Brooks to lead Will County Board
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org December 3, 2012 11:28AM
Herb Brooks Jr. takes the oath of office with other Will County board members during a swearing in ceremony at the Will County Office Building in Joliet Monday, December 3, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 5, 2013 6:14AM
JOLIET — The Will County Board made history on Monday when it elected the Rev. Herb Brooks Jr. as its first black leader.
“It makes me proud not only to represent my party, but all the ethnic groups across Will County,” the Joliet Democrat said after the county board’s reorganization meeting. “More importantly though, it’s important that government recognize that it doesn’t matter what your race, creed or color is. What’s important is the job that’s at stake.”
Brooks’ election to the highest county board post reflects changes in the county, said Denise Winfrey, D-Joliet.
“It’s more reflective of Will County as a whole,” she said. “The demographics are changing. So this feels great.”
Brooks’ achievement comes 34 years after the late Angeline Dew made history by being the first black on the board. Brooks also is the first Democratic board leader since Democrats last held a board majority in 1980.
The unanimous vote for Brooks was somewhat of a surprise because the Nov. 6 election produced a tie on the board with 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans. Democrats have the edge because Will County Executive Larry Walsh, a Democrat, can cast tie-breaking votes.
In drafting new board rules, Democrats made one last-minute title compromise with Republicans that may have prompted Republicans to vote for Brooks.
Brooks will replace Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort Township, who led the board for the past 12 years, eight of them using the title chairman. But Democrats thought that title was confusing because Will County has the county executive form of government, and the county chairman form of government is structured differently.
Democrats preferred the title leader, but they compromised with Republicans and chose the title speaker after Moustis said leader sounded too partisan.
Regardless of his title, Brooks, who is the pastor at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Joliet, said he would work in a bipartisan way.
“My goal is to try to make sure the government of Will County moves as smoothly as possible,” he said.
Although the meeting ended with smiles and handshakes, the beginning was tense when Republicans failed to show up on time. The reorganization meeting was scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. But Republicans started a caucus at 11:15 a.m. and still weren’t at the meeting at 11:40 a.m.
The tardiness caused Republican board member Tom Weigel’s wife, Nancy, to pop her head into the caucus and tell the tardy members they were an “embarrassment to the county.”
Republicans finally filed into the board room at 11:45 a.m.
But after Brooks was elected, the board seemed to settle down. In addition to electing Brooks speaker, the board also elected Moustis chairman of the Republican caucus and Diane Seiler-Zigrossi, D-Lockport, as chairwoman of the Democratic caucus. Committee chairmanships will be determined later.
The board meeting followed a swearing-in ceremony for county officials who were victorious in the Nov. 6 election.
Six countywide office holders — Auditor Duffy Blackburn, Circuit Clerk Pam McGuire, Coroner Pat O’Neil, County Executive Walsh, Recorder of Deeds Karen Stukel and State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow — and 26 county board members all took the oath of office in a packed county board meeting room.
“Are you nervous?” County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots joked as she swore O’Neil in for his sixth term. “Don’t be nervous. It’s a piece of cake.”
After he was sworn in, Walsh commented on how running for office isn’t a piece of cake.
“You know, it isn’t easy running for political office anymore,” he said. “We are scrutinized, people are critical. And I applaud each and every person that is willing to put their family up to scrutiny, put themselves up to run and try to make our community better. We all feel that we have something to offer.”