Franks seeks to rework how county works
State Rep. Jack Franks’ goal to change the way the County Board chairman is elected may shift to changing the board’s very power structure.
Franks’ supporters have been passing petitions to put a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot to change the County Board to an executive form of government.
If approved, voters still would elect their board representatives by district, but also elect an executive at large to run the county’s day-to-day operations.
Voters in Will County, the only Illinois county with an executive form of government, approved it in 1988.
Franks, D-Marengo, previously has tried to make the chairmanship popularly elected, rather than by the board’s 24 members. He said he commissioned a poll of about 2,000 people, and they supported popular election by 90 percent.
“The only way you can have the County Board chairman elected is for the County Board to decide to do so, and they’ve chosen not to for their own parochial and personal interests,” Franks said.
County Board members against the idea levied the exact same charge at Franks. County Board Chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, called Franks’ push for a popularly elected chairman “a political move through a big political change.”
“Jack Franks doesn’t much care for me – that’s pretty obvious. I’m pretty much the only one who stands up to him,” Koehler said. “He’s tried this how many times already?”
The position would be that of a chief executive officer with four-year terms, replacing the county administrator.
Among the executive’s responsibilities would be preparing the annual budget, recommending appointments to be department heads, and entering intergovernmental agreements, all with approval of the full County Board.
An executive presides over board meetings, but only votes to break ties. However, the executive, like the governor, signs legislation approved by board members and has veto authority that requires a three-fifths majority override.
Franks’ petition requests the executive position without home rule – the executive form under Illinois law automatically comes with home rule power unless the ballot question specifically says otherwise. Will County’s voters also spurned home rule – Cook County is the only Illinois county with such authority.
State law requires 500 signatures, filed by Aug. 30, to get the question before McHenry County voters. Petitions for an executive government referendum are filed with the circuit clerk, who submits it to the chief judge of the judicial circuit to certify its legitimacy.
The question can be asked only during the November general election. If approved, voters in 2014 would elect the executive.
Fellow state Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, who was McHenry County Board chairman before his 2004 election to the Illinois House, opposes Franks’ idea and said county government is fine the way it is.
Like Koehler who succeeded him, Tryon pointed to the county’s fiscal solvency – the county government is the smallest in the nation with a top Aaa bond rating from Moody’s Investors Service.
“I don’t know why he’s so committed to doing this. I look at where we’re at as a county, and I look at the state going down the drain. This to me is not a tremendous issue for a state representative to be working on,” Tryon said.
Both Koehler and Tryon said an executive would need a lot of money to run and win, opening up the office and the power behind it to influences from donors such as developers and public-sector unions.
Board chairmanships in Cook, Kane and DuPage counties are chosen by the voters, and by County Board members in Lake County.
Previous attempts by Franks to change this have not been successful.
A bill he filed in January to require counties with more than 300,000 residents – McHenry and Lake counties – to popularly elect their chairmen was crushed by a 100-16 vote.
Koehler has called the attempts nothing but Franks’ personal vendetta aimed at removing him. The two have sparred over various issues, such as replacing the county’s representative on the Metra Board of Directors in the wake of the scandal surrounding former Executive Director Phil Pagano.
Franks has denied accusations of political revenge, calling his motives an attempt at empowering voters to directly choose their leaders.
Executive form of government
Under an executive form of county government, voters countywide elect a chief executive to a four-year term to run day-to-day operations.
Will County is the only Illinois county with an executive form of government – its voters approved the idea in 1998. Petitions are being circulated in McHenry County to put the change to a referendum this November.
Powers of the executive include:
• Preparing the annual budget
• Recommending appointments of department heads
• Entering intergovernmental agreements
• Veto authority over legislation approved by the county board
Board members have to vote to approve the executive’s budget, recommendations and agreements.
The proposed McHenry County referendum does not include home rule.
SOURCE: Illinois Compiled Statutes