McHenry County shakes up committees

WOODSTOCK – Changes in the McHenry County Board’s leadership will extend far beyond the election of a new chairwoman.

Under a tentative plan hashed out Friday, all but one of the board’s 11 standing committees will have new chairmen. A Committee on Committees spent about 21⁄2 hours assigning the board’s 24 members to the groups in which much of county government’s work takes place.

If the assignments are not changed by new board Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, at least two committees will be chaired by freshman board members, to some extent out of necessity – more than one-third of the board is new. And in another first, one of the County Board’s two Democrats will head a committee.

The Committee on Committees is convened every two years to adjust memberships after the new County Board is seated after each November election. Hill, who defeated four-term former Chairman Ken Koehler earlier this month, said she was happy with the frank discussions and openness of the meeting.

“It went wonderfully, absolutely wonderfully,” Hill said.

The committee will meet again Wednesday to review minor changes in the proposed committee structures before a full County Board vote Jan. 3. While Hill seemed pleased with the committee’s recommendations, the chairwoman has the prerogative to assign chairmanships, although final approval rests with the County Board.

Anna May Miller, R-Cary, will keep her chairmanship of the Transportation Committee. She received the overwhelming support of the committee Friday, but a resident representing homeowners wanting a share of the road and bridge tax funds they pay to help maintain their own nondedicated roads asked the committee to select someone else.

Resident John Reihansperger alleged that Miller’s work as an administrative assistant for the Algonquin Township Highway Department, run by her husband, Robert, constitutes a conflict of interest that he alleges has delayed progress.

“One has to wonder whose interest she has in mind – is it the taxpayers or is it her husband and employer where her loyalties lie?” Reihansperger said.

Miller, backed up by the committee, denied any such conflict. She said she has a state’s attorney’s opinion and that state law, not her job, is what has hamstrung homeowners’ attempts to get road funding.

“I understand their frustration, and we don’t see eye-to-eye on some of their requests, but that doesn’t make it a conflict,” Miller said.

Three of the remaining 10 committees – Finance and Audit, Building Projects and Public Health and Human Services – need new chairmen because the previous chairmen no longer are on the board. Hill and new Vice Chairman James Heisler, R-Crystal Lake, must give up their chairmanships, respectively the Planning and Development and the Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs committees, because board rules forbid the chairman and vice chairman from being committee chairmen, too..

The Committee on Committees decided to replace John Jung, Nick Provenzano and John Hammerand as chairmen of the Human Resources, Law and Justice, and Liquor and License committees, respectively. While Jung, R-Woodstock, and Provenzano, R-McHenry, were assigned to chair other committees, Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, was not.

Koehler, who as board chairman also served as liquor commissioner, will lead the liquor committee. The board also recommended that Koehler be vice chairman of the legislative committee, second to Jung, in recognition of his intimate knowledge of federal and state legislation and his connections with lawmakers.

The sheer number of new board members forced the committee to put several freshmen in charge of committees. Attorney Mary McClellan, R-Holiday Hills, is tentatively slated to head human resources, and McHenry County Farm Bureau President Michele Aavang, R-Woodstock, likely will head the Natural and Environmental Resources Committee. Former Chairwoman Mary McCann, R-Woodstock, will slide into the chairmanship of the Finance Committee.

The chairmanship of the Planning and Development Committee is up in the air. The committee suggested giving it to freshman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, with veteran Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, as vice chairwoman. But Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, implored fellow board members to give it to Schuster, calling her an expert on the subject matter. The committee left the choice to for Hill to consider.

Schuster, under Friday’s plan, does not have a chairmanship. The committee moved her from the top seat in the Management Services Committee and gave it to Democrat Paula Yensen.

Yensen, of Lake in the Hills, said she was pleased with what is likely another first for her. Her re-election Nov. 6 marked the first time in county history that a Democratic board member won a second term.

“It’s an honor to be selected and nominated by my County Board colleagues,” Yensen said.

Hill said her first task for the committee under Yensen, which reviews and sets county government’s rules, is to explore a referendum to make the County Board chairman popularly elected rather than chosen by board members.

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