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Reporter's Notebook: Scenes from Tuesday's Mental Health Board vote

Someone at yesterday's McHenry County Board meeting publicly said the word I've heard said privately for weeks when the Mental Health Board has been brought up – audit.

As I wrote in today's paper, the subject of auditing the Mental Health Board came up after Tuesday morning's County Board vote that in essence denied reappointment to embattled Mental Health Board President Lee Ellis. The Mental Health Board is annually audited as part of the annual audit of county government, but proponents are now seeking an independent outside look at the board's finances.

While I touched in print on the main points from yesterday's debate, which ended a six-week drama resulting in Ellis' ouster, there were other issues that I could not fit into my story.
• KOEHLER'S GRIEVANCES:
Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, had a total of four problems with the Mental Health Board nominees recommended by the Public Health and Human Services Committee. I fit the two main ones in my story:

1) The committee was not transparent when it came to narrowing down the 12 candidates.

2) Nominee Robert Routzahn has too much on his plate already.

The other two issues were:

3) Committee member John Hammerand got to vote on this despite being out of town for all 12 candidate interviews.

4) Ellis got enough votes during the whittling down process to have advanced farther than he did.

Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, had been out of state Feb. 13 and 15 when the committee interviewed the candidates and made its first vote. But he got to vote last Wednesday when the committee was forced to do a revote out of concerns that Koehler had – and respected by new Chairwoman Tina Hill – with Open Meetings Act compliance (read more about that issue here).

Hammerand responded to Koehler's issue the same way he did before the committee last Wednesday – he had listened to all nine hours of candidate interviews and was more than confident in his ability to make an informed decision.

• EXAMINING THE TALLY: Koehler examined the sheets that the committee used to narrow down the 12 candidates, and said Ellis should not have been eliminated. Ellis made the first round, but not the second (my story on the vote can be found here).

As I blogged here, I FOIAd the FOIA submitted by Ellis for the tally sheets used by the six committee members who voted. Ellis got two votes in the first round and advanced to the second round.

Ellis was one of eight people who made the next round, and was competing with five others for two open four-year seats. This is because candidate Mary Donner was explicitly seeking the one-year unexpired term, and candidate Carrie Smith got so many votes in the first round that she automatically advanced to the final cut.

But it looks to me like Ellis was denied from that final vote fairly. The candidates who eventually won appointment from the second round – incumbent Connee Meschini, Heather Murgatroyd and Routzahn, got three or four votes, while Ellis only got two.

For the record, the official vote, and indeed the entire nine-hour interview process, took place in open session under the watchful eye of Assistant State's Attorney Jana Blake Dickson.
• EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SEARCH:
It looks like it will not be until mid-May that the Mental Health Board votes to hire a permanent executive director.

County Board member Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, told fellow board members that the three new Mental Health Board appointees will first be seated and brought up to speed on how the board works before that process moves forward. Yensen holds the County Board's voting seat on the nine-member Mental Health Board.

Interim Director Todd Schroll, who is a candidate for the position, has been at the helm since former Executive Director Sandy Lewis left late last year for Virginia Commonwealth University.

Ellis had originally planned to call for a meeting to interview two finalists the evening of March 5 – the same day that he lost his seat. But he promptly dropped the plan after County Board members expressed concerns that the Mental Health Board was trying to rush the process and make a hire with the old board members.

The new members will be seated at the Mental Health Board's next meeting on March 26, according to a news release.

• BINDERS FULL OF INFORMATION: As I wrote today, at least one County Board member was not happy with the phone-book-size binder of information that the Mental Health Board delivered several weeks ago to all 24 members.

Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, called the information contained within confusing. She got talk of an audit rolling when she said the numbers contained in the documents, specifically in the 2011 Annual Report, would be a lot more trustworthy after being vetted by a set of outside eyes.

Having reviewed a copy myself, the binders contain the annual report, meeting minutes, Ellis' guest column to the Northwest Herald criticizing its coverage, Schroll's email to committee members questioning budget numbers cited by public health committee Chairwoman Donna Kurtz, frequently asked questions, and minutes of previous meetings.

One thing the binders do not contain are the 2012 end-of-year fund utilization reports I have cited in my stories, and Kurtz cited during the appointment process, that detail how much the Mental Health Board took in and spent.
• HOIST BY YOUR OWN PETARD?
As I wrote in my story, the binders were just part of a behind-the-scenes campaign – what public health committee member Michael Walkup last week called a "very strong pushback" – to keep Ellis on the Mental Health Board.

I have heard off-the-record rumblings that an outside audit would possibly be the next step, but it was that binder that made Schuster publicly call for one, and Hill subsequently asked Yensen to communicate the board's possible intentions to the Mental Health Board.

• THEM'S FIGHTIN' WORDS, I THINK: Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, responded to Koehler's concerns over the public health committee's candidate selection process by quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

At least Walkup left out the second half of the famous quote: " ... adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."

Walkup has been on a literary kick as of late – at the Wednesday committee vote he cited Hamlet, "Methinks thou doth protest too much", regarding the aforementioned Mental Health Board pushback.

I emailed Walkup last week to politely remind him that the actual quote, from Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2, is "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." Its modern interpretation is that an individual's denials can become so vehement that people begin to suspect the opposite is true.

As long as I'm busting out Hamlet, being hoist with one's own petard comes from Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4.

• HARBINGER? I blogged back in January that the McHenry County Department of Health has a lot to worry about Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, in charge of the Public Health and Human Services Committee, which recommends appointments to the 12 seats on the Board of Health.

As I wrote, more than a few County Board members have confided in me over the years that they would like to see a management shakeup at the Department of Health. To make the chain of command clear, the County Board appoints to the health board, which hires and fires health department employees.

Within two months of Kurtz’ appointment, the head of the Mental Health Board is out, and there is open talk of an outside audit.

Senior Writer Kevin Craver can be reached at kcraver@shawmedia.com

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