McHenry County Judge Joel Berg sided with objector Donald Kountz, who argued that the electoral board that considered his objection to incumbent City Council member Brett Hopkins was improperly constituted and had members with conflicts of interests.
The two-member electoral board – made up of council member Cathy Ferguson and City Clerk Nick Kachiroubas after Mayor Haig Haleblian recused himself – had sustained Hopkins’ candidacy as well as incumbent Ellen Brady’s, which Kountz had also challenged.
Kountz subsequently asked the courts to weigh in on the Hopkins decision, arguing that after Mayor Haig Haleblian rescued himself, the vacancy should have been filled by the chief judge in McHenry County. Kountz and his attorney John Dickson had also sought the removal of both Ferguson and Kachiroubas.
The objection against Hopkins must be reconsidered by a new, impartial electoral board, which cannot include either Haleblian or Kachiroubas, Berg said Thursday.
In addition, because ballots must be certified by Jan. 26, the new electoral board must hear and rule on the objections before next Thursday, Berg said.
The third member of the electoral board, outgoing City Council member Cathy Ferguson, did not sign any candidates’ petitions and can be on the electoral board, Berg said.
Kountz said he was very happy about Thursday morning’s ruling and the accelerated timeline.
“I always wanted a fair hearing, and the court saw that the city did it wrong,” Kountz said. “I don’t know why, but now we will have a fair hearing.”
Neil Smith, the attorney representing the Crystal Lake electoral board and its members, said he would have to consult with his clients before deciding whether they would appeal Berg’s decision.
Kachiroubas said he disagreed with Berg’s interpretation of when electoral board members must recuse themselves and was “disappointed” with the ruling.
“I think it’s a question of constitutionality and my right to sign a petition,” Kachiroubas said, adding that he had sat on last month’s board on the advice of the city attorney.
Berg did not rule on the arguments laid out by Kountz and his attorney about whether objections raised by Kountz about Hopkins’ candidacy papers were valid, but he did question whether anyone would really have any confusion over what position Hopkins was running for.
Hopkins wrote “city council” on his petition instead of “city council member.” Kountz argued that because the mayor also is a member of the City Council, the wording was too ambiguous.
Kountz also noted that Hopkins and Brady had objected on similar grounds in the past, including against Bob Miller’s candidate petition in 2019. That objection included that Miller failed to specify the office they sought, but also that his petition’s statement of economic interest was turned in late.
An objection was also filed against Haleblian’s candidate petition. Haleblian acknowledged the error at the time and said he would run as a write-in candidate.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct which candidates were objected to over potential confusion over the position being sought. The objection regarding ambiguous wording was regarding Hopkins’ candidacy.
Source: The Daily Chronicle