WOODSTOCK – A McHenry County Board committee wants a fiscal hawk who reformed the board’s budget development process to fill one of the latest vacancies on the embattled Mental Health Board.
The Public Health and Human Services Committee voted Wednesday, 6-1, to recommend former County Board member Scott Breeden fill the seat. Breeden, of Lakewood, would fill a vacancy left when former member Kathy Hinz stepped down in July after becoming interim superintendent of Crystal Lake School District 47.
Breeden, a businessman, beat out three other candidates with business and financial backgrounds that the committee stressed could help the new Mental Health Board right its financial ship. Seven of the board’s nine members have either resigned or been ousted in the past 12 months and replaced by new members.
The board has faced significant criticism that it has become a bloated bureaucracy that spends too much on administration instead of agencies working with the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.
In his interview, Breeden said the past Mental Health Board allowed itself to be led by administration into decisions for which it now is paying the price.
“A board that lacks direction is heavily influenced by administration, and then you have a board that is being led instead of leading,” Breeden said.
Wednesday’s vote was a departure from previous ones by the committee, which more often than not have ended acrimoniously between a majority wanting stronger reform-minded candidates and a minority wanting someone else. Committee members spoke highly of the three other candidates: retired Air Force officer and blogger Andrew Gasser, health insurance company owner Charles Wheeler and Cary Sue Lavan, a former investigator for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Breeden’s recommendation will become official with a vote of the full County Board next Tuesday evening. Hinz’s term expires at the end of 2014.
Breeden, a Republican, served on the County Board from 2008 to 2012 and served the latter half of his term as chairman of the Finance and Audit Committee in charge of the county government’s pocketbook.
He spearheaded reform of the budget development process to ensure that important fiscal and planning issues are decided far in advance of the county’s deadline to approve a spending plan for the next fiscal year.
Chairwoman Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, suggested Breeden after imploring the committee to come to an amiable consensus. All four candidates were the top choice of at least one of the seven committee members.
“He’s a solid, Rock of Gibraltar guy,” Kurtz said. “He’d bring some stability, and he’d be a resource to that board ... and provide a conduit to other board members.”
Criticisms of the Mental Health Board have increased in recent years as its workforce swelled to about 50 full-time equivalents, and as it borrowed $4 million to almost quadruple the size of its Crystal Lake headquarters. They were amplified last year as the board spent $1.8 million in a failed effort to save an ailing mental health agency from closing and its clients from losing those services.
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 factored in only administrative salaries and general operating costs, and not items such as paying off the building bonds. Its 2012 annual report puts administrative costs at 17 percent, or just under $2.5 million of the $14.9 million it spent last fiscal year.
The board also has seen an exodus of top administrative staff. 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 sole remaining vacancy on the nine-seat Mental Health Board was created by former member Brett Wisnauski, who resigned at the end of August in protest of the new board’s vote to allocate $49,000 to The Advantage Group to keep it afloat, despite an audit revealing a number of funding irregularities.
The committee, with the Mental Health Board’s consent, is likely to wait until January to replace Wisnauski because his term was set to expire at the end of the year.
What it means
The McHenry County Board Public Health and Human Services Committee voted Wednesday, 6-1, to recommend appointing former County Board member Scott Breeden to fill one of the two vacancies on the McHenry County Mental Health Board.
Voting “yes” were Chairwoman Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake; Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake; John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake; Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry; Anna May Miller, R-Cary; and Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills. Member Mary McCann, R-Woodstock, cast the sole opposing vote.
The County Board is expected to vote on the decision at its meeting Tuesday evening.
A second vacancy was created last month by another resignation, but the committee may not fill it until January because the term expires at the end of this year.