Other options may soon be available to local governments in Illinois in the face of elected officials accused of crimes.
A new proposal to the Illinois General Assembly follows charges of theft and misconduct filed against Winnebago County Coroner Bill Hintz. He pleaded not guilty to charges of theft and official misconduct after allegedly stealing money and property from the dead and embezzling more than $15,000 of taxpayers’ money.
State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Cherry Valley, said the county chairman tried to remove Hintz from his post before he could do more harm, but options were limited.
“The county chairman went to remove him and found there was no law on the books that gave the county the ability to remove an elected person, even if they are charged with crimes that directly affect that office,” Syverson said.
Hintz, who finally agreed to be placed on administrative leave last September, faces a total of 49 charges.
Syverson’s measure, Senate Bill 3460, would apply to county and township elected officials who award contracts and have access to taxpayer funds. Syverson said the bill would provide a way to place a public servant on paid leave.
“I tried to balance that between duly elected people, so it doesn’t get political, and then respecting the law,” Syverson said. “In this case, the county council must vote by a three-fifths majority to delete. The state attorney has to render an opinion and then a judge makes the final decision, not politicians. »
He said the power in the bill is a necessary tool even before a trial or a guilty verdict is reached.
“If it was a county clerk who was charged with rigging the election, he could stay in that office and continue to rig the election until trial,” Syverson said. “Or a township highway overseer accused of bid-rigging might keep giving contracts to his friend until [the trial] was done.”
There should be a way to protect taxpayers from such risks, Syverson said.
“Members of government should be held to a higher standard,” Syverson said. “We should be on top of the approach. If you have been accused of something, it puts people in danger. You shouldn’t have the ability to stay in that position and keep putting people in danger. »
State Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, is a lead co-sponsor of the bill, and Syverson thinks bipartisan support should be easy to come by in the House.
“That shouldn’t be a problem. It’s common sense,” Syverson said. “When elected officials abuse taxpayers, they must be held accountable quickly and quickly so that the public can be confident that their government is safe and their tax dollars are safe.”
The measure states that the civil servant will receive all compensation and benefits during an administrative leave and that the county council can appoint a replacement for the duration of the leave.