Federal lawsuit filed against members of the Winnebago County Board

Frank Haney and 47 residents file federal lawsuit

ROCKFORD, Ill (WIFR) -- The power struggle between Winnebago County Chairperson Frank Haney and the board is not new. Now 47 county residents and Haney are filing a federal lawsuit against 13 members of the board.

"Do you want to live in a community where a vote counts, or does it not matter to you," asks Haney. "We're asserting, very aggressively, and firmly and passionately that we can't really suggest that a vote counts when this situation comes without any resistance or push-back."

The residents are saying their voter rights are violated due to several ordinance changes the board made this year to limit Haney’s duties.

"Most people understand that as the county board, one of our jobs is we make ordinances," says board member Jim Webster, who is listed as a defendant. "And we can change ordinances, we can abolish ordinances. As time goes on you see times that you do need to change things a bit."

Haney already filed a lawsuit against the board earlier this year for taking away his powers, but now he believes he has voters on his side.

"We've allowed personality politics and kind of just a mentality of retaliation to get in the way," says Haney. "So we need to be making decisions on what the best structure is for the count, if there's going to be changes long term, they should take effect after the next election, not in the middle of the term."

There are nine counts on the lawsuit. Many board members listed as defendants were not yet aware of the lawsuit when 23 News reporters reached out.

"I'm not surprised," says Webster. "Three quarters of the board are telling you something Mr. Chairman, you should listen. When the overwhelming majority of the board tells you something, please listen. I think he's failed to do so."

Webster is one of the 13 under fire, but he says all the ordinance changes made were legal. He also says the changes don’t really effect residents, but the lawsuit will.

"What I'm saying is that this lawsuit could potentially go on for years," says Webster. "And all the money that's being paid to these attorneys is going to come out of the taxpayers pocketbook instead of going into the general fund to help us balance our budget."

The money would come from taxpayers if the State's Attorney cannot support the legal fees.

Haney, who has stated he is not seeking re-election in 2020, says its difficult to do his job when there is an illusion of democracy.

"We can't tell voters their vote is important, and then make these types of changes."

The board members listed as defendants are "David Boomer, Dave Fiduccia, Joe Hoffman, Fred Wescott, Jim Webster, Jaime Salgado, Angie Goral, Dorothy Redd, Dave Tassoni, Burt Gerl, Steve Schultz, Keith McDonald, and Paul Arena in their official capacity as board members."