Federal attorneys are prosecuting an 8-count indictment against Matt Sorensen, Chair of the McLean County Board in Illinois. Sorensen is accused of defrauding State Farm Insurance of more than $400,000 in unearned consulting fees.
Sorensen is also alleged to have conspired with co-defendant Navdeep Arora, who has an outside consultant for State Farm, to bill clients, including State Farm, for work that was never performed. Sorensen at the time of the alleged fraud worked for State Farm providing oversight for outside consultants.
Sorensen is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Chicago on Monday. While the federal charges, and what Breitbart News understands is an ongoing investigation by the FBI, mean that Sorensen’s life is about to enter an uncertain period, one thing won’t change for him – Sorensen, a Republican, will continue to serve as Chair of the McLean County Board.
“My preliminary view is that County Board rules and state statute have no mechanism for an indictment to have an impact on someone’s County Board position,” McLean County District Attorney Jason Chambers told the Bloomington Pantagraph.
While Sorensen is elected to the County Board by voters, his position has Chair is voted on by other members of the County Board. According to the McLean County Board rules, the Chair is nominated from and elected by the members of the County Board. The Chair then as the authority to appoint Committee Chairs and approve expenses and reimbursements for fellow members.
Under basic parliamentary procedure, Board Members likely have the authority to strip Sorensen of his Chair position. As he has only been charged with federal crimes, and not convicted, it is perhaps premature for moves to strip him of his position as a member of the Board, which is elected by the voters.
It is entirely within the powers of the Board Members, however, to allow Sorensen to remain in the powerful position of Board Chairman.
There is some precedent for stripping Sorensen of his Chairmanship. In 2011, the Board stripped a member of all of his committee assignments after he had been charged with domestic abuse. At the time, Sorensen said that the member’s conduct was a “distraction” for the other members and overshadowed the board’s work.
Also in 2011, another Board member was stripped of his Vice-Chair position after he was given a citation for driving with a suspended license. That member remains on the Board, although he is no longer Vice Chair.
Sources have told Breitbart News that board members have explored easy legal options in the Sorensen matter, but are reluctant to push Sorensen out of the Chair position.
Chambers, who as District Attorney is the lead prosecutor in the county, told the Pantagraph that Sorensen “has done a solid job as our County Board chairman and I regret that actions unrelated to that have had an impact.”
While a skeptic may question whether or not an eight-count federal indictment for fraud is really an unrelated matter in evaluating a public official’s actions, it isn’t known if the conduct was in fact unrelated.
Sorensen has been Chair of the McLean County Board since 2007. State Farm Insurance, a major US corporation, is headquartered in Bloomington, the county seat, and is the area’s largest employer. One doesn’t have to be a hardened cynic to wonder whether his powerful public office had any bearing on his employment at State Farm or any oversight he was subjected to there.
Although it isn’t known, it is certainly possible that his position on the County Board facilitated or made easier the fraud he is alleged to have committed.
In 2014, the McLean County Board was given a failing grade for transparency by government watchdog Illinois Policy Review. The Board has also been criticized for making it virtually impossible for regular citizens to address the Board. A local reporter even penned a piece titled, “The McLean County Board doesn’t want to hear from you.”
A recent Gallup poll found that 75 percent of Americans believe corruption is widespread in government. A CNN poll last week found that 69 percent of Americans were at least “somewhat angry” about how government was run in the US.
We’re conditioned to think of government through the lens of Washington or our state capitals. Government, however, has an enormous, and often most direct, impact at the local level. When elected members of a county board refuse to take action against a colleague who has been indicted by federal prosecutors, it erodes the trust the public has in its officials.
When even a District Attorney thinks the “solid work” an elected official has done in anyway outweighs potential corruption by that official, it fosters the public’s fear that officials believe they are subject to different rules than the rest of us. Especially when it is possible that the official’s position may have facilitated his fraud.
Publicly calling on a colleague to relinquish the powers of his Chairmanship is no doubt a hard task. Presumably, though, elected officials offer themselves to voters as being willing to do the hard tasks. There aren’t just trappings to office. There are also responsibilities.