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PAXTON — The only Ford County Board member to lose his 2012 re-election bid won his seat back Monday night when the board’s longest-serving member unexpectedly resigned.
Tom McQuinn of rural Paxton, whose first four-year term expired 10 days earlier, was sworn in and seated as a District 1 board member for the next two years. Minutes earlier, the board voted 12-0 to “regretfully” accept the resignation of Richard Hewerdine of Paxton, who was starting his 29th year on the board.
In his resignation letter, Hewerdine, 77, cited “family health concerns” that have escalated recently and become “the highest priority in my life.”
“I feel that I would not be able to give consideration to the needs of the position I have been elected to on the county board,” Hewerdine said in the letter, read to the board by Chairman Rick Bowen. “I deeply regret this action that has to be taken at this time, but I feel family must come first.”
Hewerdine had missed a couple of board meetings in recent months after telling Bowen in August that he was starting to have concerns about the time he could devote to the job, Bowen said.
“At that time, I just told him to see what happens and let us know,” Bowen told the board. “In the last two months, he’s just been talking about it a little bit more.”
Hewerdine was sworn in to a four-year term last week during the board’s Dec. 3 reorganizational meeting. His resignation letter was received by Bowen later that week.
On Monday, Bowen appointed McQuinn to fill the first two years of Hewerdine’s term — the maximum term length permitted for an appointment under state law. The board then voted 9-2 to accept the appointment, with members Dave Hastings of rural Paxton and Tim Nuss of rural Roberts voting “no.”
McQuinn lost his bid for re-election during the March primary, receiving 79 fewer votes than Hewerdine. Among the six candidates for four District 1 board seats, McQuinn had 357 votes, ahead of newcomer Debbie Smith of Paxton (262) but behind Hewerdine (436), incumbent Jason Johnson of rural Paxton (466), Hastings (494) and incumbent Gene May of Paxton (610).
Bowen said McQuinn’s knowledge and experience on the board made him the logical choice. Bowen also noted that McQuinn received more votes than Smith, the other defeated District 1 candidate.
“I kind of think the voters spoke,” Bowen said. “And I truly believe Tom has done a good job for us in the past, so I would like to see Tom McQuinn as the replacement.”
Hastings, meanwhile, questioned the choice of McQuinn, noting it is opposite of the voters’ wishes.
“The leader of the county board has all the right to appoint a replacement for Mr. Hewerdine, but I have concern about the validity of the District 1 voters’ voice,” Hastings said after Monday’s meeting, “because that’s not who they voted for.”
Hastings said he feels Bowen should have used more time to consider other potential candidates. State law allows a 60-day window to fill board vacancies.
Hastings said he has concerns about how the appointment of McQuinn may appear to voters.
Hastings said he has concerns of his own, as well. During Monday’s meeting, he questioned why he had heard several months ago — prior to the primary — that board members had been considering a replacement for Hewerdine in the case Hewerdine would win and another incumbent would lose. Hastings said he did not voice a concern at the time because he did not believe the rumor.
Bowen adamantly denied McQuinn’s appointment was predetermined.
“So be it,” Bowen said. “It wasn’t. And I feel good about saying that.”
Hewerdine, the board’s longest-serving member, started serving on the board in December 1984. He received a plaque of recognition from Bowen and the board on Monday night.
“Dick brought to the table a lot of knowledge and a lot of common sense,” Bowen said, adding that Hewerdine is a “human calculator.”
“I thank you all for putting up with me,” Hewerdine told the board.
Also at Monday’s meeting:
— The board approved its 2013 tax levy, showing $2.881 million in property taxes to be collected next summer, up from $2.746 million in 2012 and $2.645 million in 2011. The levy has risen each year since at least 2008.
— The board approved a resolution setting the salary of County Engineer Greg Perkinson at $89,960, along with resolutions appropriating half of the salary funds to be paid from county motor fuel tax funds and half to be paid from Surface Transportation Program funds.
— The board approved a resolution appropriating $200,000 from the county’s motor fuel tax allotment for the maintenance of county or state highways in 2013.
— Board member Floyd “Bud” Otto Jr. of rural Roberts said the highway department’s 1999 International truck was sold for $10,000, the highest bid received.
— Otto, who serves as chairman of the board’s overview committee, made plans to call an overview committee meeting to discuss ideas for the use of the now-vacant former sheriff’s residence and jail complex on the southwest corner of the courthouse square.
— Treasurer Judy Hastings said the county’s annual audit is approaching. According to figures provided by Hastings, the budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which ended Nov. 30, finished $340,622 in the red, although some revenue may still be received in upcoming weeks and could be added to the budget to close the gap.
— Lt. Pat Duffy, an investigator for the Ford County Sheriff’s Office, was presented by Sheriff Mark Doran with a humidor recognizing Duffy for his 30-plus years of service to the county.
— Board member Pat Haskins of Sibley said negotiations are proceeding slowly with the Fraternal Order of Police Illini Lodge 17, which represents the sheriff’s office’s correctional officers and dispatchers. Another negotiation session is scheduled.
— Bowen said the county has received a long-awaited $150,000 grant from the state that will be used to reimburse the Ford County Public Building Commission for expenses associated with the remodeling of the probation department offices in the courthouse basement.
— The board reviewed a list of proposed committee/special assignments for each board member.
— The board approved contracts between the sheriff’s office and the villages of Kempton, Elliott and Piper City. The contracts are for one year and provide patrols in the villages. The cost of the contracts is $10,313 for Piper City, $7,700 for Elliott and $6,253 for Kempton.