McHenry County staff’s presentation on how to balance the 2012 budget had gone over an hour, thanks to board members’ picking over individual items, before member Mary Donner had finally had enough.
Donner, R-Crystal Lake, implored fellow board members at the Friday, Oct. 7 workshop to at least let staff get through their presentation before discussion started.
“If we keep picking things apart as we go along, we’re never going to get to the end,” Donner said.
County Board members sat turned away from the audience of county staff, so they didn’t see the nodding of heads in agreement, and one department head silently applauding Donner’s comment. When other employees stepped out, I watched several shake their heads or roll their eyes. (I’m not going to name names – these people have families to feed.)
Once a consensus on direction was reached just shy of two hours into the meeting, Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, offered a motion to adjourn faster than a Wild West gunslinger, before any other member could further drag out the deliberations. Donner told me later that she felt the county could have finished its business in 30 minutes.
Donner said publicly what a number of board members and county department heads have privately complained to me about over the past year – county meetings are becoming way too long and far too bogged down.
Having covered the McHenry County Board for the past four years, I’ve always known which issues will bring out the long debates. But since the seating of the new board last November and the assigning of committees in December, brevity seems to be the exception and not the rule.
It’s not that issues over the past year are any more controversial or profound than in past years. Much of what is going on now is a combination of County Board members droning on or micromanaging, and chairpeople not interested in keeping order.
Every government has elected officials who I euphemistically call “talkers” – folks who take 10 minutes to answer a question about their favorite color or what time it is. When they start talking, you can leave the meeting, go downtown, buy a cup of coffee, drink it, come back, and they’re still going.
That’s where the person who is running the meeting comes in. Once elected officials start giving doctoral dissertations about why they’re not voting for a conditional use permit, or go off-topic entirely, or end up proposing an amendment to an amendment to an amendment to a motion (as the County Board actually did last year), it’s up to the person in charge to bring some order, or for other people on the board to call the question and ask for a vote.
This is not to say that important matters should be rushed. However, complicating the obvious is no more beneficial to good government than trivializing the momentous.
Far be it from me to complain without being part of the solution, I’ll throw out an idea for the Management Services Committee that sets County Board rules to ponder: A time limit for meetings of the County Board and its dozen or so standing committees.
If that’s not an option, maybe the County Board should get rid of the time limit it places on public comment from audience members. After all, it's kind of a silly arrangement that public servants are not bound by time, but the masters who elect them are.
Senior Reporter Kevin Craver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.