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Forest board elects 2 leaders

Republican DGould (left) Democr'Banana' Joe Babich avoided fight over leading Will County Forest Preserve District board by agreeing have Babich

Republican Don Gould (left) and Democrat "Banana" Joe Babich avoided a fight over leading the Will County Forest Preserve District board by agreeing to have Babich serve as president the first year and Gould the second. | Cindy Cain~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 12, 2013 6:13AM



A potential partisan battle over the presidency of the Will County Forest Preserve District board gave way to friendship and sharing at Monday’s reorganization meeting.

“Banana” Joe Babich, a 30-year board veteran, and attorney Don Gould, a 10-year board veteran, agreed to split the post of president. Babich will serve the first year of the two-year term; Gould will serve the second year.

“It’s a long time coming,” Babich said after the meeting. “And I’m so happy we could get together and work this out as we did. We’re going to work together.”

Babich, 73, a longtime Joliet barber, never served as a board officer or committee chairman because Republicans had dominated the board since 1980.

After the Nov. 6 election, the board was tied with 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans for the first time in its history. Prior to Monday’s meeting, it wasn’t clear how a possible deadlock could be avoided.

Babich, Gould and party leaders all worked behind the scenes to come up with a compromise that was approved unanimously by the board.

Gould will serve as vice president until he becomes president in December 2013; then Babich will be vice president.

Babich said board members, who also double as county board members, have never gone to partisan extremes.

“We never had straight party-line votes,” Babich said. “It’s a group that works together for the residents of Will County.”

Gould, who had served as the forest board’s vice president for the past four years, said he believes in being a “good sport.”

“Our personal friendships and trust go back a lot of years here,” Gould said. “... You get to know people after a while. It’s not like he and I are strangers.”

Apparently, the sharing will even involve the board’s legal counsel. Attorney Richard Kavanagh, a former Will County Republican Party chairman, has held the forest district job since 1983. But now Democrats will get to appoint an attorney, too, although the total amount paid for legal services will remain the same, said Diane Zigrossi, D-Lockport.

Babich said he had a lawyer in mind, but legal contracts won’t be up for approval until the board’s next meeting.

Democrats and Republicans continued to share power for other board appointments. Steve Wilhelmi, D-Joliet, is treasurer; Lee Ann Goodson, R-Plainfield, is secretary. Suzanne Hart, R-Naperville, will chair the operations committee; Wilhelmi will chair the finance committee.

Also Monday, the board:

Renewed its employee insurance plan. The plan is up 21 percent or $239,000 this year compared to last year. Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort Township, asked district staff to look for ways to cut the plan’s $1.33 million cost for 82 employees and 10 retirees.



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