Mental health panel's recommendation is to dismiss board president

WOODSTOCK – The president of the McHenry County Mental Health Board was not nominated for reappointment by the McHenry County Board committee in charge of filling vacant seats.

After two days and 12 candidate interviews, the Public Health and Human Services Committee voted, 6-0, Friday to recommend newcomers for three vacant four-year seats on the Mental Health Board, and not President Lee Ellis, who reapplied for his expired term.

But committee members deadlocked, 3-3, on whether to give an unexpired one-year term to the other incumbent or the County Board’s former liaison to the Mental Health Board. So that decision will be made when the committee’s seventh member, John Hammerand, comes back from his annual winter vacation to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Critics over the years have accused the Mental Health Board of becoming a bloated bureaucracy that spends millions in property-tax revenue on overhead and administration instead of the money going directly to agencies that serve the mentally disabled, as the board was created by voters to do. Those voices have gotten louder over the past year with a top leadership vacuum and issues such as $1.8 million the Mental Health Board spent to unsuccessfully prevent the collapse of Family Service and Community Mental Health Center.

Donna Kurtz, one of those critics and chairwoman of the County Board’s public health committee since January, called Friday’s vote a loud-and-clear notice of changing times to the nine-member Mental Health Board.

“I think that the County Board members on the [public health] committee recognize that the community feels a need for change with the type of decision-making that has been done at the Mental Health Board, and that these appointments are the first round of wake-up calls,” said Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake.

Preliminary 2012 budget numbers show that although the Mental Health Board disbursed $8.7 million to client agencies, about one-third of its total revenue, or $4.4 million of $13.15 million, stayed internal. The board employs more than 30 people – it had been closer to 50 last year – and is paying back $3 million in economic stimulus bonds it used to almost quadruple the size of its Crystal Lake headquarters.

In three rounds of narrowing down candidates, committee members chose Robert Routzahn, an IBM product manager and District 47 school board member; Carrie Smith, senior pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in Crystal Lake; and Heather Murgatroyd, a clinical health care specialist.

Ellis was one of eight candidates who made the first round, but was eliminated in the second. Fellow incumbent Connee Meschini is a finalist for the one-year term to replace former member James Swarthout, who resigned last year. Member Kari Stinespring, whose term is expiring like Ellis’, is not seeking re-appointment.

The committee’s recommendations will go to the full County Board for a vote Tuesday evening. The board cannot substitute Ellis or anyone else, but can reject candidates and send the recommendations back to the committee.

Committee members were divided on whether to fill the one-year term with Meschini or former County Board member Mary Donner, who was the County Board liaison to the Mental Health Board before losing her 2012 re-election bid. The County Board’s voting seat on the Mental Health Board now is held by committee member Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills.

Yensen; Mary McCann, R-Woodstock; and Anna May Miller, R-Cary, favor Donner.

Kurtz; Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake; and Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry, favor Meschini.

The committee voted to delay the appointment until Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, returns from vacation, which is expected to be later this month. He has not attended a County Board meeting this calendar year, according to County Board minutes.

Although Donner sought the one-year term, Meschini sought appointment to another four-year term. Kurtz said after the meeting that putting Meschini in the running for the unexpired term was likely a desire by committee members to be able to review the incumbent’s performance sooner than four years.

Change on the Mental Health Board comes in the wake of a significant change in leadership. Executive Director Sandy Lewis left in November to become an assistant professor of psychiatry and executive director of a children’s mental health center at Virginia Commonwealth University. The board announced her resignation in August along with the retirements of Deputy Director Bob Lesser and Clinical Director Liz Doyle.

There had been 16 candidates for the Mental Health Board seats, but four dropped out. Critics pointed to the number as proof that the community wants reform.

What it means/How they voted

The McHenry County Board Public Health and Human Services Committee on Friday voted, 6-0, to recommend three newcomers – Heather Murgatroyd, Robert Routzahn and Carrie Smith – to fill four-year seats on the Mental Health Board.

Incumbent Lee Ellis, who currently is the board president, will lose his seat if the County Board approves the committee’s recommendation next Tuesday.

The committee was deadlocked, 3-3, on whether to fill a vacant one-year unexpired Mental Health Board term with incumbent Connee Meschini or Mary Donner, the County Board’s former liaison to the board. The committee voted to postpone that vote until the seventh and tie-breaking vote, John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, returns later this month from his annual winter vacation.

Chairwoman Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake; Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry; and Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, voted for Meschini. Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills; Anna May Miller, R-Cary; and Mary McCann, R-Woodstock, voted for Donner.

What’s next

The County Board will vote on the committee’s recommendations at its next meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

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