Voters will have the chance to change McHenry County's form of government via referendum when they head to the polls in November, under a petition filed Monday by state Rep. Jack Franks.
Franks, D-Marengo, said he collected more than 1,500 signatures – three times more than the required amount – to place a referendum question on the Nov. 6 ballot that asks voters to change the county's government to an executive form. If approved, the move would mean that the County Board chairman would be elected at large rather than by the board's representatives.
The motivation behind having a chairman popularly elected is about accountability and transparency, Franks said. He rejected the notion that his petition drive started from a personal feud with Chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, and is a veiled attempt to knock the chairman out of power.
"I took it upon myself to stand up for the people who want to change the County Board," Franks said. "The County Board is well aware that's what the citizens prefer. Everybody knows that. I think [the board] is afraid of their constituents. I don't understand why they don't embrace what their bosses want. I think people are clamoring for more accountability when we saw unnecessary property tax increases at the county level."
Last month, Koehler dismissed Franks' attempt to change the county's form of government, arguing that the move was personally and politically motivated since he is one of the few people to question Franks.
Franks has since said that many residents who signed the petition expressed frustration with the County Board and its effort to raise property taxes to the legal limit each year without justifying the need to do so.
If voters endorse the referendum, an at-large executive would replace the county administrator and serve four-year terms. The chief executive officer would prepare the annual budget, recommend department appointments, and possess veto power on legislation.
Under the county executive form, voters still would elect county board representatives and then separately elect the at-large executive. Currently, the board's 24 members nominate and elect a board chairman.
Franks filed the petition with the county's Circuit Clerk's Office. Officials have until Aug. 30 to certify the signatures.
People have until Aug. 13 to file an objection to Franks' petition, but the longtime Marengo Democrat has not heard of anyone yet planning to do so.
"The bottom line is the citizens have to have a say in electing the county's most powerful figure," Franks said. "This is not a personal issue. This is a policy issue, where I believe in accountability and transparency."