County Board committee to discuss chairman election

WOODSTOCK – A McHenry County Board committee on Monday will discuss whether voters should decide whether they want to directly elect the County Board chairman.

If committee members decide it should go to referendum, they have some choices to make, which are further complicated by ambiguities in state law. And if they decide a referendum should go on the April 9 ballot, they very likely will have to move it forward that day.

The full County Board meets Tuesday evening, which is its last meeting, barring any special ones, before the Jan. 22 deadline to put a referendum to voters in April.

New board Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, instructed the committee to take up the issue at its first meeting. County Board members earlier this month approved committee assignments after the November election.

The chairmanship now is elected by the board’s 24 members to a two-year term after each general election. Lake County does the same, while voters in Cook and the other collar counties elect their chairmen, except for Will County, where voters elect a county executive with broader powers.

The unsuccessful referendum in November to change to a county executive form of government played a part in the ongoing debate.

While voters crushed the idea by a 2-to-1 margin, the small number of signatures needed to get the executive question on the ballot – 500 in McHenry County under state law – could mean repeated attempts to enact it. Voters in Champaign County voted the executive form down three times.

Opponents of popular election argue that doing so will open up county government to special interests because of the campaign funding needed to be elected to a countywide post. But supporters argue that the current process is heavily weighted in favor of the incumbent, who controls the assignment of standing committee chairmanships – 11 of the 13 votes needed for a majority.

Eight of the state’s 102 counties, excluding Cook County, have popularly elected chairmen.

The County Board already has placed a referendum on the April ballot asking voters to create a “377 Board” and a corresponding new property tax, in order to support agencies working with county residents who have developmental disabilities.

If you go

The meeting of the McHenry County Board Management Services Committee starts at 8:30 a.m. Monday at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

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