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Search for new Mental Health Board director, board member continues

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 5:27 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 11:52 p.m. CDT

An empty seat on the McHenry County Mental Health Board and the empty office of its executive director will most likely stay vacant until 2014.

The Mental Health Board announced this week that it would not be announcing a choice to fill its top spot at its meeting Tuesday as anticipated.

On Wednesday, the County Board committee in charge of appointing the Mental Health Board’s nine members had the votes to fill one vacancy but not the other.

Mental Health Board Acting President Carrie Smith said late Tuesday afternoon that the board still is interviewing candidates and that a decision likely will not come until after the holidays.

Smith declined comment on the status of the executive director search or whether the candidate in mind for the job withdrew. The board interviewed three finalists in closed-session meetings Nov. 1 and 2, chose a finalist and instructed the search firm working with it to begin negotiating a work agreement.

“We’re still interviewing candidates, and we’re not going to be making a recommendation on Nov. 26, so the Search Committee is still at work,” Smith said.

The agency, which helps the county’s mentally ill and developmentally disabled and funds like-minded social service agencies through a special property-tax levy, has been without a permanent executive director for more than a year. It came close to filling the slot in April, but one of the two finalists for the job backed out, forcing the board to start its search anew.

The Mental Health Board’s membership, almost entirely made up of new members in the wake of a shakeup earlier this year, is trying to find its way as shrinking revenues force cuts long sought by critics who have alleged the agency has become a top-heavy bureaucracy that spends too much on administration and overhead.

The County Board Public Health and Human Services Committee was half successful Wednesday morning in filling two vacancies created by resignations.

It voted, 4-3, to recommend appointing Crystal Lake resident Diane Wasilk to fill the vacancy created in October when former President Robert Routzahn abruptly stepped down over personal issues just months into his term.

But the remaining candidate for the other vacancy, James Nelson of Huntley, fell short on a 3-4 vote. A third candidate, Charles Wheeler of McHenry, withdrew from consideration – he has made previous attempts without success to be appointed to the unpaid board.

Committee Chairwoman Donna Kurtz, a longtime critic of the Mental Health Board’s size and spending, was given the committee’s reins after the 2012 election. The same election, which replaced more than a third of the 24-member County Board, resulted in Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, getting a like-minded majority with which to seek new blood. The sole powers that a county board has over a mental health board is appointment of its members and final approval of its budget.

But many of the recent recommendations for Mental Health Board appointments have gone for County Board approval on 4-3 votes, which some members agreed Wednesday creates a credibility issue.

“I think we should work on having some more consensus among us. Four-to-three votes going to the [full] board are hard,” said member John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake.

The committee was unanimous Wednesday in recommending that incumbent Connee Meschini get reappointed to a full four-year term.

The remaining Mental Health Board vacancy, which was created when former member Brett Wisnauski stepped down in August in protest of a controversial funding request approved by the new board majority, will be readvertised.

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