Last Mental Health Board vacancy filled

WOODSTOCK – With little debate, the McHenry County Board filled the last remaining vacancy on a Mental Health Board that has undergone significant reform and change.

The County Board voted Tuesday evening, 17-4, to appoint Huntley attorney Sam Melei to the Mental Health Board, bringing it back to a full nine members for the first time in more than eight months. The board over a year of explosive change has undergone almost a complete turnover of its membership and its administrative staff.

Two of the opposing votes came from dissenting members of the Public Health and Human Services Committee that recommended Melei on a 4-3 split. Committee Chairwoman Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, and member Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, voted no, and were joined by board members Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, and Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard.

Melei could not be reached for comment Wednesday. He was one of five candidates who applied to fill the vacancy.

The Mental Health Board is tasked with helping the county’s mentally ill and developmentally disabled, mainly through a property tax levy it disburses to qualifying social service agencies. But new board members are grappling with shrinking revenues that have forced cuts long sought by critics who have alleged that past boards allowed the agency to become a top-heavy bureaucracy that spent too much on administration, overhead and a large headquarters it did not need.

The board at its peak employed about 50 people when the County Board gave it permission in 2010 to borrow $4 million in economic stimulus bonds to build a 22,000-square-foot expansion next to its 8,000-square-foot Crystal Lake headquarters. It cut its workforce this year from 33 to 19 as a result of budget cuts prompted mostly by sagging property tax revenues.

Melei’s status as the vice chairman of the Democratic Party of McHenry County did not come up in the public health committee meeting or during Tuesday evening’s vote – all but two of the County Board’s 24 members are Republicans.

The vacancy filled Tuesday was supposed to be filled last November, but the public health committee could not agree on a candidate.

The new Mental Health Board is working to create a mission and vision statement, and is searching for a permanent executive director – interim directors have been filling the gap left when the last full-time director left in November 2012.

How they voted

The McHenry County Board voted Tuesday evening, 17-4, to appoint attorney Sam Melei to the last remaining vacant seat on the Mental Health Board.

Voting no were Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, and Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard.

Members Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry, and Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary, were absent.

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