Closer Look: The newsmakers of the year

Published: Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012 8:49 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 6)

A look at the newsmakers of the year, those who made headlines:

Geneva Homecoming Couple

GENEVA – Kane County Chronicle readers responded in force when a photo of Geneva High School Homecoming Queen Krissy Altersohn and King Thomas Broviak was posted on Facebook Oct. 3.

The photo of the special-needs couple quickly went viral, prompting nearly 6,500 "likes" and 382 shares. Almost 48,000 people saw the post. The photo of the couple waving at crowds during the homecoming parade elicited more than 200 positive comments, such as "love it," and "awesome."

"Some kids really know what matters. This Batavia student is in awe at the awesome opportunity Geneva students gave to these kids. Congratulations, Krissy and Thomas!" one commenter said.

Another commenter chimed in, "Those students have made two families very proud and happy. I think they (students) deserve the accolades of everyone !!!! I'm going to send an email to the school. Everyone should."

Both students have Down syndrome, and they both happened to be named homecoming king and queen during Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

Altersohn and Broviak participate in the PE Leadership program, a physical education program for students with special needs at the high school. A group of 12th-grade students at the high school, who have been specially trained, work alongside the students with special needs to provide assistance and supervision.

This year, that group of P.E. Leadership peer leaders – about 15 to 20 students in all – decided to launch a campaign to elect Altersohn and Broviak, whom the peer leaders had befriended, to the homecoming court.

“It’s a really nice story,” said Tom Rogers, principal at Geneva High School, in October. “They were very proactive in supporting their friends in this program.

“And I’m thrilled that this group of our students would go out of their way to make this happen for two such wonderful young people.”

Chris Lauzen

2012 brought striking change to Kane County's government.

But few were more responsible for those changes than the man elected the Kane County Board's next chairman, Chris Lauzen.

After serving two decades in the Illinois State Senate, the Aurora Republican declared his intent to mount a campaign for the county's chief executive position.

Lauzen centered his campaign on three planks, including freezing the county's property tax levy and ridding the county of what he called a culture of corruption and cronyism.

He focused those allegations on then-Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay, who he specifically accused, during a press conference early in the year, of engaging in "pay-to-play" politics by accepting campaign donations from vendors and others who received county contracts.

McConnaughay opted not to seek a third term in office, instead choosing to run for a newly created state senate seat, which she won easily.

Lauzen romped through the election season in 2012, earning 70 percent of the vote in defeating Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns in the Republican primary and also breezing past the Democratic nominee, former St. Charles Mayor Sue Klinkhamer.

Lauzen took the oath of office on Dec. 3, and has moved quickly to put his own stamp on the County Board, reorganizing committees and asking county board members to approve several structural changes, including the creation of the office of deputy chairman.

He also has noted on several occasions that the County Board took his advice, freezing the property tax levy the last two years.

Karen McConnaughay

Karen McConnaughay left her post as Kane County Board Chairman in November. She decided to seek election to the Illinois State Senate for the 33rd District after eight years as Kane County Board Chairman.

State Sen. Chris Lauzen of Aurora has been elected to replace her and took office in December. While campaigning, Lauzen pledged to rid the county of "cronyism," much of which he laned on McConnaughay and her county government supporters.

During her tenure in the last year, McConnaughay had the responsibility of appointing an interim coroner following the death of Kane County Coroner Chuck West. In August, she chose retired Sugar Grove Police Chief Brad Sauer out of 11 applicants.

McConnaughay was also tasked with finding a new head of Kane County Animal Control after former administrator Kimberly Rudloff resigned in May.

McConnaughay was named in a lawsuit brought by political opponent James MacRunnels, which alleged that she violated county ordinances when she decided to give pay raises to staff members he considered her "cronies." The suit was filed in 2010, but continued through this year, with McConnaughay seeking an end to the case.

The lawsuit was dismissed in November of this year.

Clifford McIlvaine

ST. CHARLES – The city of St. Charles' battle over Clifford McIlvaine’s decades long home-improvement project dominated headlines in 2012.

The city sued McIlvaine in 2010, pushing him to get the project finished, and a work schedule later was agreed upon in court. McIlvaine had been jailed for two weeks in August after Kane County Judge Thomas Mueller found him in contempt of court.

The case is far from over either. A judge on Jan. 14 will review a petition by the city of St. Charles for demolition or repair of the property at 605 Prairie St.

Phil Luetkehans, an attorney for St. Charles, had said the city has not seen significant progress on the project. City officials want McIlvaine to comply with a court order to finish the project.

