A special Will County Board meeting Tuesday called to start a litigation process against the county executive and her ability to veto was forced to adjourn after Republicans who called the meeting did not show.

As such, County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant’s recent veto will stand, her  office said.

The Will County Board voted Feb. 15 to stop the planned 143rd Street widening project in Homer Glen by a 12-9 vote, a resolution later signed by Bertino-Tarrant.

But two days later, Bertino-Tarrant said she signed the resolution in error, contacted the county board and used her veto power, which requires 14 board members to override.

The project, which would widen a 3-mile stretch of 143rd Street from two lanes to five lanes, was necessary to improve safety, she said in her veto message. Stopping the project was fiscally irresponsible and does not address the safety and traffic challenges that exist, she said.

County Board Chair Judy Ogalla, a Republican from Monee, called Tuesday’s special meeting “to protect the integrity of our county government and the residents we serve” because once a resolution is signed by the executive, it becomes effective.

The agenda called for hiring a special legal counsel to represent the board, file a lawsuit to challenge the executive’s ability to veto a resolution and enforce the resolution that was signed in error.

However, only seven Democrats and no Republicans attended Tuesday’s special meeting, which was quickly adjourned for lack of a quorum.

Because the meeting was called, the board forfeited its opportunity to override the veto, county officials said.

“It is unfortunate that the board members who called this special meeting failed to respect the time and voice of the residents who showed up today,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “The members who are leading this charge are the same ones who have consistently voted in support of this project for years. By not showing up today, they have also forfeited their ability to override the veto.”

Democrat board members Mica Freeman of Plainfield and Meta Mueller of Aurora said they were disappointed the Republicans who failed to attend wasted everyone’s time and denied constituents who showed up a chance to speak.

They noted the audience consisted of Homer Glen residents against the planned widening project and union workers in support of the project who took off work to attend.

Mueller said the county board does not have the legal authority in the state statute to file litigation challenging the executive’s right to veto.

The Will County state’s attorney’s office, the legal representative of the county, said in an opinion it would decline the board’s request appointing a special assistant state’s attorney.

“In this role this office has a duty to advise all clients as to the state of the law, and not to advocate for one client’s interests against others,” Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Kenneth A. Grey wrote to board Chair Ogalla.

Grey wrote Bertino-Tarrant’s signature on the inadvertently-signed resolution was not attested to by the clerk, so the veto is allowed.

The county board resolution that halted the 143rd Street project was mixed with hundreds of tax delinquency forms that needed the executive’s signature, said County Executive spokesman Mike Theodore. Those documents had already been signed in advance by the clerk.

The same resolution was later sent to the executive from the Will County Division of Transportation where transportation resolutions typically originate, Bertino-Tarrant said.

Bertino-Tarrant said she understands the 143rd Street widening has been an emotional issue for residents, who have protested the project for months.

Residents say the expansion would invite more speeding, traffic, noise and semi-trucks, take portions of their land, disrupt the rural setting, displace wildlife and impact farms that line the street.

The county board has prepared for the widening for decades, and started preliminary engineering back in 2009. About $6.2 million has been spent on engineering and relocating utilities, and the county board has voted unanimously on at least 10 occasions to proceed with the plan, Bertino-Tarrant said.

Will County Board member Steve Balich, a Republican from Homer Glen and Homer Township supervisor, said he still plans to protest the widening project.

Members did not show up so they could modify the agenda or explore other options the board may take, Balich said.

The Homer Township Road District is preparing its own lawsuit against the executive, said Balich, the treasurer of the road district. Balich said he believes the resolution as signed should proceed.

“You don’t get a redo,” he said. “She signed a resolution and then changed her mind. There’s no resolutions that are stable. I don’t know how the county can operate. It’s a horrible precedent.”

Bertino-Tarrant said it is unfortunate that Balich, who has historically voted in support of the widening project, was wasting taxpayer money on lawsuits.

“County Board Member and Township Supervisor Balich is so conflicted on this project he needs to recuse himself from any further discussion for the good of all taxpayers,” Bertino-Tarrant said.

Michelle Mullins is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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