New county chairman, election precincts

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Monroe County Board of Commissioners Chairman Dennis Knobloch

Prior to adopting the county budget for the upcoming fiscal year during a special meeting on Friday, Dennis Knobloch was elected new chairman of the Monroe County Board. 

“I’m very happy to be able to assume the position (of chairman),” Knobloch told the Republic-Times. “I hope to maintain the positive status of the county through the COVID situation and anything else that may arise.”

Knobloch has served two terms as village president of Valmeyer and oversaw that town’s relocation after old Valmeyer was flooded in 1993. He was appointed as Monroe County clerk in 1997 and was elected to five full terms in that office, retiring in 2018. 

Knobloch was appointed to the county board seat left vacant by the passing of Ronald Schultheis in April 2020. He ran unopposed for that seat in November 2020. 

Knobloch, a Republican, replaces commissioner Vicki Koerber, also a Republican, as chairman.

Koerber served as chairman for the past year and was the first woman chair in Monroe County history. 

“We rolled with it,” Koeber said of the challenge of managing the county during the COVID pandemic. “We had our ups and downs, but we handled it as best as we could.”

Koerber said her previous public roles helped prepare her for the leadership position. She had previously been Monroe County coroner and a Waterloo alderman in addition to being a member of Monroe County EMS for 18 years.

“It’s no different than in life. You deal with things as they happen,” she said.

The biggest challenge she experienced was “making the dollars work” within a budget for Monroe County, but she credits teamwork among the commissioners for a successful term.

She noted that it was a “united board by the party itself,” since all commissioners ran as Republicans, but she said she knew “it was going to be a very good board” when George Green was elected commissioner in 2020.

Koerber explained the commissioners “decided when (Green) came on board that each member would have specific responsibilities. It worked beautifully this year.”

“I enjoyed every minute of it,” Koerber said of her time as chairman, adding she was “very honored” and had a “great working relationship” with the other commissioners.

Knobloch’s first job as board chairman on Friday was to approve the budget and levy taxes for fiscal year 2022. A budget breakdown may be found in the Dec. 1 issue of the Republic-Times or by clicking here

The finalized budget is available at monroecountyil.gov.

At the regular meeting of the county board on Monday, state politics took center stage. 

Monroe County Clerk Jonathan McLean informed commissioners that a change in the county’s voting precincts will need to be approved by the end of December.

The change is a result of the Nov. 15 passage of Illinois Senate Bill 536. The act has given county boards until Dec. 31 to shape precincts “as near as may be practical” to include 1,200 voters. 

McLean explained the revised voter distribution will reduce the local number of precincts from 37 to 25 and estimated a savings of $12,000 per election. 

He said new voter registration renewal cards, which were recently mailed, will need to be sent again.

With two elections in 2021, a primary and a general, “the extra expense of mailing voters a new ID card will be minimal compared to the overall costs savings through precinct consolidation,” McLean explained. 

“When the final precinct boundaries are adopted, we will automatically change the voters precinct in our software and mail them a new card. Voters do not have to re-register,” he clarified.

McLean and commissioners were confident in the ability of Monroe County Director of Mapping and Platting Laura Henry to assist in producing preliminary maps of these new precincts by this weekend.

On Friday, McLean posted the new maps of the proposed districts on the Monroe County Clerk’s Office website, mococlerk.com. For a direct link to the maps click here

As of Tuesday afternoon, he believed a link on the website should be available by late Friday.

Commissioners would like the public to have at least a week to review the new maps before they are voted on at the next regularly scheduled county board meeting. If the maps are not ready to allow sufficient time for public review, commissioners said they would call a special meeting before the end of December.

Knobloch asked McLean what would become of precincts within the city limits of the Monroe County municipalities – noting that if county and city precincts did not line up, several different ballot styles would be necessary for elections within the differing precincts.

McLean commented that the language “within reason” in the bill takes the situation into account. He also expressed a desire to use common sense when designing new precincts, explaining it makes sense to keep subdivisions and existing neighborhoods within the same precinct.

“I think the cities are going to be easy drawings. I don’t think anyone living in the cities will have anything to worry about,” McLean said.

He continued by stating the cost-saving rationale behind the bill will “probably be shifted into other areas, like vote-by-mail, early vote, vote centers.”

“Twenty years ago, you woke up on election morning, and that’s when you voted. Now we’ve got 60 days for people to vote, so the argument that larger voting precincts somehow disenfranchise people is out the window,” McLean continued, pointing out that in the most recent election, 40 percent of votes were cast before election day.

Frequent meeting attendee Pat Kelly asked commissioners about the possibility of extended drive times for voters, especially in the larger rural precincts. 

Knobloch responded by referring to McLean’s explanation of the multiple voting options available.

“(State legislators in) Springfield knew that when they passed this … someone is going to have to travel further to vote. But again, with the opportunities people have for voting before election day, either coming into the courthouse, voting by mail, or whatever the case may be, if someone is concerned about having to drive an extra two or three miles to a polling place, then vote early,” Knobloch said.

“How many people in Monroe County don’t make a weekly trip to Walmart (in Waterloo)?” Knobloch asked rhetorically, adding he did not disagree with Kelly, but other options are available.

“If someone is bound and determined to vote on election day, then they (might) have to drive a little bit further,” Knobloch concluded.

McLean said changes should not have a negative impact on voter participation in Monroe County, which has been traditionally higher compared to other location averages. 

He suggested the “streamlining” of elections may encourage even more voter participation.  

Monday’s meeting began with many re-appointments that go along with the new county fiscal year. 

The only ones of note were Kim Keckritz being re-appointed as “acting administrator” at the Oak Hill care center in Waterloo. Keckritz resumed her role as administrator when Brian Koontz resigned in September. The language was amended to reflect a replacement is being sought and appointing Keckritz to the position until Nov. 30, 2022, or until a suitable replacement is found, whichever comes first.

Sheila Wetzler, administrative assistant for the board of commissioners, was reappointed to the post of supervisor of general assistance, but commissioners stated an intent to review need for the position. 

Once a full-time job, the supervisor would assist county residents with financial help as needed. Wetzler noted she receives few requests anymore, mostly with other charitable resources now available.

Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger gave a report about the county road district financial reporting and to have commissioners approve $1.1 million of the motor fuel tax fund for use on county road projects. Metzger noted the amount was an increase as a result of an increase in oil and other materials.

John Wagner gave commissioners a COVID update.

At the beginning of the meeting, commissioners approved a special use permit for a rally by “We The People of Southern  Illinois” to be held this Saturday, Dec. 11, at the Monroe County Courthouse Bandstand. 

Speakers include Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing, a licensed counselor and others. 

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