The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

December 4, 2012

Weinard takes over as county board chairman

BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
Commercial-News

DANVILLE — It took little time for the new Vermilion County Board chairman to face his first dilemma.

At the board’s reorganizational meeting Monday night, longtime Republican board member Gary Weinard of Hoopeston was elected the new chairman, defeating Democratic chairman Jim McMahon by a one-vote margin.

Weinard had little time to celebrate, however, as board members were immediately faced with deciding their next move in regard to the electrical aggregation referendum that passed in the November election.

Board members voted unanimously to send the plan of operations for the program to the Illinois Commerce Commission despite questions whether the referendum’s authority extends to the entire county or simply the unincorporated areas.

“We’re at a point where we’ve done what we can do,” Weinard said following the meeting. “We’ve got all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed. There is a question now in Springfield as to how the law was written and how it applies and they’re going to have to work that out.

“We did everything right and we’ll wait for the interpretation on whether it applies,” he added.

Prior to the meeting, Integrys officials met with previous chairman Jim McMahon and quoted a price of 4.2 cents per kilowatt hour for the program. Integrys Vice President Ron Cardwell, who attended the meeting, said the price presents a potential annual savings of $200 compared to Ameren’s rates.

Cardwell said Integrys at this point is awaiting the results of correspondence between Vermilion County Assistant State’s Attorney and the Illinois Power Agency. In the meantime, he said work on the program will continue.

“There’s a technicality there that (Donahue) is working out with the IPA,” Cardwell said. “The rest of the program will continue forward and has no reason to be delayed.

“Once the technicality is worked out, we can see how to deal with the rest of it,” he added.

IPA Chief Legal Counsel Michael Strong said last week that in the agency’s interpretation of the law, the county’s authority through referendum only covers the unincorporated areas of the county.

In addition, for a municipality to become involved in electrical aggregation, the municipality’s governing body would have to pass its own ordinance and place it on the ballot as a referendum for an election vote, he said.

Under the aggregation program, the company buys electricity for large groups and thus receives a lower rate. It passes that lower rate along to the groups it represents.

The aggregation program, once approved, would include a fixed rate from Integrys and go into effect in January. The program would be an opt-out program, allowing people to formally indicate they do not want to take part, if they so choose.

One of the results of the referendum’s legal questions is the inclusion of the City of Danville in the program.

Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said he has received the conclusive legal opinion he hoped to have in regard to what areas the referendum covers.

However, he said late Monday that the city — given the opinions he has received — is fairly certain the county referendum applies only to the unincorporated areas of the county and not cities and municipalities.

Eisenhauer said he will now begin to prepare analysis to collect information on the city’s next options. He has said previously that the referendum passed in the City of Danville by nearly a 2-1 margin, 6,512 votes to 3,326 votes.

“It’s clear to me that the residents want electrical aggregation,” he said. “The question is how can we best provide that with the understanding that the original concept of a county-wide electrical aggregation program does not appear to be a feasible option.”

At this point, Integrys said Ameren has only turned over data for customers in unincorporated areas of the county.

With the passage of November’s referendum, Vermilion County was the first to pass a county-wide electrical aggregation program.

Also at Monday’s meeting:

--Weinard, 66, a Republican, was elected new county board chairman in a vote that followed political party lines, 14-13.

He becomes the first Republican chairman for the county board since Gene Beckner of Hoopeston was elected to the position in 1988.

“It’s not something that I really thought much about,” he said, calling it humbling and gratifying. “It was one of those things that evolved and came along.

“I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t campaign or seek it,” he added. “The elderly of the party in Vermilion County thought I would be the best choice at this point in time.”

Weinard was first elected to the county board in 1994, making his the third-longest tenure behind Ivadale Foster, 1980, and Robert Fox, 1992.

Most recently, Weinard served on the transportation, executive/legislative and finance/personnel committees for the board. He was selected by the county’s Republican Party as its chairman nominee during a caucus during the weekend.

In addition to county board duties, Weinard has worked as highway commissioner for Grant Township since 2005 and self-employed as a farmer since 1973.

Weinard said whether he will remain the highway commissioner has yet to be determined but he doesn’t foresee remaining at the post.

“Long-term, I don’t think it’s ethical to try and do that job and this job also,” he said.

Republicans obtained the county board majority for the first time in more than 20 years in the November election 14-13 in favor of the county’s GOP.

Board members also selected District 2 representative Mike Marron as board vice chairman

--Illinois Supreme Court Justice Rita Garman of Danville led both old and new board members in an oath of office. The board has six new members elected in November: Charles Mockbee III of Danville in District 3; Charles Nesbitt of Catlin in District 3; Cathy Jenkins of Georgetown in District 4; Bill Wright of Danville in District 5; Dennis Miller of Danville in District 6; and Larry Mills of Danville in District 7.