As another testament to the bizarre world of Illinois politics, two state representatives will debate Wednesday evening about the pros and cons of a McHenry County referendum to change how the county government works.
Arguing for an executive form of government will be Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks, who pushed to get the referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot. Arguing against it will be Republican Rep. Mike Tryon, who was County Board chairman until his 2004 election to the General Assembly.
And absent from the stage Wednesday evening will be the current chairman, who has held the office since Tryon.
The forum, held by Patriots United, lasts from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Building B conference center at McHenry County College, 8900 Route 14, Crystal Lake.
Under an executive form, county voters every four years elect an executive to handle the day-to-day operations of county government. The position essentially would replace the current board chairman, elected every two years by the board's 24 members. An executive has far wider powers under Illinois law than a board chairman, including veto power over board legislation and the power to draft the county budget. Despite those powers, ultimate approval for spending rests with the board.
Franks, D-Marengo, said he would much rather debate against Chairman Ken Koehler, and challenged him to one in a Friday letter accusing him of funding and approving political literature that he said distorts the truth about the executive office.
"This [debate] goes to my argument of transparency and accountability," Franks said. "When he has to send a state representative to defend him because he doesn't want to stand and face the music, this represents a big problem."
Koehler, however, said he has no intention debating Franks on the issue, and said the literature in question represents the truth that the executive will put far too much power into the hands of one person and create a corruption-rich political environment.
He said he intends to make Wednesday's debate, which is the same night as a McHenry County Council of Governments meeting hosted by county government.
"I wouldn't waste my time talking to Jack Franks anymore," Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, said Monday.
Both sides in the debate have thrown money and resources into it. Franks has done so through his political action committee, Supporters of Jack Franks. Another group, McHenry County Republicans for Lower Taxes, has taken credit on yard signs supporting the executive form. Both Koehler and Tryon have donated through their PACs to the opposition committee Citizens for No County Czar.
The referendum does not include granting McHenry County government home-rule power, similar to Will County, the only other Illinois county with an executive form of government.
The executive referendum is the latest effort by Franks to try to change how the County Board chairman is elected. While Franks says his motive is voter empowerment, Koehler has called Franks' efforts a personal vendetta aimed at removing him. The two have been at loggerheads 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, and the county's lobbying group fighting Franks' efforts to pass a bill preventing governments from raising property taxes when assessments decline,
The executive referendum is one of three ballot issues facing voters countywide. Voters also will weigh in on amending the Illinois Constitution to make it harder for governments to increase pension benefits. An advisory referendum will ask voters whether elected officials should be forbidden from holding two or more offices simultaneously.
If you go
Patriots United forum on the McHenry County Executive
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday; doors open at 6 p.m.
Where: Building B Conference Center, McHenry County College, 8900 Route 14, Crystal Lake
On the Net
You can find a story explaining what the county executive is – and what it isn't – at http://shawurl.com/cn5 in the Northwest Herald's pay archives.
Residents can submit questions for consideration by the panelists at Wednesday's forum to Patriots United's Facebook page, Twitter account, or email them to contactPatriotsUnited76@gmail.com.
Powers of a county executive
Voters on Nov. 6 will be asked whether they want to change to a county executive form of government, without granting the county home-rule authority. Under this form of government, county voters elect not only their representatives on the County Board but also a countywide executive who acts as a CEO running the county’s day-to-day operations.
A county executive under the law wields more power and authority than a County Board chairman, which currently is selected by the County Board’s 24 members. Those powers include:
• Signing bills passed by the board and vetoing legislation. Vetoes can be overridden by a three-fifths majority vote.
• Preparing the annual budget for board approval.
• Recommending appointments and dismissal of department staff, boards and commissions, with board approval. The executive's power does not apply to staff of countywide elected officeholders such as the sheriff or county clerk.
• Entering intergovernmental agreements.
• Presiding over board meetings. The executive votes only to break ties.
• Appointing independent legal counsel. However, the salary is set by the County Board and cannot exceed that of the state's attorney.
• Redrawing the board’s legislative districts to adjust for population after each decennial U.S. Census.
Source: Illinois Compiled Statutes