The project was supposed to have been completed by the end of September, according to the order.

McIlvaine recently corrected the plumbing system in his house as ordered by the court and St. Charles city officials. McIlvaine had been warned that he had to prevent his cistern water system from connecting to the city’s water supply or the city would proceed with an application for demolition or repair of the house.

A cistern is a tank for storing rainwater.

McIlvaine has signed a court order saying he will not use it for bathing or drinking water, and the city wanted to make sure the system does not pollute city water.

Bob McQuillan

GENEVA – Bob McQuillan, co-founder of Geneva TaxFACTS, a property tax watchdog group, was front and center in Geneva District 304's long, contentious contract talks with its teachers union.

Members of the Geneva Education Association began coming to school board meetings in August. Clad in bright green T-shirts in a rare show of public unity, teachers addressed the school board to seek a contract settlement. The board had offered a hard freeze on salaries the first year because other employees had already had freezes on their pay.

McQuillan was a leader among the taxpayer opposition to giving teachers raises in the first year of their contract.

"The teachers union is facing its worst nightmare – a strong board and an informed public," McQuillan said at one meeting. "They liked it a lot better when they just walked up to the taxpayer ATM and it spit out money. Well, we are not going to give it anymore. We cannot afford it."

Tensions rose between the public, the school board and the teachers union, which first conducted informational pickets before meetings, then actually voted to strike. A settlement was reached before a strike, but the union and school officials have filed unfair labor practice complains against each other, which are still pending.

Prior to the teacher contract issue, McQuillan pushed officials on the inflated enrollment numbers published to get an $80 million referendum passed in 2007. McQuillan had sought a panel to find out what happened, but was turned down by school officials who said too much time had passed.

More recently, McQuillan unsuccessfully advocated for a 0 percent increase on the 2012 levy. School board members approved a 1.5 percent levy increase.

“I believe the 1.5 percent levy recommendation is too high,” McQuillan said. “You are coming to us asking for more money and we are telling you, ‘There is no more money.’ Does that sound familiar? It seems that the tables have changed.”

McQuillan is currently a candidate for mayor, challenging incumbent Mayor Kevin Burns in the April 9 consolidated election.

Judith Brawka

Judge Judith Brawka made history in 2012 by becoming the first woman to be elected as chief judge of the 16th Judicial Circuit.

Brawka began her term as chief judge on Nov. 3. She replaces Chief Judge Robert Spence and will serve the remainder of his two-year term, which ends Dec. 1, 2013. After that date, she will be eligible to serve a two-year term.

Spence left the post after being assigned by the Illinois Supreme Court to serve on the Second District Illinois Appellate Court.

Brawka was appointed as an associate judge in 1991 and was elected as a circuit judge in 2002. She has served as the presiding judge of the court’s civil division since 2009.

As chief judge, Brawka said she hopes to implement a foreclosure mediation program. The program would help homeowners and lenders reach the best solutions, locate resources and navigate the complexities of the foreclosure process.

She said the program also would help keep case volumes under control and stabilize tax bases and communities.

Brawka said she’s also a big proponent for transparency, and she supports efforts to allow cameras in the 16th Judicial Circuit courtrooms. She said educating local service clubs and schools about the law is one of her most important accomplishments.

She has handled a myriad of cases in Kane, Kendall and DeKalb county courts and a Supreme Court assignment in Cook County. She has been assigned to all civil and criminal courts, including the juvenile division, where she was named presiding judge.

Elburn Village Board

As 2012 drew to a close, the fate of one of the top transportation projects in Kane County still hung in the balance.

For much of the year, Kane County transportation planners had planned on beginning work late in 2012 on the project to extend Anderson Road from Route 38 to Keslinger Road.

The project is considered to be one of the county's and Elburn's top transportation priorities, as it includes a plan to build an overpass of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at the Elburn Metra station to provide relief at the existing railroad crossing on Route 47 in downtown Elburn.

But the fate of the project has for years been intertwined with that of a major housing development proposal. Known as Elburn Station, the plan, presented by Geneva development company ShoDeen, calls for the construction of thousands of new homes, including hundreds of new multi-family units, including apartments.

As part of that plan, ShoDeen had indicated it intended to sell the land needed for the Anderson Road extension to the county.

In years past, the Elburn Village Board had endorsed concept plans for the Elburn Station project, prompting ShoDeen and Kane County to nearly complete negotiations for the transfer of the Anderson Road land.

