KANKAKEE – Last Tuesday, Americans across the Nation took to polling places to uphold a civic duty. Voting for representatives to represent their best interest, made ever so much more flexing under shade of a global pandemic.
Elections, of course, are for more than that highest office of the land. The Democratic process is one that filters down like a river through every city, county, and municipality. From City Council members to Judges and Presidents alike, we vote for those who pledge to support the people and do what is right in representing them.
Except in Kankakee where this Tuesday, exactly one week after Election Day, a man who chose to throw in the towel and not run for re-election nearly three months prior will be appointed back to the Kankakee County Board. The Kankakee County Board quietly announced on an agenda posted to their website over the weekend.
Andrew Wheeler, former District 15 representative, and Kankakee County Board Chairman as early as last Tuesday, is currently not appointed to the Kankakee County Board. Wheeler chose to abandon a potential re-election bid after calling his district ‘democratic.’ On November 3rd, Kimberly Hudson took Wheeler’s former District seat after receiving 1,092 votes in the community.
Now, less than a week after those who decisively earned victories celebrated across the land, Wheeler is poised to quietly celebrate Tuesday after officially being appointed to the empty District 26 seat.
Wheeler, who has served on the board for eight years, told an area newspaper last August after choosing not to run ‘there are more important things to tackle.’ An apparent change in the weeks leading up to the election as Wheeler is now set to skate by voter approval and retain his taxpayer salary in the process. Setting up a possible return to County leadership in December after receiving not one, single vote from a resident of Kankakee County.
It comes while the former Chairman and GOP leaders refuse to adhere to mitigation measures put in place by the State of Illinois. Kankakee County as a member of Region 7 is set to enter stricter levels of mitigation this Wednesday. Region 7 has been under mitigation since October 23rd, restricting indoor dining, which has not gone into play for a majority of bars and restaurants in Kankakee County. A move supported by local officials, including Wheeler, who during time as Board Chairman called Illinois’ Regional mitigation efforts ‘a fool’s errand.’
“You can fight all you want, but I look at this from so many different angles and there is no path to victory for me,” Wheeler stated in August on his potential reelection bid. A lack of willingness to fight for something as simple as votes raises questions his leadership limitations and abilities to fight for citizens’ health during a pandemic. “Our State’s Attorney is not going to prosecute anything so this is a fool’s errand to go down this road,” Wheeler said last month before his exit as Chairman.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker called out local officials like Wheeler in October, “The fact is that local officials who are not doing the right thing are the ones who are going to be responsible for the rates of the infection going through the roof, and our hospitals getting overrun and people are dying if they don’t enforce the rules,” Pritzker said last Sunday. “That is why those rules exist.”
Wheeler’s pending reappointment has citizens across Kankakee County concerned, including Connect Kankakee, a group of citizens who work to promote, nurture, and defend cultural and ethnic diversity in the Kankakee area.
“The board is responsible for electing from within itself another chairman to serve until the next election for chairperson,” Jonathan Shinabarger of Connect Kankakee and Kankakee DSA explained Monday. “But that has not happened.”
A surrogate appointment to the Chairmanship is scheduled to take place moments before Wheeler’s reappointment to the Board Tuesday. Newly elected residents to the County Board, like Hudson, will have to wait until the first Monday of December (Dec. 7th) to take office.
“I think it’s very important to (County Board) they are able to appoint Wheeler, tomorrow, so that he can be eligible to be chosen as Chairman next month,” Shinabarger says. “I would guess that the current plan is to have whoever be the County Board Chairman literally for this meeting and the beginning of the next one, and then for Wheeler to resume that upon facing that election within the County Board at the December meeting.”
Friday, 39 residents were hospitalized for COVID-19 as Kankakee reported 238 new cases in 24-hours. Sunday it was announced Region 7, including Kankakee, would be one of two regions in Illinois to enter TIER 2 mitigations. The Region 7 rolling seven-day positivity rating Monday in Kankakee County was 15.1%, a new county record as Kankakee was placed under multiple warnings Friday for new cases per capita (435), test positivity (10.9%), and overall tests performed (5,690).
The County Board will meet on November 10th at 9:00 a.m. in the 4th floor Board Room at the Administration Building located at 189 East Court Street in the City of Kankakee. Notice of public comment must be made by phone before 4:30 pm Monday.