WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board appointed a past member who spearheaded a much-needed streamlining of its budget process to help ongoing reforms of the Mental Health Board.
Board members on Tuesday voted, 23-0, to appoint Scott Breeden to fill one of the latest vacancies on the Mental Health Board, created in July when former member Kathy Hinz stepped down to become interim superintendent of Crystal Lake District 47.
The Mental Health Board, which has struggled over the past year with finances, controversies and an exodus of top staff, has lost seven members over the past year, most of whom either resigned or were ousted from office.
Breeden, a Lakewood businessman, beat three other candidates with business and financial backgrounds to fill the vacancy – the Public Health and Human Services Committee last month chose him on a 6-1 vote.
The Mental Health Board has faced criticism over the years that it has become a top-heavy bureaucracy that spends too much property-tax revenue on administration that should be going to agencies working with the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.
A post-election shakeup of the County Board put a reform-minded majority on the public health committee, which is tasked with appointing the Mental Health Board.
Tuesday’s vote leaves one remaining vacancy, created in late August when former member Brett Wisnauski resigned in protest of a controversial vote to pay $49,000 to an agency whose funding was suspended after an audit found fiscal irregularities.
The public health committee in November plans to interview for that vacancy and a one-year unexpired term, both of which expire Jan. 1, said committee Chairwoman Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake. The county began accepting applications Tuesday.
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 did not seek re-election, citing the needs of his growing business.
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.
Breeden was inspired by a last-minute attempt by a number of board members to freeze the levy with two weeks to go before the new fiscal year, and long after they directed county staff to take the inflationary increase.
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 recent 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.
Its proposed 2014 budget maintains and slightly increases its contributions to client agencies from $8.4 million to $8.7 million, but slashes staff from 33 to 19 full-time equivalents. Because it levies the maximum tax rate mental health boards are allowed under state law – 15 cents per $100 in assessed valuation – it has no wiggle room to raise its rate to compensate for the decline in the county’s assessed value.
The Mental Health Board is requesting $11.475 million in property-tax revenue next year, down from about $11.9 million this year and $12.7 million collected in 2012.
Of the members who have left since last October, two left because they took jobs with agencies that receive Mental Health Board funding, two resigned and one did not seek reappointment. The public health committee denied the former Mental Health Board president’s reappointment bid, and the County Board’s former liaison – the County Board holds one of the nine voting seats – was not re-elected by voters last year.
Out with the old
The McHenry County Mental Health Board has lost seven members in the past 12 months:
• Rev. James Swarthout: Resigned in October 2012 to take a job with Rosecrance Health Network, which receives Mental Health Board funding.
• Mary Donner: Held the County Board’s voting seat 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 after his term expired Jan. 1. He was board president at the time of his March ouster.
• Sam Tenuto: Resigned in March to take a job with Pioneer Center for Human Services, which receives Mental Health Board funding.
• Kathy Hinz: Resigned in July after becoming interim superintendent of Crystal Lake School District 47 for the 2013-14 school year.
• Brett Wisnauski: Resigned in August in protest of the new board’s decision to give an emergency payment to The Advantage Group, an audit of which has revealed a number of funding irregularities.
In with the new
The County Board has since appointed:
• Paula Yensen: The County Board in January appointed Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, to hold its voting seat.
• Robert Routzahn, Carrie Smith and Heather Murgatroyd: Were appointed to fill the four-year terms formerly held by Ellis, Stinespring and incumbent Connee Meschini. The board gave Meschini the one-year unexpired term left by Swarthout.
• Cathy Ferguson: Was appointed in May to replace Tenuto. The vote was controversial because the County Board soundly rejected a committee’s choice to fill the seat and board Chairwoman Tina Hill advanced her own choice, refusing to put the committee’s next choice up to a vote.
• Scott Breeden: Was appointed Tuesday to fill the remainder of Hinz’s term.
Incumbents and vacancies
• The term vacated by Wisnauski will not be filled until after its Jan. 1, 2014, expiration.
• The unexpired term now held by Meschini will be up for reappointment after the new year.
• The term of incumbent Don Larson expires Jan. 1, 2015.
Source: McHenry County Board, Northwest Herald archives