Two vie for presidency of forest preserve board
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org December 7, 2012 8:12PM
Joe Babich at his Banana Joe's Barber Shop in Joliet Wednesday, December 5, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 10, 2013 6:17AM
JOLIET — The Will County Forest Preserve District Board may be headed for a presidential showdown.
Democrat “Banana” Joe Babich and Republican Don Gould both will seek the office of board president during the 9:30 a.m. Monday reorganization meeting at the Will County Office Building, 302 N. Ottawa St.
The Nov. 6 election produced a tie on the board: 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans. If all members vote the party line, the board could be deadlocked.
“I’ve waited 30 years,” said Babich, 73, of Joliet, who is the longest serving board member. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m not backing down.”
Gould, 49, of Shorewood, said the president should be chosen for other reasons.
“Someone shouldn’t be president based on longevity,” he said.
Babich owns Banana Joe’s Barber Shop and he’s been cutting hair for 46 years. Gould is a Rockdale lawyer whose mother is former County Clerk Jan Gould. Gould’s maternal grandfather and father both served as mayor of Rockdale.
Because Democrats have been in the minority on both boards for so long, Babich has never held an officer position or chaired a committee. That and his interest in making the preserves better is why he wants the job.
Gould has been on the board for 10 years and he’s been vice president for four years. He said he believes he has the officer experience to step in as president, a post previously held by Cory Singer, R-Frankfort, who lost his race to unseat Walsh and is no longer on the board.
Both men say they would work to maintain and improve the preserves if they are elected president.
Babich said he pushed for development of Teale Woods, an urban preserve located in Joliet at the intersection of Broadway and Theodore Street. He said he’d like to see Teale Woods connected to the Joliet Greenway with an overhead walkway.
Gould wants to maintain and improve the district’s extensive trail system and increase the number of dog parks. He said he most recently lobbied for the Channahon dog park to be built.
“One of the things we get the most positive responses from residents on is dog parks,” he said.
Neither man is suggesting the district seek another referendum to buy land, even though $165 million from two previous referendums is almost gone.
The previous board had 27 members and was dominated by Republicans since 1980, so this predicament is new.
County Executive Larry Walsh, a Democrat, can break tie votes on the county board, which both Babich and Gould serve on because Illinois law requires the two boards do double duty until a county hits 800,000 in population. But there is no such tie-breaking position for the forest preserve board.
The forest preserve board president receives $2,500 annually in extra compensation; the board vice president, secretary and treasurer each receive $1,500.
While the forest preserve district has a much smaller budget and fewer employees than the county, the job of president comes with a little extra power. The forest preserve board president has the sole power to hire employees.
In county government, most hiring decisions require the advice and consent of the full county board.
No matter who is elected president, Gould said he will let bygones be bygones.
“I like Joe a lot, so this contest is not personal at all,” Gould said. “We’re friends and we’re going to continue to be friends no matter if it’s him or me or somebody else.”
Babich, however, is a little more adamant about wanting the title of president.
“I talked to Don and Don talked to me,” Babich said. “He said, ‘What about if I am president and you are vice president.’ I said, ‘What if we do that in reverse?’”