Leif Lunde named interim sheriff

Bill Neil

Leif Lunde Leif Lunde Leif Lunde will be Cook County’s interim sheriff at the end of June when Mark Falk steps down from the position he has held since 2005.

Although the county commissioners accepted Falk’s resignation May 13, they deferred a decision on naming his successor. Falk appeared before the board May 20 to further explain his situation and recommend that Lunde, who has served as chief deputy since February 2005, be named to head the office.

Falk said he fully intended to serve out his term, which runs through Jan. 30, 2015, when re-elected. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said, adding that he’s always been an advocate of elected officials filling out their terms.

“So I apologize for taking an early retirement,” Falk continued, explaining that “changes are coming” to the pension program on July 1, and if he remains in office beyond June 30, he will take a financial hit of $365 per month for the rest of his life. That translates into $87,000 over the course of 20 years.

Falk, 47, said he has spent a lot of time crunching the numbers and talking with representatives of the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), and there is no way around the new regulations, mainly because he is not 50 years old (the rules were revised to allow sitting sheriffs over 50 years of age to remain in office until February 2015 – when their terms expire – and still qualify for full retirement benefits).

Falk told the commissioners that he has no authority to appoint anybody to take his place; state statute gives that responsibility to the county board. He said he recommends Lunde for the job because of Lunde’s proven dedication and commitment to his duties, and the above-standard way in which he’s filled the role.

The appointment was made by a 4-1 vote following some discussion and debate. The dilemma was caused by the fact that Lunde has announced his intention to run for the position of county sheriff this fall, as has Deputy Pat Eliasen.

Proponents for Eliasen argued that the appointment of Lunde would give him an unfair advantage in the election.

Kathleen Johnson, a member of Eliasen’s campaign committee, spoke for the group. She said it is unfair if Lunde is placed in the position before the election because he will have the benefit of weekly publicity in the News-Herald and elsewhere, and “people will think of him as the sheriff…it’s common sense.”

And although Johnson acknowledged that it “seems reasonable” to promote Lunde due to his position as chief deputy, she stressed that it doesn’t seem fair. She asked that a more neutral candidate be appointed, that Lunde not be designated as an incumbent on the fall ballots, and that the board defer an appointment until more thought is put into it.

Lunde, however, had the board’s support.

Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk pointed out that there is precedent for the decision – Falk was promoted from chief deputy to sheriff when Dave Wirt retired before his term expired in 2005. Sue Hakes commented that “the only way to take the politics out of it is to take the politics out of it” by allowing the process to follow “the normal course of events.”

Garry Gamble said protocol and policy are hugely important, and while the board has the responsibility to appoint an interim sheriff, it is the public that will make the ultimate decision. “The [interim] opportunity provides risk as well as benefit…and the public can weigh that and judge his performance,” Gamble said, encouraging members of the community to do their homework and make an informed decision on election day. The commissioners’ duty, he said, is to ensure that law enforcement is in capable and competent hands, and to do what they feel is in the best interest of the citizens. “The board’s action is neither an endorsement for or against any one candidate,” Gamble said.

It was Bruce Martinson who cast the sole no vote. He said he’s received several phone calls about the appointment, and it is a tough decision. Echoing Hakes’ words, Martinson said he believes “taking the politics out of it” is the only fair thing to do, and no candidate should be given the upper hand. “If neither were running, I would appoint Leif over Pat,” he said. “But I will vote no on this.”

With the board’s approval, Lunde will assume the sheriff’s duties July 1, and it will be up to him to select a new chief deputy, subject to county board approval.

In other news:

. At the request of Veteran Service Officer Pat Strand, the board approved the purchase of furniture (work station, filing cabinets, chairs, shelving) at a cost of $4,234 for the new office on the second floor of the courthouse.

. At the request of Community Center Director Diane Booth, amended bylaws adopted by the board of trustees were approved.

. County Engineer David Betts was authorized to advertise for 2,500 cubic yards of winter sand to replenish the county’s stockpile. Betts said he expects to be under the $70,000 budgeted.

. Commissioner Hakes reported that she attended the YMCA’s board meeting the previous day, and the focus is to come in on budget. Thus, she said, there will be no additional hours added to the schedule, as has been requested by members. Overall, she said, projections are on track to bring the Y in on budget, but there is still a need for “care and caution” in every decision. Hakes said janitor issues at the facility have been addressed, along with drainage problems in the locker room. An archery program will be started soon, thanks to widespread interest and a donation of items from the North House Folk School.

. There was a brief but intense discussion on what should be done with the funds remaining in the 1 percent project fund, estimated at about $297,000 by Auditor- Treasurer Braidy Powers. Hakes and Board Chair Jan Hall said it was the softball and tennis programs that were shorted at the beginning of the process, so the money should be used there first, before new projects are introduced.

Commissioner Doo-Kirk asked, “What about the soccer fields?” and told the board they needed to look at the whole picture. Martinson said the board should not forget the request received from the museum, and was reminded that the funds must be used for recreation purposes. And Gamble noted that the board is in a better position to evaluate the requests “through proper channels” now that things have started to settle. No decisions were made.

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