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WATSEKA — Rod Copas of rural Onarga said he was not surprised that some Iroquois County Board members voted in favor of someone other than himself serving as the board’s new chairman.
Monday’s 13-7 vote — split between Copas and Dale Schultz of Clifton — was just one example of the long-standing division between conservatives and liberals on the now-20-member board, Copas said.
“The board’s been split for years,” said Copas, who edged Schultz as the replacement for retiring Chairman Ron Schroeder of St. Anne. “The split’s not near as bad as it was (before the board was reduced from 25 to 20 members, effective Dec. 1). But hopefully we can resolve some of that (division). There’s a conservative side, and there’s a liberal side, so that’s really what it’s boiling down to.”
The outspoken Copas, appointed to a two-year term as chairman during Monday’s biannual reorganizational meeting, said he wants the board to work together to accomplish common goals, particularly those surrounding the county’s finances.
Under Schroeder, who had been chairman 10 years, the decision-making process was a struggle at times, Copas said. The 69-year-old Schroeder opted not to run for re-election last year, following a 24-year career on the board.
“There’s a whole lot of issues (to deal with),” Copas said. “Hopefully, we all work together to achieve a good, common goal.”
Also Monday, Kyle Anderson of Beaverville was appointed vice chairman of the board, replacing retiring board member John Wilkening of Cissna Park. Anderson was the only board member nominated and received 19 votes, with one board member voting present.
Copas, 50, has served six years on the board. He has served the past several years as vice chairman of the finance committee and has served on the judicial and public safety committee and health committee, the latter of which is no longer meeting.
Schultz, Copas’ opponent for the board chairman’s seat, serves as chairman of the tax committee.
Some of Copas’ goals for the next two years are to manage the county’s finances to keep taxes low. Copas said that will involve a “long-term plan” that the board will start discussing in upcoming months. Employee wages are expected to be part of the discussion.
“We have to have some kind of plan in place, rather than living payroll to payroll or paycheck to paycheck,” Copas said. “And we have to be conservative with the taxpayers’ money. I think the taxpayers are damn tired of paying more constantly. ... So we have to be extremely frugal and pay attention to what’s going on. I think we’ll get there.”
Copas, who owns a construction company, said he also plans to propose less-restrictive rules for the construction of buildings on farmland.
“I’m not saying we’d want to build on every piece of farm ground, but we have to be more open,” Copas said, noting that there are “a bunch of hoops” people must go through before they can build.
Copas added that more homes built means more property tax revenue for the county, in addition to local construction services being utilized.
Copas said he has already met with Ken Barragree, executive director of the Iroquois Economic Development Association, to talk about the idea. Copas said the zoning committee is expected to be involved in any proposals made.
Each member of the 20-member board was sworn into office Monday and was assigned either a two- or four-year term through a random drawing. All were unopposed in the Nov. 6 general election, as several incumbents did not seek another term.
Receiving two-year terms were: District 1 board members Anderson, Lyle Behrends of Ashkum and Larry Bauer of Clifton; District 2 board members Copas and John Shure of rural Buckley; District 3 board members Troy Krumwiede of Watseka, Donna Crow of Milford and Marvin Stichnoth of rural Milford; and District 4 board members Scott Watts of rural Watseka and Russell Bills of Watseka.
Receiving four-year terms were: District 1 board members Kevin Hansen and Schultz, both of Clifton; District 2 board members Jed Whitlow of Gilman, Bret Schmid of Onarga and Ernie Curtis of Gilman; District 3 board members Charles Alt of Cissna Park and Jean Hiles of Watseka; and District 4 board members Adam Zumwalt of Sheldon, Susan Wynn Bence of Watseka and Donna Wasmer of Watseka.
Voting in favor of Copas’ appointment as chairman were: Alt, Anderson, Bauer, Behrends, Bills, Copas, Curtis, Hansen, Krumwiede, Schmid, Shure, Stichnoth and Zumwalt. Voting for Schultz were Crow, Hiles, Schultz, Wasmer, Watts, Whitlow and Wynn Bence.
Besides Schroeder, other incumbents who did not seek re-election were: Don Deany of Watseka, David Hubert of rural Martinton, James Hurt of Wellington, Merle Lemenager of rural Clifton, James McCray of rural Claytonville, Jim Meyer of rural Chebanse, Dan Pursley of Lake Iroquois and Ozzie Storm of Ashkum.