ROCKFORD - Winnebago County Board Chair Frank Haney and 47 county residents have filed a federal lawsuit against 13 county board members alleging state and federal constitutional violations over changes to Haney's powers as chairman.
Over the course of this year, the county board has reined in Haney's executive powers through ordinance changes, igniting the turmoil.
Monday's announcement marks Haney's attempt to win back his lost authority at the federal level, while a separate lawsuit remains pending in Winnebago County Circuit Court over similar issues named in the latest lawsuit.
The federal lawsuit alleges the board violated the First and Fourteenth Amendment related to Haney's and the Winnebago County citizens' right to vote, free speech and substantive due process. It also claims the board violated Article One and Article Three of the Illinois Constitution tied to substantive and procedural due process. "The illusion of democracy is not democracy. Top 25 communities don't meddle with illusions," Haney said. "They demand the real thing and that is why, with engagement, they get it. Staying silent when the actions of a small clique are so misaligned with those who cast a vote in November of 2016 is not an option. Overturning an election and ignoring the will of voters needs to be resisted in multiple ways: legally through the courts, legislatively in Springfield, and locally through the election and referendum process."
The Winnebago County residents who joined Haney in the lawsuit claim their voting rights were violated when the board took authority away from the board chair.
"It is a basic American tenet of trust and fairness that the rules of the game are not changed during the game. The will of the voters should not be undone by making changes to those in active office. It is critical we get this corrected and right," said plaintiff Scott Anderson of Rockton.
"This is wrong," said plaintiff Becky Ecker of Durand.
Anderson and Ecker are included in the lawsuit and are represented by defendant board members David Boomer, R-South Beloit, and Jim Webster, R-Rockton, respectively. Boomer could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Webster said he was concerned over the future cost to taxpayers if the Winnebago County State's Attorney's Office can't represent county board members.
"I'm not surprised by this," Webster said. "(Haney) has been talking about doing this. It could cost taxpayers a ton of money. If that happens, and the court looks into the allegations and it goes on forever, what has he actually won?"
Haney's attorney Ken Florey said the way the dispute has been handled by the Winnebago County State's Attorney's Office was "appalling."
At the county level, a hearing is scheduled for Aug. 30. Florey said the first hearing for the federal case is expected this week, at which time he will seek an injunction to stay the lawsuit pending in Winnebago County court.