Committee spars over reporting of improper activity

WOODSTOCK – Paula Yensen said she was doing her job when she brought allegations against an agency requesting funding to the attention of the McHenry County Mental Health Board.

But to two of her fellow members on the McHenry County Board Public Health and Human Services Committee, Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, overstepped her bounds as Mental Health Board liaison.

The Advantage Group, which helps young adults overcome drug and alcohol dependency, abruptly withdrew its request for a $49,000 emergency payment from the Mental Health Board at a Sept. 17 meeting. Yensen revealed at the following meeting the withdrawal came after she presented evidence to the board president that TAG had been actively supporting ­county political candidates – federal tax law prohibits groups with 501(c)3 status from doing so.

Chairwoman Donna Kurtz and member Michael Walkup, both Republicans from Crystal Lake, told Yensen during her report to the committee that she should have come to the committee first. Walkup used the term “going rogue” before he was stopped by members Anna May Miller and Mary McCann, who came to Yensen’s defense.

“From a liaison standpoint, [Yensen’s actions] made me uncomfortable,” Kurtz said.

But Wednesday’s contentious meeting, hardly a first, is raising discomfort over the committee itself. A growing number of County Board members and county staff members have privately expressed concerns in recent months that the committee is growing increasingly dysfunctional, prone to confrontation and micromanaging.

Those concerns were amplified last month when the committee, in an unprecedented move, voted against approving the Mental Health Board’s budget for 2014. And prior to Yensen’s reprimand Wednesday, Regional Superintendent Leslie Schermerhorn accused the committee of “hoodwinking” her department after amending several funding requests after a 40-minute debate.

The committee since its January seating after the 2012 election has actively put new blood onto the Mental Health Board, which itself has faced criticism over the years for allegedly becoming a top-heavy bureaucracy that spends too much money on administration and overhead.

Yensen, who since 2002 has been executive director of the United Way of Central Kane County, defended her actions as the same diligence she has to exercise at her job.

“My board expects that due diligence from me,” Yensen said. “I take my job very seriously. When I was appointed to the Mental Health Board as a voting member, I took that due diligence just as seriously.”

She said people had brought to her attention that TAG was endorsing candidates on its Facebook page – and hosted a luncheon for Republican sheriff’s candidate Bill Prim – and that she was obligated to bring it to the attention of Mental Health Board President Robert Routzahn as soon as possible. Yensen said she found out days before the Mental Health Board was scheduled to vote on the $49,000 allocation.

Miller and McCann said Yensen acted properly and did not need to first report to the committee. McCann pointed out that TAG has been under state investigation since last year, after a Mental Health Board audit uncovered numerous fiscal irregularities. The board, under its old membership, suspended TAG’s funding as a result.

The only authority the County Board has over the Mental Health Board under state law is appointing its members and approval of its overall budget.

“I think she did the right thing,” said McCann, R-Woodstock. “Otherwise, the newspaper would have said, ‘Where’s the board, asleep at the switch?’ “

Walkup said he would like the County Board Management Services Committee to examine creating a code of conduct for its liaisons to county government’s numerous boards and commissions. Yensen, who is chairwoman of that committee, agreed to bring it up with members.

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