The McHenry County Board could have two competing candidates to choose from to fill a vacancy on the embattled Mental Health Board.
Public Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Donna Kurtz said at a Friday special meeting that she will call a meeting to recommend another candidate. The announcement came three days after the County Board resoundingly rejected the committee’s last pick – former McHenry County College Trustee Scott Summers – on a 6-18 vote.
However, County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, said she still intends to bring forth a nominee of her own. Hill raised eyebrows and concerns Tuesday morning when she exercised her right under board rules to do so immediately after the County Board’s rejection of Summers, an attorney and MBA living in Harvard.
“I hope the committee process will be respected, otherwise we open a Pandora’s box,” said committee member Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake.
While the rules give Hill the power to prevent whatever new pick, if any, the committee makes from making it onto the County Board agenda, she said Friday that she is leaning toward allowing it to go forward along with hers at the May 21 board meeting.
The public health committee met 30 minutes before a County Board budget workshop to discuss its next move in the wake of Tuesday’s rejection. But just like they were split on nominating Summers, who squeaked through on a 4-3 vote last month, they were split on the course of action to take.
Critics in recent years have alleged that the Mental Health Board has grown into a bureaucracy that spends too much property-tax revenue on administration and overhead that should be disbursed directly to agencies working with the mentally ill and disabled, which the board was created by voters to do.
County Board member Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, told the committee that all 24 board members agree that the Mental Health Board, also called the 708 Board, is “a mess” that needs to be fixed. But he said that County Board members want an accountant or a CFO with the financial acumen to right the board’s financial ship.
Gottemoller was the only person to speak during public comment, but the audience included nine other County Board members who voted against Summers.
“We need someone to fix the 708 Board. The man you sent us wasn’t it,” Gottemoller said.
The committee earlier this year filled three vacancies on the nine-member Mental Health Board with newcomers, and ousted former Board President Lee Ellis in the process. Those recommendations sailed through the County Board with only a handful of opposing votes.
Kurtz, a longtime critic of the Mental Health Board’s scope and spending, seized on the opportunity for reform when she was appointed committee chairwoman following the 2012 election.
“Clearly this committee has the capacity and the fortitude to select candidates in a very timely fashion,” said Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake.
But “timely” will be the watchword if the committee is to make another recommendation. Board rules require nominees for boards and commissions to be presented no later than five days before the County Board vote – in this case, by next Thursday.
The public health committee plans to meet at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
A pool of six other applicants remains for the committee to consider. A seventh, Lake in the Hills Trustee Denise Barreto, withdrew after witnessing what she called an “unprofessional and mean-spirited” process.
Sources have said Barreto was among the top contenders for the unpaid seat, as was Crystal Lake City Council member Jeff Thorsen. Thorsen, vice president of FirstMerit Bank in Union and an MBA like Summers, dispelled rumors aired Friday that he, too, is withdrawing as “absolutely incorrect.”
Kurtz, Walkup and committee member John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, criticized Hill’s decision to bring forth her own nominee. But committee member Anna May Miller, R-Cary, called Hill’s move “totally appropriate” given the County Board’s lopsided rejection and the fact that Summers’ nomination squeaked through their committee. Miller voted against Summers.
She also warned that the highly politicized atmosphere that has developed has the potential to scare off future nominees to boards and commissions.
“We’re going to drive good people away from serving,” Miller said.
Critics of the Mental Health Board, which include several funded agencies, point to the fact that it employs more than 30 people and borrowed $3 million in economic stimulus bonds to almost quadruple the size of its Crystal Lake headquarters.
Scrutiny has increased over the past year as the Mental Health Board spent almost $1.8 million to unsuccessfully save Family Service and Community Mental Health Center from closing. Shortly thereafter, former Executive Director Sandy Lewis left to take another job and two other top executives announced their retirements.
Lewis left shortly after receiving her doctorate, for which taxpayers paid at least $30,000, according to records obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Since then, two Mental Health Board members have stepped down to take jobs with agencies that receive its funding.