However, a formal approval of the project from the Elburn Village Board did not come, as many expected, in the spring or summer, as ShoDeen and the village continued to talk about the final terms under which the village would annex the Elburn Station project.

Finally, this fall, the village board surprised many by voting to formally shelve the project. Board members in opposition said they worried that the project, as proposed by ShoDeen, contained too many apartments.

They also bristled at the notion that they had to choose between approving a project they did not believe was right for Elburn, or losing the Anderson Road extension.

The matter could still return for further review in early 2013. But for now, the board's decisions have left county transportation planners to re-evaluate their options for making the Anderson Road extension a reality.

Stephen LeMaire

GENEVA – Stephen LeMaire, a 33-year Geneva employee accused of using a city credit card to make more than $24,000 worth of unauthorized purchases, pleaded guilty in June.

Between Feb. 14, 2006, and Jan. 1, 2012, LeMaire bought such unauthorized items as high-end jackets ranging in price from $200 to more than $600 as well as sunglasses, shoes, boots and T-shirts – purchases that eventually aroused suspicion, leading to an investigation, his firing and arrest.

The former Geneva streets and fleet superintendent was suspended without pay in January pending the investigation.

He surrendered to police in February on felony charges of official misconduct and that he used a city credit card to make unauthorized purchases. He was terminated from his $98,134 job the same day.

Although he entered a plea of not guilty in March, LeMaire pleaded guilty to theft in June. He was sentenced to 30 months of probation and 100 hours of community service. Under the terms of his plea agreement, LeMaire must also pay $28,478.10 in restitution to the city of Geneva, at a minimum rate of $200 per month.

The city of Geneva hired a new streets and fleet superintendent in April. Christopher Bong, formerly a city civil engineer for 10 years, was hired by the public works director instead of being appointed by the mayor, as LeMaire was.

Chuck West

Chuck West, the Kane County coroner facing charges of official misconduct, died in July as a result of complications following a liver transplant surgery.

The 69-year-old was in the midst of his third four-year term as Kane County coroner. He had been re-elected twice but was not seeking re-election in 2012, as he had come under a cloud of accusations of criminal and ethical misconduct.

The charges were in connection with allowing the television of a deceased man to be kept in an employee's home. West was indicted in May 2010.

The case had not gone to trial, in part, because of the death of the judge who had been scheduled to hear the case and because of West's ongoing medical needs.

West had been hospitalized for weeks at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago, as he awaited the liver transplant, and was unable to attend his court dates. His official duties had been formally delegated to a deputy coroner when he was hospitalized.

Kane County Judge John McAdams formally ended the prosecution of West in August.

West also was being sued by Chief Deputy Coroner Loren Carrera, who alleged West retaliated against her, violating state law, when she reported the alleged misconduct. Judge F. Keith Brown dismissed that case in September.

Former Sugar Grove Police Chief Brad Sauer was appointed interim coroner in August by then-Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay. Earning about 57 percent of the vote, Republican Rob Russell was elected coroner in November, defeating Democratic opponent Tao Martinez.

Russell has said he's ready to tackle a troubled office and repair strained relationships. One of his campaign messages called to restore the office's integrity.

Mark Grosso

GENEVA  – Mark Grosso took the helm of School District 304's school board after Timothy Moran stepped down in late January.

Grosso was interim president, then was appointed president.

His tenure saw public hearings on the fate of Coultrap Elementary School, built in 1923 and standing empty since being closed as an attendance center in 2009. No decision was made on whether to raze or rehabilitate Coultrap, as more immediate issues took front and center in the district.

For the first time in the district's history, teachers started a new school year without a new contract in place. From August through November, teachers packed meetings wearing green T-shirts of solidarity and urged a fair contract settlement. The district was offering a hard freeze on salaries in the first year of the contract.

"We asked all our employee groups to take a pay freeze and after that, a pay increase that was not as large as they traditionally would see," Grosso said. "This year we asked our teachers to share in that sacrifice and take a pay freeze, and after the pay freeze, their increases would not be as large as they would traditionally see."

Grosso led meetings where emotional and sometimes harsh words were spoken. At each meeting, Grosso would remind all parties to be respectful. He also participated in negotiating sessions that would go on for hours at a time – even the last one that finally led to a contract settlement instead of a teachers strike.

Under Grosso's leadership, the district was prepared to keep school open even if teachers struck.

Grosso is seeking another term on the school board in the April 9 consolidated election.