WOODSTOCK – Recent controversies surrounding the current and former McHenry County Board chairman have resulted in the most significant proposed changes to the board’s rules in recent memory.
They include imposing term limits, stripping the chairman’s authority to recommend appointees to boards and commissions in most circumstances, and increasing the number of votes needed to remove a County Board member from a standing committee. The Management Services Committee, which is tasked with reviewing board rules and recommending changes after each November election, is scheduled to vote to move them forward Monday morning.
This latest review started shortly after a failed referendum during the end of former Chairman Ken Koehler’s eight-year reign to change to a county executive form of government. During the review process, a number of County Board members accused current Chairwoman Tina Hill of overstepping her authority regarding her conflict with another committee over an appointment to the embattled Mental Health Board.
While the committee has discussed proposed changes openly, the draft version had not been publicly released as of last week because it was undergoing review by the state’s attorney’s office.
“It’s been a team effort in working on the board rules, and I think it’s very important to listen to every point of view of the people who serve on Management Services, and I think that process has occurred,” committee Chairwoman Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, said Friday.
If the committee votes to move the changes forward, they will be reviewed Friday at a County Board Committee of the Whole meeting. A formal vote to adopt the rules would come at the County Board’s meeting July 2.
Two of the proposals – term limits and selection of membership to the Committee on Committees – are aimed at the power of incumbency of the chairmanship, which is elected by the 24-member board.
The most controversial proposed change is imposing a limit of no more than three consecutive two-year terms on the chairman and vice chairman. The state’s attorney’s office has warned that state law does not empower county governments to impose limits, but some on the County Board want to do so anyway.
The issue of incumbency came to a head last year with the county executive referendum, spearheaded by state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo. County Board members vehemently opposed the idea, and voters crushed it last November.
Another proposed change removes the chairman’s power to appoint members from each district to the Committee on Committees, which after the election assigns all 24 board members to the committees in which most of county government’s work gets done.
Under the proposed change, the four members of each of the County Board’s six districts would caucus among themselves to name their representative.
Critics on the County Board have alleged that the current system heavily favors the incumbent chairman for re-election, because he or she can secure all but one of the votes needed through choosing the coveted chairmanships of the board’s 11 standing committees. The rule changes, according to committee member Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, would eliminate the problems from which calls for direct election and a county executive arose.
There could be two fewer major chairmanships under another proposed change to abolish the Human Resources Committee and to make the Building Projects Committee a subcommittee of Management Services.
Other rules aimed at the chairmanship were inspired by last month’s impasse regarding a Mental Health Board vacancy.
Hill decided to name her own candidate after the County Board rejected the Public Health and Human Services Committee’s nominee, former McHenry County College trustee Scott Summers, on a 6-18 vote. A majority of the committee, headed by Chairwoman Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, has embarked on a reform campaign, putting three new members on the Mental Health Board in the wake of mounting questions over its scope and spending.
Hill also attempted to remove a member of the Public Health Committee, Sandra Fay Salgado, alleging that her employment with an agency that received Mental Health Board funding constitutes a conflict of interest. The County Board approved Hill’s nominee to the Mental Health Board, but she backed off on replacing Salgado, R-McHenry, citing discomfort among her fellow board members.
One proposed change would codify that the power in most circumstances to nominate to boards and commissions first rests with committees. Exceptions would be appointments to regional entities that state law specifically gives the chairman the power to recommend, such as McHenry County’s representatives on mass-transit boards. The other would increase the vote threshold needed to remove a County Board member from a standing committee to a three-quarters supermajority, or 18 out of 24 votes.
Five of the seven Management Services committee members also serve on public health. Three of them – Vice Chairman John Hammerand, Kurtz and Walkup – voted for Summers.
“I don’t see this as directed at Tina – it’s the interaction between the County Board and the chairman,” said Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake. “The rules have been very general, and we’re just trying to formalize the process.”
Limitation of powers
A number of proposed changes to the McHenry County Board rules are aimed at limiting the powers of the board chairman:
• The chairman and vice chairman would be limited to three consecutive two-year terms.
• The chairman would no longer have the power to choose the members of the committee that decides committee assignments after every November election.
• In most cases, the chairman would no longer have the power to recommend his or her own appointments to boards and commissions outside of the committee process.
• The number of votes needed to remove a County Board member from a standing committee would be increased to a three-fourths supermajority, or 18 of 24 members.
The Management Services Committee is scheduled to make a final recommendation on the rules Monday morning. If they do, the rules will go on Friday to the Committee of the Whole for review. The County Board would vote to approve the rules at its July 2 morning meeting.