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Pattsi Petrie caucused with Republicans to vote herself in as County Board Chair: UPDATED

Democrat Pattsi Petrie, a long-time member of the Champaign County Board, was elected to the position of board chairwoman on Monday night. But the election result did not represent the views of the Democratic caucus.

The Democratic majority supported Champaign Democrat Josh Hartke for board chairman; however, Petrie and fellow Democrat Astrid Berkson crossed party lines to vote with the Republican minority. This caucus ensured that Petrie received the coveted seat. You can find more information about the vote in The News-Gazette’s coverage.

But back in January 2014, Petrie promised the Champaign County Young Democrats that she would vote in accordance with the Democratic caucus, stating that she would support their choice for County Board Chair. In her response to a Champaign County Young Democrats Endorsement Questionnaire, Petrie indicated that she would support her party’s caucus. 

Here is a screenshot of her questionnaire response, dated January 4th, 2014:

It seems that Petrie, seeing an opportunity to occupy the County Board Chair herself, went back on her promise to support the views of the Democratic caucus. This decision means that the County Board Chair is, once again, not the choice of Democratic caucus. In caucusing with Republicans, Petrie’s concern seems to have been not the views of the majority party, but personal advancement within the hierarchy of the County Board. 

When asked to respond to her reversal of the position she outlined in the Champaign County Young Democrats Endorsement Questionnaire, Petrie said:

“I found the choices of the Democratic Caucus unobjectionable in 2010 and 2012; I did so in 2014.”

Despite the fact that her language is unclear and awkward, it’s evident what she was trying to state: she finds Joshua Hartke and Pius Weibel “objectionable” as leaders of the Champaign County Board. 

When we asked her to clarify the reasons that she found her Democratic colleagues to be just that, she simply stated the following: 

“I am confused about the Mr. Weibel question. The pre-organization mtg vote was between Mr. Hartke and me.

As to Mr. Hartke, look at recent news reports and information in the public domain on Josh’s activities.”

Meanwhile, Josh Hartke, the choice of the Democratic majority, commented: 

“It’s par for the course with her and Astrid. Personal ambition and personal vendettas outweigh the voters and the policies we are supposed to stand for. Personally, I’m just fine. I have a lot of community support that has been reaching out to me, not to mention plenty of other successes and challenges in other parts of my life.

But it is the county I fear for. Pattsi is notoriously difficult to work with and is no person of compromise, as proven by her actions Monday night. She has terrible ideas for the (Champaign County) nursing home, she has attacked the Access Initiative (one of the few programs we have that directly helps poor minority kids), and she is a constant proponent of irresponsible tax raises, especially those that are most regressive.

I will continue to fight for these progressive issues, even in the reduced role I’m certain to have on this board. And Pattsi and Astrid will both eventually have to answer for their actions to the only people who really matter in this…the voters.”

We asked Pius Weibel, the Democratic majority’s choice for Vice Chair what his thoughts were on Ms. Petrie’s comments in the questionnaire, now that she decided to vote herself in as Chairperson, and he stated: 

“Her answer to the question is both enigmatic and misleading. It appears that she wanted to convey the message that she would support the chosen candidate without actually saying that she would support the chosen candidate. This statement and her recent actions indicate that adhering to principles is not her long suit. This is sad for both the County Board and the citizens of the county.”

The implications here are deep. 22 seats on the County Board; 12 Democratic and 10 Republican. Two of those Democratic votes are now compromised, as evidenced by Monday’s vote. 

Instead of Pius Weibel as Vice Chair, now in his place sits Republican Jeff Kibler, who was voted in with the same 12 votes that gave Ms. Petrie the seat as Chairwoman. We reached out to Mr. Kibler to provide insight, and he gave us the following: 

“After thorough due diligence and evaluations of potential vote scenarios, we determined a Republican Chair was unreachable; of the two remaining candidates, Ms. Petrie brought more experience and leadership to Champaign County.”

We’ll just leave the full Questionnaire that Pattsi Petrie filled out this past January right here:

UPDATE (7:29 a.m.): Pattsi Petrie responded this morning with the following, regarding the votes and how it caucused and the rationale behind a (D) Chair and an (R) Vice Chair: 

“There is a straight forward reason–James (Quisenberry) and Chris (Alix) have often mentioned how effective and useful it has been for them as committee chairs to have a R. vice-chair. Those two VC were Jeff (Kibler) and Diane (Michaels), who happened to be in one of the conversations. Jeff and Diane agreed that it was useful because both of them could take items and explanations to the R. caucus. Further, James and Chris included Jeff and Diane in all agenda setting sessions with Deb Busey, which had created two good teams.

So when Jeff K. was nominated and having had these past conversations, it appeared to create a potential win-win situation of being able to share ideas, etc. back and forth.

You may or may not realize that the county has the jail, nursing home, all of the county bldgs, replacement of IT systems, and potentially the airport as the major and costly issues on our “two-year plate.” Everyone member of the CB will be engaged in these issues because the decisions effect decades down the line.

There is no short answer because you are dealing with an urban planner. Our brains never turn off.  🙂

As to Astrid, I have no idea about her vote. Ask her.”

We have reached out to Ms. Berkson, and asked her if the vote was pre-meditated in any way with the GOP and this is what she offered: 

“kurtz had a republican vice, and i thought it was a good idea. i do not like klein’s scorched earth policy of winner take all. i thought that josh telling the republicans that they could put forth their ideas but have no part in the decision making was highly inappropriate and a first example of his idea of leadership.”

Rebecah Pulsifer and Seth Fein contributed to this story. 

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