Thornton Township Supervisor position still vacant as deadline looms

Above: A weary Deputy Supervisor Joyce Washington recesses the March 1, 2022, meeting of the Thornton Township Board of Trustees. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

by Melanie Jongsma

SOUTH HOLLAND, Ill. (March 1, 2022) – Folding chairs were spread across the basement of Thornton Township Headquarters in anticipation of a crowd. Those chairs gradually filled as the March 1 meeting of the Thornton Township Board of Trustees convened, and many of them remained filled throughout the three-and-a-half-hour meeting, most of which was conducted in closed session. March 1 was a reconvening of the meeting scheduled for February 22, where a quorum was not present to vote on the appointment of a new supervisor.

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An estimated 50 people — still socially distanced — attended the Thornton Township Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, March 1, hoping to learn who the new Supervisor will be. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
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Deputy Supervisor Joyce Washington (right) confers with Township Clerk Loretta Wells before the start of Tuesday’s meeting. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Trustee Joyce Washington is currently serving as Deputy Supervisor, selected by her fellow board members a few days after the unexpected death of long-time Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli on January 3. State election law gives the board 60 days to appoint a permanent replacement. Those 60 days end at midnight Thursday, March 3.

Appointment options

The main contenders for the appointment were widely believed to be Washington — because of her lengthy tenure and status as Senior Trustee — and Trustee Gerald “Jerry” Jones. The two other Township trustees — Christopher Gonzalez and Darlene Gray Everett — were elected just last spring.

Cassandra Elston is another name that has been mentioned. Elston serves as Thornton Township Assessor and says that Zuccarelli’s intention was for her to succeed him. Although he never created any official documentation confirming his wishes, Elston recalls being announced as “next in line to be Supervisor” at township events during the past year. She fears that disregarding Zuccarelli’s wishes could portend a change in priorities and direction for the township.

In and out of closed meeting

After taking care of routine business such as approving minutes and bills, Deputy Supervisor Washington referred to agenda items A, B, and C, under New Business. Those items read:

  1. Accept the resignation(s) of Trustees seeking to fill the vacancy of Township Supervisor pursuant to 50 ILCS 105/2(a).
  2. Fill the vacancy of Township Supervisor by appointment pursuant to 60 ILCS 1/60-5(a) and
    60 ILCS 1/60-5(d) and approve the warrant of appointment

  3. Oath of Office/New Supervisor

“It’s not clear as to A, B, or C,” said Washington, “so I don’t know if the board wants to go into closed session and try to discuss it and clear it up — try to clear it up — or do we want to wait until our next board meeting?”

Gonzalez made a motion for the board to go into closed session, Gray Everett seconded, and the board adjourned to closed session at 7:30pm.

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Meeting attendees conversed in small groups during the hours the Township board met in closed session. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

An hour and a half later, Trustee Jones and Deputy Supervisor Washington returned to their positions at the table, along with Thornton Township Clerk Loretta C. Wells and Township Attorney Stanley Kusper. Hushed discussions took place regarding the missing trustees, Gonzalez and Gray Everett. Washington publicly announced that the board would wait 10 minutes before resuming business. More off-mic discussions took place. Washington then apologized to the crowd and announced the board would need to return to closed session.

Approximately 30 minutes later the full board returned, and Clerk Wells called for nominations for appointees. Confusion surrounded the process:

No appointment

Around 10:25pm, the board returned, and Washington announced that meeting would recess and reconvene on Thursday, March 3, at 10:30pm. “A meeting requires 48 hours notice,” explained Attorney Kusper, “and 48 hours from now is [10:30pm Thursday].” The board will have 90 minutes to arrive at a decision before the 60-day deadline is up. If they cannot agree on an appointment, a special township meeting must be called, and township electors can choose the next Supervisor.

Washington said after the meeting that she no longer has any desire to be appointed Supervisor. “I’m the Deputy Supervisor now,” she said wearily, “and it is hell. I did have my name down, but then I took it off.”

Thornton Township is located at 333 E. 162nd Street in South Holland, Illinois. More information is available at thorntontownship.com.

The public is welcome to attend the March 3 meeting at 10:30pm. Those who wish to make public comments are requested to sign in before the meeting begins.

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