County Board rules overhaul moves forward

WOODSTOCK – A radical list of proposed changes to the McHenry County Board's rules is headed to reviews and an August ratification.

Its Management Services Committee voted Monday, 5-1, to move the recommended changes forward for ratification at the County Board's morning meeting Aug. 6. But before that, the County Board will get a presentation prior to its July 16 meeting, followed by an Aug. 2 Committee of the Whole meeting in which members can discuss the recommended changes.

The two opportunities are in recognition of the significance of the proposed changes, said committee Chairwoman Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills. The committee proposed 49 rules changes, about 10 of which are aimed at curtailing the power of the County Board chairman.

"These are very profound changes, and I think this will give an opportunity for all County Board members to weigh in on it," Yensen said.

Changes aimed at the chairman include imposing term limits, abolishing the authority to appoint chairmanships of the board's 11 standing committees, and limiting the power to appoint to boards and commissions. Another set of significant changes would abolish two standing committees.

The Management Services Committee, which is tasked with reviewing County Board rules after each November election, began its review in February.

The sole opposing vote came from committee member Anna May Miller, R-Cary, who said she had deep opposition to many of the changes aimed at the chairman's power. She alleged that many of the changes are motivated by personality conflicts rather than good government.

She first took aim at limiting the chairman and vice chairman, who are elected by the board, to no more than three consecutive two-year terms. State law does not grant counties such authority, according to the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office.

"I cannot support term limits when it's not even legal," Miller said.

But committee member Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, said that his support for the new measures has been based on a need for reform, not personality clashes. 

"I speak for myself, but I walked into this job feeling that the structure needed to be changed. Dramatically," Walkup said.

Term limits have been an issue for several years during the reign of former Chairman Ken Koehler, who last December lost his bid for a fifth two-year term to present Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock. Calls to make the chairmanship popularly elected – as is done in DuPage and Kane counties – culminated last year in an unsuccessful referendum to change to a county executive form of government like Will County has.

Another set of changes further chip away at the chairman's incumbency by taking away the power to appoint the chairmanships of the County Board's standing committees. Critics on the County Board have long alleged that the current system heavily favors the incumbent chairman, who can secure all but one of the votes needed for re-election with the power to choose the chairmen of the board’s 11 standing committees.

Another change removes the chairman's power to appoint the Committee on Committees that sets assignments for new members after each election. Under the proposed change, the four members from each of the County Board's six districts would choose their representative.

Miller said she opposed taking the power to appoint the committee away from the chairman, arguing that Hill showed she wanted diverse viewpoints when she convened the committee by appointing one Democrat – Yensen – and newly elected member Mary McClellan, R-Holiday Hills.

"That's the rightful role of the leader to make that choice," Miller said.

The chairman's power over the committee process and appointments came into question earlier this year because of a controversy surrounding an appointment to the McHenry County Mental Health Board, which has come under fire over its size and spending practices. 

A reform-oriented committee's pick to fill a vacancy was overwhelmingly defeated by the County Board, prompting Hill to advance her own candidate. The Public Health and Human Services Committee made another selection, but Hill exercised her prerogative to not bring him forward for a vote.

County Board members approved Hill's candidate. Hill also wanted to replace a member of the public health committee, citing an alleged conflict of interest, but relented after board members expressed unease with the idea.

Miller also opposed eliminating the Human Resources and Building Projects committees, the duties of both of which would be absorbed by Management Services under proposed changes. 


What's next/How they voted

The McHenry County Board Management Services Committee voted Monday, 5-1, to advance 49 proposed changes to County Board rules for an August vote.

The County Board will get a presentation on the changes before its July 16 meeting, and will discuss them in a Committee of the Whole meeting tentatively set for Aug. 2, prior to voting on the changes Aug. 6.

Committee member Anna May Miller, R-Cary, cast the sole opposing vote. Member Michael Skala, R-Huntley, was absent.

On the Net

You can view the proposed changes at http://shawurl.com/o2y.

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