Elk Grove Village board’s continuity a ‘highly unusual’ feat

Voters haven’t removed an Elk Grove Village board member from office in more than two decades, an extremely rare streak of continuity for politics at any level, experts say.

With the exception of longtime Trustee Bart Dill — who resigned in 2007 after doctors had diagnosed him with Parkinson’s disease and cancer — the same elected officials have governed the village of about 33,000 residents since 1997. Trustee Jeff Franke took the open seat and he’s been on the board every since.

It’s hard to know whether the village has set a record. Neither the Illinois State Board of Elections nor the Illinois Municipal League, a lobbying group, track the statistic for the state’s roughly 7,000 units of local government.

“I think I can say with a degree of confidence that that’s highly unusual,” said Ken Menzel, general counsel for the state’s board of elections. “I would think it tends to show people are happy with their local government and it could indicate the group is harmonious.”

On Tuesday, Mayor Craig Johnson and trustees Franke, Pat Feichter and Christine Prochno will again take the oath of office. The streak directly coincides with Johnson’s tenure as mayor, but he’s far from the longest serving board member. Trustee James Petri took office in 1979, when Johnson was a freshman in college. Now the mayor’s seventh grandchild is on the way.

“We’re not like most governments,” Johnson said. “We don’t have council wars. We don’t fight. We don’t play politics with each other.”

The incumbents have faced election opponents, but they’ve usually won without much of a scare. In April, the election was uncontested. A would-be opponent quietly pulled out of the race after a plan commission member, who was appointed by Johnson, challenged the candidate’s petitions.

Eric Zeemering, a public administration professor at Northern Illinois University, said turnover can be high or low in local government, but “we shouldn’t be surprised to see either of those patterns.”

Generally, the type of people running for local boards are disinterested in stirring political debate or rising to higher elected office, but rather they’re interested in serving the community, Zeemering said.

“I don’t think a long tenured board is either good or bad,” Zeemering said. “In many ways, that local community is making a judgment that that board is right for this community in this particular time.”

The village board meeting is 7 p.m. Tuesday at village hall, 901 Wellington Ave.