Sixth Mental Health Board member resigns

Hinz focusing on role in District 47

A sixth person has resigned from the embattled McHenry County Mental Health Board to focus on her much-expanded job responsibilities.

Kathy Hinz stepped down Friday, days after she took over July 1 as interim superintendent of Crystal Lake School District 47. She will have the district’s reins for the upcoming school year, after which the school board will decide whether she gets the full-time job.

Hinz, who has been on the Mental Health Board since 2011, said her decision is strictly one of time management and devoting all of it to a unique opportunity.

“The Mental Health Board is equally as important to the community ... at this time, I now don’t have the time in the day to devote to both organizations,” Hinz said.

This latest departure continues an ongoing transition for the board, which has come under increased fire over its
spending and management practices. Six of the board’s nine seats have changed hands since October. The former executive director took another job in November, and two other top executives retired.

The job of filling the newly vacant seat falls to the McHenry County Board and its Public Health and Human Services Committee. County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill and committee Chairwoman Donna Kurtz both said they want to avoid the confrontation that muddied the last appointment.

“I feel good about moving forward in a positive way,” said Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake. “We’ve all benefited from the learning of the past experience, and we need to make the best selection possible for responsible management and oversight of the Mental Health Board.”

Critics have accused the Mental Health Board in recent years of becoming a bureaucracy that spends too much money on administration and overhead that should be going directly to agencies treating the mentally ill and disabled, as it was created by voter referendum to do.

A reform effort started in January when the County Board appointed Kurtz, a longtime Mental Health Board critic, as chairwoman of the committee that had to appoint four members – three to four-year terms and a one-year unexpired term. The full County Board followed the committee’s advice to fill the four-year seats with newcomers, ousting incumbent President Lee Ellis in the process and giving a second incumbent the one-year term.

But the committee and Hill ended up at loggerheads when another Mental Health Board member stepped down in March.

The public health committee voted, 4-3, to appoint former McHenry County College Trustee Scott Summers to the position. However, the County Board crushed Summers’ nomination on a 6-18 vote, and Chairwoman Hill, R-Woodstock, announced she would exercise her authority to bring her own nominee forward.

Kurtz’s committee took a subsequent vote and nominated Crystal Lake City Council member and banker Jeff Thorsen, but Hill declined to bring that candidate to the full County Board for a vote. Hill nominated Cathy Ferguson, a family therapist and City Council member, who County Board members approved in May on a 16-8 vote.

Hill said Tuesday she and Kurtz had a “very pleasant talk,” and said she will allow the nomination process to replace Hinz to proceed.

“I will honor that,” Hill said. “I have no intention of taking it over at this point. Donna’s committee will make a recommendation to me.”

County rules require a 30-day period to submit applications, meaning the public health committee most likely will interview candidates in August or September.

Two Mental Health Board members – the Rev. James Swarthout and Sam Tenuto – resigned to take jobs with agencies that receive Mental Health Board funding. Ellis was ousted, and former County Board member Mary Donner lost her voting seat when she lost re-election in 2012. Kari Stinespring did not seek reappointment when her term expired Jan. 1.

The three remaining incumbents are Connee Meschini, Brett Wisnauski and Don Larson. Meschini’s and Wisnauski’s terms expire at the end of the year.

Criticisms of the Mental Health Board were amplified last year as it spent $1.8 million in a failed effort to save an ailing mental health agency from closing and blew its legal budget by more than 500 percent. Former Executive Director Sandy Lewis quit last year to take another job, shortly after receiving her doctorate, for which taxpayers paid at least $30,000, according to records obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. 

The Mental Health Board had maintained in response to criticism that it spent a flat 6 percent on administrative costs. But that figure from a 2011 report only factored in administrative salaries and general operating costs, and not items such as paying off $3.5 million in bonds to almost quadruple the size of its Crystal Lake headquarters. Its 2012 annual report released late last month puts administrative costs at 17 percent, or just under $2.5 million of the $14.9 million it spent last fiscal year. 

Changing seats

Six of the nine seats on the McHenry County Mental Health Board have changed hands over the past year:

• The Rev. James Swarthout: Resigned in October to take a job with Rosecrance Health Network, which receives Mental Health Board funding.

• Mary Donner: Was the County Board’s liaison but lost her 2012 re-election bid.

• Kari Stinespring: Did not seek reappointment when her term expired Jan. 1.

• Lee Ellis: Was not reappointed by the County Board and was replaced in March. He was board president when he was ousted.

• Sam Tenuto: Resigned in March to take a job with Pioneer Center for Human Services, which receives Mental Health Board funding.

• Kathy Hinz: Resigned July 5 in the wake of becoming interim superintendent of Crystal Lake School District 47 for the 2013-14 school year.

The three remaining incumbents are Connee Meschini, Don Larson and Brett Wisnauski. Meschini’s and Wisnauski’s terms expire at the end of the year. Larson’s expires at the end of 2014.

Source: Northwest Herald archives

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