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McHenry County clerk candidates discuss ways to modernize office

Published: Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 11:57 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 12:08 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Sarah Nader – snader@shawmedia.com)
Nick Provenzano (left) and Mary McClellan, candidates for McHenry County Clerk, listen during the Northwest Herald Editorial Board interview Wednesday in Crystal Lake.

Two McHenry County Board members – one newly elected, another a veteran incumbent – are looking to become the next county clerk.

Mary McClellan, of Holiday Hills, and Nick Provenzano, of McHenry, are running in the Republican primary March 18 to replace longtime clerk Katherine Schultz, who is stepping down after six terms and 24 years in office.

Both acknowledged at a Wednesday meeting with the Northwest Herald Editorial Board that it will be hard to fill the shoes of a woman who worked in the office since 1959 and for whom the road to the county Administration Building in Woodstock is honorarily named.

But while promising to uphold Schultz’s integrity, they have ideas of their own for moving the office forward.

McClellan, an attorney who was just elected to the County Board in 2012, formerly worked in the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office and now works in Cook County’s where she defends the county in civil rights, labor and employment cases. She said her experiences, working her way from being a single mother through law school and elected office will serve county residents well.

“It is that integrity that’s necessary to protect something so very near and dear to us ... the right to vote,” McClellan said.

Provenzano likewise touts his experience as a benefit to county residents. He has served on the County Board since 2002, minus a two-year absence after a 2008 election defeat.

Besides two decades of business experience, he is now senior district representative for Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, whose district includes the entire county, save Algonquin Township.

One of his primary goals, he said, will be to modernize an office that he said has ­fallen behind the times in election technology and ballot access.

“One of my guiding principles will be, what are other counties doing?” Provenzano said.

Besides elections, the county clerk’s office handles vital records such as birth, death and marriage certificates. One of the office’s roles is calculating the total assessed valuation of McHenry County and its numerous taxing districts, thus determining how much in property tax revenue they can receive under the tax cap and other limits imposed by law.

Neither of the candidates, who have watched their own election returns come in, disputed the newspaper’s assertion that other county clerk’s offices process and post their returns much faster. But they differed on remedying the issue.

Provenzano said he would like to see the process move faster, and will look at things such as installing modems on voting machines.

“There’s got to be a reason for [slowness] and a lot of that, I think, has to do with technology,” Provenzano said.

But McClellan said that such technology has the potential to be hacked, and said that she would rather have later returns and err on the side of ballot integrity. Both candidates acknowledged that modernization takes money, and that the budget for the county clerk has always been lean, which will likely not change any time soon with county government watching its expenses in recent years.

“There needs to be modernization, but I’m not sure we’ll be where Cook County is, unless we go back to our constituents and say we’re going to need a boatload of money to do this,” McClellan said.

Provenzano pledged if elected to run a tight financial ship – as a County Board member he has been one of the louder voices in recent years to keep the county’s tax levy flat and reject the inflationary increase it is entitled to under the tax cap.

“Having a track record of getting stuff done is key,” Provenzano said.

McClellan chose running for clerk instead of running for re-election to her County Board seat, which expires this year. Provenzano has two more years on his County Board term, which expires in 2016. He will have to give up the County Board seat if he wins the election.

The clerk’s race will likely be decided with the primary. No Democratic candidate filed to run for the office, meaning the GOP primary winner will run unopposed unless the Democratic Party caucuses after the primary to select a candidate and gets the needed signatures by June 2.

Schultz is one of three longtime Republican countywide officeholders stepping down when their terms expire at the end of the year – Sheriff Keith Nygren and Treasurer Bill LeFew are not seeking re-election.

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