State Democrats Lead Charge to Merge Forest Preserve and DuPage County Boards

By Barry Dredze

Forest Preserve DuPage-WB-Winfield-Mounds

State legislation has been filed by Representative Deb Conroy (D-Elmhurst) to put the DuPage County Board back in charge of the Forest Preserve of DuPage County by 2018.

The County and the Forest Preserve District have operated separately for the past thirteen years. Conroy’s bill would reverse State legislation approved by the Illinois General Assembly in 1996 and in effect since 2002 that cut the DuPage County Board from 24 to 18 members and created the current six-member Forest Preserve District Board and a president elected by DuPage County voters.

Conroy also had filed similar legislation in March, 2013, that did not reach the Illinois General Assembly for a vote.

Conroy’s bill (HB 3099) seeks “to eliminate some redundancy from local government,” State Senate Democratic Caucus Communications staff member Deb McCarver wrote in a press release. “Most of Illinois’ 102 county boards regulate local forest preserves. DuPage County, which includes parts of Aurora and Naperville, has a separate Forest Preserve Board of DuPage County, something local voters have questioned the necessity of in the past.”

McCarver previously served as Director of Communications with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

Former Forest Preserve Commissioner for District 6 Roger Kotecki served on the committee created in 1991 by former County Board Chairman Aldo Botti to study the separation of the Forest Preserve District from the County Board and authored its majority report.

“The committee was composed of five members and we voted by a 4-1 margin to recommend that the legislature vote to make each of the two boards have its own separate membership because there is an inherent conflict in the duties and responsibilities of the two,” Kotecki said.

Issues likely to be considered in the proposed legislation are the management of land and other resources when interests come into conflict. The Forest Preserve District currently manages approximately a quarter billion dollars in landfill fund reserves and their interst earnings, Kotecki explained.

“The one agency needs to use up land and the other one needs to protect it,” Kotecki said. “There will always be a temptation to use forest preserve land for purposes that are contrary to its essential purpose.”

A hearing and likely vote to advance the bill is scheduled for the State Government Administration Committee on Wednesday, March 25 after having been pulled from the committee hearing schedule on March 18 for revision. The revised HB 3099 would allow communities with populations over 3 million residents to separate their forest preserve districts from county government, while all communities of under 3 million would be required to combine their forest preserve district with County government. For example, Cook County could move forward with its plan to separate their Forest Preserve District from the County Board while DuPage, which has been the model for Cook County’s action to separate, would be required to become part of the DuPage County Board.

Barry Dredze

Writer, blogger at Winfield Post
Barry Dredze is a freelance writer and contributor to the Illinois News Network and former publisher and editor-in-chief of The Winfield Post, a bi-monthly, independent community newspaper that served Winfield, Illinois and its adjacent area in southwest DuPage County from 2009 to 2013. Reach him at [email protected]