Mental Health Board starts interviewing finalists for top spot

New executive director could be announced next month

CRYSTAL LAKE – After a year without a leader, the McHenry County Mental Health Board will begin to interview finalists to take over as executive director.

The board's Search Committee will interview four first-round finalists in closed-door meetings today and Thursday, committee Chairwoman Carrie Smith said. The committee will deliberate Friday and recommend "two or three" finalists to proceed for second interviews before the entire board.

If all goes according to plan – this is the board's second attempt to hire a director after the first fell through – a decision could come late next month.

"I think the great hope is that by the Nov. 26 meeting of the Mental Health Board, we would have an announcement to make. However, there are a lot of steps between now and then, But that's the goal," said Smith, who is also the board's vice-president.

The Mental Health Board has been without a permanent administrative leader since November, when former Executive Director Sandy Lewis left to accept a job with Virginia Commonwealth University. Deputy Director Todd Schroll has served as interim director since then.

Lewis' departure came months prior to an ongoing shakeup of the Mental Health Board – Smith is one of six new members who have been seated this year.

Critics over the years allege that the Mental Health Board has become a top-heavy bureaucracy that spends millions on overhead that should instead go directly to client agencies that work with the mentally ill and disabled. After the 2012 election, an overhaul of the McHenry County Board committee structure put a reform-minded majority on its Public Health and Human Services Committee, which is in charge of filling the Mental Health Board's nine seats.

Smith, current board President Robert Routzahn and Heather Murgatroyd were seated in March by the County Board, which by appointing the newcomers denied reappointment to former President Lee Ellis.

The board prior to the new appointments had narrowed its pool of candidates to two finalists. However, they had to start over in April after announcing that one of the two had backed out to accept another job offer.

Lewis' departure, announced at the same time as the retirement of two top deputies, came months after the Mental Health Board came under fire for spending almost $1.8 million in a failed bid to save Family Service and Community Mental Health Center from closing and shuttering its services to residents. Board members at the time said there was no connection between Family Service and the exodus of top staff.

The Mental Health Board, faced with shrinking property-tax and state revenues, is slimming down. While it is increasing the amount it is disbursing to local mental-health agencies next year from $8.4 million to $8.7 million, its 2014 budget slashes its workforce by almost half, from 33 to 19 full-time equivalents. The board is projected next year to receive $1.2 million less in property-tax revenue than it did two years ago.

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