The Northwest Herald recently issued an endorsement of the countywide referendum on how the County Board chairman is elected.
I was disappointed to see this endorsement and encourage you to vote “no” to the referendum.
As a member of the McHenry County Board, I voted to put this question to the voters because I do feel that county residents need to have their voices heard on this issue. I will represent the county regardless of how this question is decided, but I have been vocal with my opinion that I do not believe a countywide elected County Board chairman is in the best interest of the residents who live here.
There are many reasons why a “no” vote is the best choice for McHenry County citizens:
• A “no” vote prevents the County Board from increasing in size to 25 members. By voting “no,” the size of the County Board will remain at 24 members. I believe 24 board members is already too many members for our county of about 300,000 people. Lake County, for example, has 21 board members who preside over a countywide population of more than 700,000. We should be decreasing the size of the County Board, not increasing it.
• A “no” vote prevents additional salary/benefit costs from being passed along to taxpayers. By voting “no,” there will be no additional costs passed along to taxpayers for the 25th member’s salary and benefits. By adding one new board member, the additional cost for salary and benefits would be between $20,000 and $40,000. These tax dollars can and should be put to a better use than for the addition of another elected politician.
• A “no” vote preserves accountability of the board chairman. Today, there are two layers of accountability for the chairman. First, that person must get elected in their respective district (McHenry County has six districts). If the chairman is not doing a good job, they are held accountable by the voters who will choose whether they should be re-elected. Secondly, the current chairman is accountable to the other 23 County Board members. The members of the County Board want the best and most qualified individual leading the county in day-to-day operations, and we continually evaluate how the chairman is performing his/her duties. The 23 members are the harshest critics of the chairman and demand it is someone who will lead and work with us to move the county forward.
• A “no” vote preserves the ability to replace a poorly performing chairman after two years. Today, the chairman is elected every two years. If the referendum is approved, the elected chairman is in office for four years. If the chairman turns out to be someone who likes the title but not the work, we are stuck with poor leadership for four years.
• A “no” vote protects the public and board members from special interest groups and corruption taking root in McHenry County. A countywide race easily could cost more than $150,000. Candidates would be limited to the very wealthy or to those who can raise large sums of money from special interest groups, businesses and private citizens. Public financial disclosure records in Kane County show that in the last two election cycles the candidates spent around $150,000 to get elected County Board chairman. Raising that kind of money is difficult and lends itself to bad politics. It also makes it all but impossible to unseat an incumbent chairperson, who has locked down funding from key donors. We need to look no further than Cook County, where the Stroger family held the position for 16 years. Our county deserves good government; not politicians beholden to campaign contributors and special interest groups.
I have lived in McHenry County my entire life because it is a great place to live, raise my family and operate my business. I feel very strongly that the County Board chairman elected at large question will not make McHenry County a better place. I truly believe electing our chairman in a countywide election has real potential to put McHenry County on the wrong path and out of reach of good, sound government.
Please vote “no” in the March 18 election on the chairman elected at large question.
• Michael Skala is a McHenry County Board member who represents District 5.