WOODSTOCK – McHenry County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill is facing criticism for invoking her power to make her own recommendation to fill a vacancy on the Mental Health Board, moments after the nominee approved in committee was overwhelmingly rejected.
County Board members voted Tuesday, 6-18, against appointing former McHenry County College Trustee Scott Summers to the embattled Mental Health Board, which has come under increased scrutiny during the past year over financial and management issues.
None of the opposing board members spoke out against Summers, or spoke out at all, during discussion on the recommendation. Two board members, and several members of the public, spoke in favor of giving the unexpired term to Summers.
Immediately after the vote, Hill announced she would exercise her power under County Board rules to bring forth a nominee for members to approve at their May 21 meeting.
"I will review the candidates, the tapes [of interviews] and possibly new candidates and bring a new candidate to you for a vote in two weeks," said Hill, R-Woodstock.
The move further angered Public Health and Human Services Chairwoman Donna Kurtz, whose committee last week recommended Summers, 4-3, from a field of eight applicants. The committee in recent months has filled three Mental Health Board vacancies with newcomers, and ousted former board President Lee Ellis in the process.
"Everyone in the community should be asking, 'What is she trying to hide? Who is she trying to protect, and why won't she allow the best possibly qualified people to be appointed through the committee process?'" said Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake.
Hill said after the meeting her sole motive is to find a candidate in a prompt manner. The one vacant seat on the nine-member board arose in March when a member stepped down to take a job with an agency that receives Mental Health Board funding.
"The committee could not deliver someone the board could approve. It's imperative we get someone on that board," Hill said. "I don't think with the makeup of that committee that that will happen."
But Kurtz said her committee plans to meet again Friday, and could decide to reopen the interview process, potentially creating a conflict between two candidates.
Critics in recent years have alleged that the Mental Health Board has become a bureaucracy that spends too much property-tax revenue on administration and overhead that instead should be disbursed to the more than two dozen agencies working with the mentally ill and disabled, which the board was created by voters to do.
The board employs more than 30 people and is paying off $3 million it issued to almost quadruple the size of its Crystal Lake headquarters. Scrutiny has increased over the past year as the board spent almost $1.8 million to unsuccessfully save one of the county's oldest social service agencies, Family Service and Community Mental Health Center, from closing last June.
Shortly thereafter, the former executive director announced she would be taking another job in Virginia, and two other top executives announced their retirements. The director job remains vacant.
Summers, a lawyer and MBA living in Harvard, is better known for the four years he served on the MCC board, which censured him in 2007 for speaking out against the college's controversial and ultimately rejected plan to build a health and wellness center, and a minor-league baseball stadium to generate the revenue to pay off the bonds.
The three other public health committee members who voted for Summers – Michael Walkup, Sandra Fay Salgado and John Hammerand – echoed Kurtz's disappointment over Hill's intentions to bring forth her own candidate.
"I am appalled and aghast that the chairwoman of this board would try to usurp the duly-appointed powers of the committee," said Walkup, R-Crystal Lake.
They were joined by Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, who voted against Summers' appointment.
"I'm so sick and tired of the politics. We are here for the public. I cannot begin to tell you how much this disappoints me," Schuster said.
Perception aside, Hill's decision comes with an added political risk, given that the Management Services Committee is now putting the finishing touches on its post-election review of County Board rules.
Walkup and Schuster, both members of the committee, said the committee might recommend stripping the chairman's seat of the power Hill exercised. Kurtz and Hammerand also sit on the management committee, which would give them the four-vote majority needed to recommend doing so. But final approval of rules is up to the full County Board, which almost always scales back the scope of proposed changes.
Of the seven candidates that Summers bested in committee, two names that came up as close contenders were Crystal Lake City Council member Jeff Thorsen and Lake in the Hills Village Trustee Denise Barreto. But Barreto in a statement Tuesday withdrew her name from further consideration.
"To my dismay, the process leading up to today's McHenry County Board vote has been unprofessional and mean-spirited. While it is clear that the McHenry County Mental Health Board needs fresh and diverse thinking to resolve its current issues, at this time, I am no longer interested in serving," Barreto wrote.
Hill said after the meeting that she had no problem with Kurtz, but said that she has heard from some County Board members who do.
Kurtz, a longtime critic of the Mental Health Board, seized the opportunity for reform when she was appointed chairwoman of the public health committee in January, just as it had to fill three expiring terms and another vacancy by a member who stepped down to take a job with an agency receiving Mental Health Board funding.
"I've heard from some of my colleagues that a lot of the manner in which she is pursuing change is very divisive. Not that reform shouldn't be done, but the manner in which she's going about this," Hill said.
How they voted
The McHenry County Board voted Tuesday, 6-18, against appointing former McHenry County College trustee Scott Summers to an open seat on the Mental Health Board.
Voting "yes" were Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake; Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry; Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake; Nick Chirikos, D-Algonquin; Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard; and John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake.
Voting "no" were Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake; Robert Martens Sr., R-Spring Grove; Mary McCann, R-Woodstock; Mary McClellan, R-Holiday Hills; Anna May Miller, R-Cary; Robert Nowak, R-Cary; Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry; Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake; Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock; Michael Skala, R-Huntley; Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills; Michele Aavang, R-Woodstock; Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary; Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake; Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake; James Heisler, R-Crystal Lake; John Jung, R-Woodstock; and Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock.
• After the rejection, Hill invoked her privilege under County Board rules to select a nominee. She said she would make a recommendation for approval at the next board meeting in two weeks.
The next full County Board meeting starts at 7 p.m. March 21 at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.
• The Public Health and Human Services Committee that nominates candidates for the Mental Health Board will hold a special meeting at 8 a.m. Friday, also at the county Administration Building.