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County executive push fails overwhelmingly

Voters on Tuesday resoundingly said no thanks to a referendum to change the McHenry County Board to an executive form of government.

The referendum failed by a 2-1 ratio, with 75,010 voting against the change and 41,501 voting for it, according to unofficial vote totals, which do not include early or absentee ballots.

Under an executive form, voters directly elect an executive to run the day-to-day operations of county government. An executive under state law has wider-ranging powers than a County Board chairman, such as veto power over board legislation, drafting the county budget and hiring and firing staff, all with the approval of the board.

Not one of the County Board’s 24 members, not even its two Democratic members, supported the initiative. And of the 35 candidates running, only two – Democratic candidates Mary Margaret Maule and Ryan Heuser – spoke in favor of it.

It was pushed by state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, who said he was still “upbeat” about the effort.

Putting the measure on the ballot changed the conversation, he said, pointing to the McHenry County Board’s proposed levy, which was kept flat, and promises by some board members to let voters choose the board chairman.

Franks plans to push the referendum again if a change in how the chairman is selected isn’t made, he said.

But state Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, said he doesn’t see the point.

“I think the system that we have works very well,” he said. “It’s not a strong administrator government. It’s a strong board government. ... The board has the decision-making authority, not the chairman. I believe that’s the way the county government is best covered.”

Tryon opposed the referendum, saying the change would add another layer of government and put too much power in one person’s hands.

McHenry and Lake counties are the only two collar counties in which the board chairman is chosen by the elected members and not the public.

Board chairmen are popularly elected in DuPage, Kane and Cook counties, and Will County voters elect an executive. Will County is the only Illinois county with an executive form of government.

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