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McHenry County Board members in conflict

Views split on Health Board vote

Published: Sunday, May 19, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

McHenry County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill might not have an easy task when it comes to the two outcomes she wants regarding the embattled Mental Health Board.

In conversations the Northwest Herald had last week with all but one of the 24 members of the County Board, they are split three ways when it comes to Hill’s decisions to advance her own candidate to fill a Mental Health Board vacancy, and to replace one of the members of the County Board committee in charge of filling it.

About a third support Hill’s nomination of family care therapist Cathy Ferguson to fill the spot, and support taking Sandra Fay Salgado off the Public Health and Human Services Committee. Hill alleges Salgado’s presence on the committee is a conflict of interest because Salgado works for a social service agency that receives Mental Health Board funding.

About a third oppose Hill’s decisions to sidestep the committee process by which nominees to boards and commissions are recommended to the full County Board, and to tinker with the public health committee. About a third as of Friday did not know how they will vote, with one or two unwilling to say.

And regardless of where they stand, many of them expressed displeasure with how both sides in the struggle that has ensued – Hill on one side and Public Health and Human Services Chairwoman Donna Kurtz on the other – have handled the situation. 

Board members, both publicly and privately, have raised concerns over whether Hill has overreached her authority, while at the same time have criticized what they call Kurtz’ all-or-nothing, off-putting approach to putting new faces on a Mental Health Board that has faced increasing questions over its management and spending.

“I see fault on both sides,” Nick Chirikos, D-Algonquin, said. “The way that this was handled by both the committee chair and the board chair has been less than desirable. A lot of mistakes were made. If we had to do it all over again, it probably would have a different outcome, but we can’t do that.”

Hill announced May 7 she would take the unorthodox step of advancing her own Mental Health Board candidate, moments after the County Board crushed the committee’s nominee – former McHenry County College trustee Scott Summers – in a 6-18 vote. Summers’ nomination had squeaked through committee on a 4-3 vote.

Kurtz announced her committee would move forward anyway with an alternate candidate. In a special meeting last Tuesday, the committee voted, 4-0 — with the three who opposed Summers absent — to advance banker Jeff Thorsen, who like Ferguson is a Crystal Lake City Council member.

Hill confirmed last Thursday that she will ask the County Board to replace Salgado on the public health committee with Robert Martens Sr. Salgado has been on the committee since her 2000 election.

Board member Mike Skala, R-Huntley, said he is unsure about how he will vote regarding moving Salgado. He said Martens “comes with his own baggage,” namely that he was CEO of a mental health agency that received Mental Health Board funding and collapsed last year despite the board spending almost $1.8 million to save it.

“I don’t think she should have been on that committee from the very beginning. But for Tina to do that right now ... it looks like more of a political move than a need for ‘transparency,’” Skala said.

Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, said he was not ready to discuss how he intends to vote. But he was among a number of board members who stated that his vote against Summers was strictly professional and was solely based on his qualifications.

And he was among several who said they were unhappy by how they were portrayed by Kurtz and several others.

“What disappointed me was that this whole process was set up to be a choice between supporting Scott Summers, or you’re against financial reforms on the Mental Health Board,” Provenzano said.

Several board members who said they intend to vote against Ferguson’s appointment, like Skala and Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary, were careful to note that they have no problem with her or her skills, just the way she was nominated. 

“Many people had asked Tina Hill not to pull rank and do a power play, but that’s what she did,” Barnes said.

Barnes also made clear that she is unhappy with Kurtz’ handling of the situation, especially scheduling the special meeting at the same time as the Finance and Audit Committee, of which Kurtz is vice-chairwoman.

But those who intend to vote for Ferguson, which include Salgado, said her 35 years in the mental health industry is too good of a skill set to overlook.

“It’s important for the County Board to give the candidate the feeling we are all going to stand behind her and move forward. We all need to do that,” Salgado said.

Salgado has acknowledged that she asked not to be reassigned to the committee following the 2012 election, but said she will vote against the move because the timing looks very bad in the court of public opinion.

Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake, who served on the Crystal Lake City Council with Ferguson, called Ferguson a good candidate and pledged her support. She is unsure of how she intends to vote regarding replacing Salgado.

However, Schofield downplayed concerns raised by opponents that Hill circumvented the committee process.

Schofield pointed out the recent vote to extend a moratorium on building new electronic billboards – a ban she wholeheartedly supports, given Crystal Lake’s attempts to keep them from popping up just outside of city limits. The ban almost failed in committee, squeaking through on a 4-3 vote, but went on to almost unanimous approval by the full County Board.

“The committee process is just that – a process. It’s not the end-all, be-all,” Schofield said.

Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, disagrees. She voted against Summers, but has blasted Hill for nominating a candidate and trying to replace Salgado and said she will vote, and speak out, against both.

“Either we put our foot down now, or we’re in deep trouble, because this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Schuster said.

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