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Tina Hill reveals nominees for Mental Health Board, public health committee

Published: Thursday, May 16, 2013 11:20 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 9:26 a.m. CST

McHenry County Board members will have two politically-sensitive choices that Chairwoman Tina Hill is asking them to make next week regarding the embattled Mental Health Board.

Hill, R-Woodstock, sidestepped the committee process to nominate a candidate of her own – Crystal Lake City Council member Cathy Ferguson – to fill a vacant seat. But she is also asking the County Board to replace a member of the Public Health and Human Services Committee in charge of filling said vacancies.

Hill said Sandra Fay Salgado’s presence on the committee is a conflict of interest because she is the human resources manager for Pioneer Center for Human Services. The agency, which receives Mental Health Board funding, happens to be one of the more vocal critics of the board’s management and spending.

But Hill’s choice to replace Salgado – Robert Martens Sr. – is the retired head of a collapsed social service agency that was closely aligned with the Mental Health Board, which spent almost $1.8 million in an unsuccessful bid to save it.

Both of Hill’s requests became public Thursday with the release of the agenda for the County Board’s meeting Tuesday evening.

In an accompanying memo, Hill explained why she decided to name a candidate of her own. Ferguson was one of six remaining applicants after the County Board last week overwhelmingly rejected the public health committee’s recommendation of former McHenry County College Trustee Scott Summers.

“I felt compelled to take this action to correct a process that became convoluted, disruptive and disingenuous for many of the candidates and board members. It is my firm belief that I needed to bring a fresh set of eyes to the process,” Hill wrote.

Critics have alleged in recent years that the Mental Health Board has become a bureaucracy that spends too much of its property-tax revenue on administration and overhead that it should instead disburse to agencies working with the mentally ill and disabled, as it was created by voter referendum to do.

One of those critics has been County Board member Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, who since her January appointment as committee chairwoman has embarked on a campaign to put new faces on the nine-member, unpaid Mental Health Board.

Kurtz said she has “the highest level of respect” for Ferguson, and said she was one of the committee’s top choices. But she said she cannot support voting for a candidate brought forth outside the long-established committee process.

“To subvert that process casts a shadow over any nominee, no matter how excellent that person is,” Kurtz said.

Hill announced her intention to nominate her own candidate moments after the May 7 vote, 6-18, rejecting Summers. Kurtz and a majority of the committee decided to submit another nominee as well and voted at a special meeting Tuesday to nominate banker Jeff Thorsen, another of the six candidates and, like Ferguson, a Crystal Lake City Council member.

But Hill told the committee she would not allow Thorsen to be placed on the agenda.

Ferguson, a 14-year City Council veteran, has worked for almost 35 years as a family therapist at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. She said she has wanted for years to serve on the Mental Health Board.

Ferguson said she wants to focus on her qualifications and sidestep the controversy.

“Making sure that dollars go to direct care is an area I’m proficient in,” Ferguson said. “All the controversy aside, that’s not my issue. It’s theirs, and they need to own it. All I’m trying to do is say, ‘Hey, I have a skill set I think is beneficial.’ ”

Ferguson got a voice of support from Salgado, who called her nomination a validation of some of the work the committee did.

“She looks like a great compromise in my eyes,” Salgado, R-McHenry, said.

Salgado declined to comment on the plan to replace her with Martens on the public health committee – she has served on the committee since her 2000 election. But Kurtz and fellow committee member Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, expressed their displeasure and concern.

The act of replacing Salgado aside, they alleged Martens is an inappropriate choice, given his three decades as CEO of Family Service and Community Mental Health Center, which collapsed last year, about a year and a half after Martens retired. Martens was elected to the County Board in November.

“In essence, Bob Martens has been an insider with the Mental Health Board for years, so he’s going to be a major supporter for maintaining the status quo and stopping any sort of reform that could possibly ensue,” Kurtz said.

Martens, R-Spring Grove, called any questions about his independence “a bunch of hooey.” He said there were a number of times during his tenure with Family Service that he disagreed with actions the Mental Health Board took.

“Change is needed on the [Mental Health] Board, and what I’m excited about is that change is already taking place,” Martens said.

Under County Board rules and the current committee structure, Salgado’s replacement would have to come from the three other members in her district. John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, is already on the committee, and Hill said that Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake, turned it down. That leaves Martens.

Hill reiterated Thursday that she has wanted to remove Salgado from the committee long before now, citing what she last week had called “the epitome of a conflict of interest.”

“There is absolutely no conflict of interest [with Martens],” Hill said. “We can play ‘gotcha’ games all day long with any one of us.”

But Walkup disagreed, saying it was last year’s collapse of Family Service that helped push calls for reform of the Mental Health Board into high gear.

He also took offense to Hill’s assertion in her memo that the committee’s actions have been “disruptive and disingenuous.” Walkup called it a common tactic to label people trying to ferret out uncomfortable facts as being disruptive.

“I think the people of Dixon would have appreciated it if someone was more disruptive earlier on,” said Walkup, citing the case of convicted city comptroller Rita Crundwell.

If the County Board approves the committee switch, Salgado would take Martens’ spot on the Building Projects Committee, which meets on an as-needed basis when construction work is planned for county government facilities.

The committee has not met since the seating of the new board last December.

What it means

McHenry County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill has nominated Crystal Lake City Council member Cathy Ferguson to fill a vacant seat on the Mental Health Board.

Hill also is recommending that County Board member Robert Martens Sr., R-Spring Grove, replace Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry, on the Public Health and Human Services Committee.

The County Board must vote to approve both the appointment and the transfer.

What’s next

The County Board next meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

What it means

McHenry County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill has nominated Crystal Lake City Council member Cathy Ferguson to fill a vacant seat on the Mental Health Board.

Hill also is recommending that County Board member Robert Martens Sr., R-Spring Grove, replace Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry, on the Public Health and Human Services Committee.

The County Board must vote to approve both the appointment and the transfer.

What’s next

The County Board next meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

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