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Reporter's Notebook: Mental Health Board showdown

I'll let you all know if Tuesday's meeting of the McHenry County Board gets moved from Woodstock to the MGM Grand arena.

As I wrote in today's paper, a showdown is brewing between new County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill and a majority of the Public Health and Human Services Committee regarding that vacant seat on the Mental Health Board.

After the County Board rejected the committee's first pick on a 6-18 thrashing May 7, Hill took the unorthodox step of invoking her right under board rules to advance her own candidate. The committee went ahead and advanced another candidate Tuesday on a 4-0 vote, but Hill said she would not put him on next Tuesday's agenda, again her prerogative under board rules.

The second shocker that came out of Tuesday's meeting was confirmation that Hill would ask the board to remove Sandra Fay Salgado from the committee, validating rumors that have swirled in recent weeks.

I attended the meeting, and spoke with Hill and several committee members afterward. Here are some of the things that didn't make my story:
The four committee members in attendance Tuesday picked their first-runner up from the last vote – Crystal Lake City Council member and bank vice president Jeff Thorsen.

Thorsen's financial skills – he also has an MBA – clinched it for the committee. As John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, said, Thorsen uses that knowledge daily. For the record, the rejected candidate – former McHenry County College trustee Scott Summers – also has an MBA.

Thorsen was one of six candidates from the pool left when Summers won the last nod.

"I'm very comfortable with the high-integrity, honest person he is, and I think he'll make an exceptional candidate," committee Chairwoman Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, said.

Salgado said Thorsen was in fact her first pick, but that she ultimately went with Summers in the name of consensus. That consensus was needed last month, because Summers squeaked through on a 4-3 vote.

• NO BOYCOTT: Noticeably absent from the meeting were the three committee members – Paula Yensen, Anna May Miller and Mary McCann – who voted against Summers. Miller and McCann had previously voted, without success, to try to keep ousted President Lee Ellis on the Mental Health Board.

But they did not boycott the meeting, as other county news sources have reported.

Yensen, who is executive director of the United Way of Central Kane County, had a work obligation she could not skip, namely the annual Build-A-Bike giveaway for needy children. McCann was right next door to the public health committee, as chairwoman of the Finance and Audit Committee that oversees county government's spending. That meeting ran until 1 p.m.

I could not reach Miller, but she is recovering from a bad car accident. The last time I saw her was last Friday's committee meeting, and she had to leave early – with assistance. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt, and then some, regarding her absence.

So there was no collaboration on their part to skip the meeting.

I did in fact point this out in my story, but it bears repeating, because an allegation that they intentionally blew off the meeting is a serious one.

• WHO WILL HILL PICK? Salgado before the vote asked Hill which of the six candidates she likes. Hill has said she is looking at the list, and one or two outside candidates, for her final choice.

Hill said she liked Cathryn Perfetti and David Barber. Perfetti is a CEO of a mental health provider agency and is a member of the county's Community Development Block Grant Commission and the board of the McHenry County Housing Authority. Barber is former head of the United Way of Greater McHenry County.

We'll know tomorrow who Hill recommends – board rules mandate that nominees for boards and commissions be presented no later than five days before the meeting at which the vote will take place.

• SHE SAID, SHE SAID: Hill told me after the meeting that her decision to take Salgado off of the committee is not new.

As I wrote today, the issue has arisen every so often over the years that Salgado's presence on the committee is a conflict of interest because she is human resources director for Pioneer Center for Human Services. Pioneer Center receives Mental Health Board funding, and is one of the loudest critics alleging that the board spends far too much money on administration and overhead.

Hill said she told Kurtz of her intention six weeks ago, but that Kurtz told her to hold off. Hill alleged that Kurtz wanted and needed Salgado's vote to ram through her changes to the Mental Health Board.

But Kurtz countered that the issue was not an agenda, but timing.

"I said hold off because I thought it was completely inappropriate to do that when we were in the middle of conducting interviews," Kurtz said.

• COURT IS NOT IN SESSION: I asked Hill how she thinks these two issues – picking her own Mental Health Board candidate and replacing Salgado – looks in the court of public opinion.

She answered, politely but resolutely, that only a small segment of that court is following this issue or considers it a priority.

I also asked Hill about the point that Salgado made, elaborated on at the end of my story, that members of other committees have faced conflict-of-interest questions surrounding their assignments.

She answered that those alleged conflicts would get a fresh review.

Salgado, who sat down with Hill before I did, told me after her meeting that she told Hill that it's all or nothing when it comes to reassigning committee seats for perceived conflicts of interest.

"If we do it for me, we do it for everybody or not at all," Salgado said.

Hammerand said after the meeting that the timing looks suspect.

"If a conflict of interest didn't exist in December [when committee assignments were hashed out], how come it suddenly appeared in May?" Hammerand said.

•X-FACTORS: There are several issues at play when it comes to what will happen next Tuesday evening.

The biggest variables are yet unknown: who Hill will recommend to fill the vacancy on the Mental Health Board, and who she will recommend to replace Salgado.

Both will require the consent of a majority of the County Board. And from what I've seen and heard, many board members are conflicted. A number of them are uncomfortable both with Hill for her actions, and with the blunt and direct way Kurtz has handled the Mental Health Board.

So who they will eventually side with will very likely come down to whom Hill recommends for both posts.

The other x-factor is the Mental Health Board itself, namely if it attempts to affect the outcome.

As I have written and blogged about since January, the Mental Health Board has tried to insert itself into the process since it became apparent that Kurtz would, immediately upon her appointment as committee chairwoman, embark on a reform campaign.

One can argue that this whole mess started in earnest because of the Mental Health Board's gross overreaction to a story I wrote in January based on a 3-minute-long speech that Pioneer Director Pat Maynard gave to the County Board about the need for new faces on the nine-member, unpaid board.

The Mental Health Board fought back as if I wrote that every single board member and employee should be slaughtered and rendered into grease.

I haven't seen any attempted influence since the Mental Health Board failed to keep former President Lee Ellis from being ousted. But with that vacant seat up for grabs, two more terms expiring at year's end and that vacant executive director seat it needs to fill – maybe by giving the present interim director the job – they might see this as a last and best opportunity to stop Kurtz.

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

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