chairman, said he thought the Forest Preserve was well run and does not anticipate advocating for any major changes. The Forest Preserve oversees Niabi Zoo and county parks.
Also on Monday, four elected county officials were sworn-in for new terms. John McGehee was sworn-in as Rock Island County state's attorney, Kelly Fisher as recorder, Lisa Bierman as circuit clerk and April Palmer as auditor. All were elected or re-elected Nov. 6.