Term limits dominate McHenry County Board rule review

WOODSTOCK – McHenry County Board members seem split on a proposal to impose a three-term limit on the chairman and vice chairman, if their comments during a Friday review were an indicator.

Five publicly spoke in favor of the idea and five against during a Committee of the Whole convened to review 49 changes to board rules proposed by the Management Services Committee after six months of work. Discussion of that one proposal dominated the first hour of the two-hour forum.

But it will not be until later this month at the earliest that the changes – the most significant overhaul in recent memory – will go to a vote.

The proposal is one of several aimed at curtailing the power and the incumbency of the chairmanship, which critics have alleged has become too powerful. The 24-member County Board elects the chairman and vice chairman from among themselves after each November election.

County Board member Mary McClellan, R-Holiday Hills, was among the opponents who cited that the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office has advised against imposing term limits because state law does not explicitly grant counties the right to do so.

"If this would be adverse to any law, I could not do that in good conscience," said McClellan, an attorney.

Board members got through 22 of the proposed rules before adjourning, and will review the remaining ones at another Committee of the Whole that will follow next Tuesday's regular County Board meeting. Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, said she chose to call for a prior review in a committee format to give every board member a chance to get their questions asked, given the sheer size and scope of the proposed changes.

The Management Services Committee is tasked with reviewing and revising board rules after the seating of the new board after each November election. While previous boards have balked at deep and substantive changes, recent controversies – and the fact that more than one-third of the County Board is new after last November's redistricting election – could change that dynamic.

Supporters of term limits have countered that no candidate would dare challenge it in court out of risk of being labeled in the court of public opinion as power-hungry.

"I would not personally use the argument that we may suffer from future litigation," said board member Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary. "For me, the possibility of something negative happening isn't always the best way to make a decision."

Former Chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, served four terms as chairman before losing his bid for a fifth term to Hill in December. Calls during the latter years of Koehler's eight-year reign 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.

Most opponents of the rule change stated that they support the idea of term limits, but question the legality of the proposal before them. Several, such as Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, brought up putting the popular-election question to voter referendum next year.

The other major change aimed at the chairmanship that was reviewed Friday would counter the incumbency of the chairmanship by taking away its ability to appoint the chairmanships of the County Board's standing committees in which much of county government's work gets done.

Critics on the County Board have 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.

Management Services member Anna May Miller, R-Cary, who voted against the proposal in committee, reiterated Friday her opposition to the change. She had said prior to the committee vote last month that the change smacked of personality conflicts rather than good government – a position that McClellan shared.

"I don't believe that this is for the purposes of reform or to enlighten – I think this is a point of political posturing," McClellan said.

Proposed rule changes that have not yet been reviewed include removing the chairman's power to appoint the Committee on Committees that sets assignments for new members after each election. If approved, the four members from each of the County Board's six districts would choose their representative.

Another proposed rule to be looked at Tuesday would further limit the chairman's authority over being able to advance nominees to boards and commissions. 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.

What it means

The McHenry County Board is reviewing a radical overhaul of its rules as proposed by its Management Services Committee.

What's next

The County Board continued the Committee of the Whole in which it is reviewing the changes to next Tuesday. It will start at 10 a.m. or after the regular County Board meeting, which starts at 9 a.m. at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

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