WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board gutted the changes to its rules developed over six months by one of its committees.
After four hours and more than two dozen votes rejecting recommended changes, the County Board voted, 13-7, to adopt its rules after a six-month post-election review by its Management Services Committee. All but two of the “no” votes came from committee members.
Among the many rejected proposals were those aimed at the powers of the County Board chairman’s seat, which has been held since December by Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock.
Board members eliminated a controversial change limiting the chairman to three consecutive two-year terms on a 15-9 vote. Besides questioning the constitutionality of the measure – state law does not explicitly empower counties to impose term limits – Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, said the idea was not a term limit, but forcing a chairman “to take a two-year sabbatical.”
“This rule, in my personal opinion, is political pandering at its worst,” Gottemoller said.
That drew a swift reply from Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, who has fought for years for substantial changes to County Board rules, alleging that they concentrate too much power into too few hands.
“I have to snicker when I hear that we’re pandering to the public,” Schuster said. “I don’t know who we represent if it’s not the public.”
Management Services is tasked with reviewing the County Board’s rules after the new board is seated after each November election. However, a profound change in the way the County Board operates could be imposed next March, should voters approve a binding referendum to make the chairmanship popularly elected starting in 2016.
The 24 members of the County Board elect a chairman to a two-year term from among themselves after each new board is seated. Calls to change the system, which critics called heavily and unfairly weighed in the incumbent’s favor, gained steam during the four terms won by former Chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, whom Hill bested last year.
Those changes, too, were reversed on majority votes.
Board members voted, 17-7, to undo a change taking away the chairman’s power to appoint the Committee on Committees after every election. The committee is made up of the chairman and one member from each of the County Board’s six districts to decide the makeup of the 11 standing committees in which most of county government’s work gets done. Management Services proposed leaving it up to the four members from each district to decide for themselves.
The board also reversed a change that aimed to take away the chairman’s ability to appoint the chairmen and vice chairmen to the standing committees. Critics on the County Board allege this gives an incumbent an unfair advantage because he or she can secure all but one of the votes needed for re-election by promising appointment to those positions.
Tuesday’s votes for the most part followed a list Hill emailed to board members Friday, highlighting issues members had with Management Services’ proposed changes. Board members held two Committees of the Whole last month to go over them.
Management Services member Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, alleged that something more sinister was afoot and immediately after the first motion to roll back the changes called it a “scripted batting order, right on schedule.”
“The question for us today is, is McHenry County ready for reform? Judging by the script, it doesn’t look like it,” Walkup said.
But others scoffed at the accusation – several of them throughout the meeting said they were “going off script” when they proposed changes that were not included in the email.
“What is one person’s idea of orchestration is my idea of organization,” said member Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake.
Hill after the meeting said the email was nothing more than a compilation of the many concerns board members had so that the meeting could run in as orderly a fashion as possible given the sheer number of changes proposed by Management Services.
“[Walkup] can say whatever he wants,” Hill said. “With impunity.”
Board majorities also rejected more peculiar changes, such as requiring a vote at the start of each meeting to officially adopt the agenda and rotating the roll call for votes alphabetically so that it starts with a new member after each vote, instead of with each meeting as is currently done. Another change that is routinely tried – adding a second public comment period at the end of the meeting – again was defeated.
Proposals to eliminate two standing committees – Human Resources and Building Projects – were rejected by comfortable margins. Human Resources handles staff wages and benefits, both union and nonunion, while Building Projects meets only when the county is building a new facility.
Only one of the motions to scale back the proposed changes failed. Board members supported, 13-9, a change increasing the five-member Liquor and License Committee to seven members like the rest of the County Board’s standing committees. That change will take effect with the seating of the new County Board after the fall 2014 election.
How they voted
The McHenry County Board voted Tuesday, 13-7, to adopt its rules after the 2012 election. The vote came at the end of a four-hour meeting in which members rejected most of the changes proposed by its Management Services Committee.
Voting “yes” were Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake; Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills; Michele Aavang, R-Woodstock; Nick Chirikos, D-Algonquin; Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake; Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake; John Jung, R-Woodstock; Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake; Robert Martens Sr., R-Spring Grove; Mary McCann, R-Woodstock; Anna May Miller, R-Cary; Robert Nowak, R-Cary; and Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock.
Voting “no” were Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock; Michael Skala, R-Huntley; Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake; Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary; Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard; John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake; and Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake.
Board members Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry; James Heisler, R-Crystal Lake; and Mary McClellan, R-Holiday Hills, attended but left before the final vote. Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, attended the entire meeting but was not present for the final vote.