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McHenry County Board may have voters elect chair

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013 9:23 p.m. CST

WOODSTOCK – The committee that just finished an ambitious overhaul of the McHenry County Board's rules will work next to put a referendum to voters asking whether the board chairman should be popularly elected.

The announcement was made Tuesday morning by board Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, at the start of the Committee of the Whole meeting in which members finished a review of 49 proposed changes to the rules under which the board operates.

Committee Chairman Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, said after Tuesday's meeting that she is confident the committee will adopt a resolution for a referendum to the full County Board. The County Board now elects the chairman to a two-year term from among its 24 members after each November election.

"We're going to work hard in getting it done," Yensen said.

Management Services will discuss the issue at its meeting next Monday and will direct the State's Attorney's Office to begin drafting the language if the committee agrees to move forward, Yensen said.

Popular election of the chairman – as is done in Kane, DuPage and Cook counties – is a variation on the theme that inspired many of the proposed changes to board rules, namely paring the powers of the chairmanship that critics allege have grown too large.

Management Services, which reviews the board rules after each election, spent six months compiling the large body of changes that required two Committee of the Whole reviews Friday and Tuesday. About 10 of these proposed changes are aimed at the chairman's incumbency.

They include limiting the chairman and vice chairman to three consecutive terms and countering the chairman's power of incumbency by stripping its ability to appoint the chairmanships of the County Board's standing committees in which much of county government's work gets done. Because chairmanships of the board's 11 committees can be leveraged for votes, critics allege that an incumbent chairman can secure all but one of the 13 votes needed.

That is, if the power to elect the chairman isn't given to the voters.

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 culminated last November in an unsuccessful referendum to change to a county executive form of government like Will County has.

The referendum, spearheaded by state Rep, Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat who had butted heads with Koehler on many occasions, shook County Board members into referendum discussions. A proposal to put its own referendum on the November ballot as a competing measure was soundly rejected as a surefire way to confuse voters.

Hill ordered Management Services after new committee assignments were finalized in January to discuss the possibility of putting the referendum on the April ballot. But the committee did not move forward in great part because of time constraints – its first meeting was a week before the Jan. 22 deadline.

Supporters of a referendum on the County Board gathered enough signatures to force a special meeting to vote on the idea, which failed, 11-9. Management Services subsequently agreed to revisit a referendum after it was finished with the rules overhaul that it had just started.

Concerns over the authority the chairmanship wields – exacerbated by a controversy in May over the chairman's power over boards and commissions in the wake of a contentious appointment to the embattled McHenry County Mental Health Board – helped drive a number of the rule changes now proposed.

The changes will go to a vote at the County Board's next morning meeting Sept. 3. Hill decided against the Aug. 20 night meeting because of the time that will most likely be needed for members to amend and approve them.

Tuesday's Committee of the Whole meeting was supposed to take place immediately after the County Board's regularly scheduled meeting. But the regular meeting was canceled out of concern that the agenda may not have been posted online for the full 48 prior hours mandated by the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

What it means

The McHenry County Board on Tuesday finished its review of a proposed major overhaul of its rules that spanned two, two-hour Committee of the Whole meetings.

It also was revealed that the committee that proposed the changes will revisit a referendum to make the board chairman popularly elected.

What's next

The County Board is set to vote on the changes at its morning meeting Sept. 3.

Proposed changes

• Limiting the chairman and the vice chairman to no more than three consecutive two-year terms.

• Eliminating the chairman's power to appoint the chairmen of the County Board's standing committees.

• Eliminating the chairman's power to appoint the committee that meets after every November election to assign board members to their committees.

• Raising the number of votes needed if the chairman wants to replace a committee member to a three-fourths supermajority, or 18 out of 24 members.

• Codifying which appointments made by the chairman must be approved by a full County Board vote.

• Eliminating two of the board's 11 standing committees.

On the Net

You can view the existing County Board rules and the proposed changes at http://shawurl.com/o2y.

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