Local Government

Bill will empower County Board to remove appointees from commissions

WOODSTOCK – Collar county board chairpeople angry over the Metra Board’s mishandling of back-to-back scandals found frustration as well when they asked their representatives to resign.

They discovered after the 2010 scandal surrounding former Metra CEO Phil Pagano that while their county boards had the power to appoint their representatives to the Metra Board, they had no legal authority to remove them should they refuse to step down.

The problem is hardly unique to one mass-transit board. While the McHenry County Board appoints about 250 people to at least 35 boards and commissions, many of which have multimillion dollar budgets, its ability to remove appointees is questionable at best. For some boards, no such power exists. Others allow for removal in cases of “abuse or neglect,” but the law offers no concrete definition of what rises to such an offense.

In many cases, a county board’s only recourse if it wants to remove underperforming appointees is to ask them to resign, and if they refuse, wait until their term expires to appoint someone new. A bill approved by lawmakers last week is set to change that.

Senate Bill 3552 gives larger counties the ability to draft standards of conduct that appointees have to honor, and provides a mechanism by which violators can be removed. It is headed for Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk for final approval.

While the bill began at the behest of the Lake County Board, the McHenry County Board supported it, Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, said. One of Hill’s priorities upon her election in December 2012 was improving the County Board's accountability over the commissions to which it appoints. One of her first requests was for the State’s Attorney’s Office to compile a list of all statutes that govern how appointees are dismissed.

“I think you’ve got to be able to know that your interests are being represented on a board,” Hill said. “If you see one of your board members not doing the job, you want to have the ability to make that change.”

The law is modeled off standards of conduct that the Lake County Board adopted last fall for its 300 appointees to 70 boards and commissions. It allows county boards with 300,000 or more residents to adopt standards for accountability, fiscal responsibility, transparency, efficiency and ethics. In short, a county board can remove appointees not just over ethical lapses, but also if their boards are too profligate with taxpayer money or conducting public business behind closed doors.

An appointee can be removed, after getting a hearing, by a two-thirds vote, which for the McHenry County Board is 16 of its 24 members.

The Lake County Board, after creating the standards, asked state lawmakers to create a mechanism by which they can be enforced. Republican Sens. Pamela Althoff, whose district covers part of Lake County, and Karen McConnaughay, former chairwoman of the Kane County Board, were chief co-sponsors.

Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, a Republican, said the bill will “create a culture of accountability” for appointees to local government.

“This is a significant achievement in ensuring every appointed board is held to the highest possible standard,” Lawlor said in a statement.

Drafting the McHenry County Board’s standards of conduct would be the responsibility of its Management Services Committee, which is in charge of revising board rules and policies. Chairwoman Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, said she will put development of said rules on the agenda once the bill becomes law.

“I think that’s good fiscal transparency. We need to have checks and balances of how people in appointed positions provide financial oversight. It’s just good government and a method of accountability for people who are in these appointed positions,” Yensen said.

The McHenry County Board over the years has butted heads when its priorities and those of the boards to which they appoint have conflicted.

It clashed with the Board of Health in 2005 over alleged mismanagement at Animal Control, especially after the health board created a clerical job for its embattled director after her resignation. County Board members have raised issues over the years with the size, scope and spending of the Mental Health Board, which has since come under new management.

The McHenry County Board did not join those asking for their Metra Board representatives to resign after the Pagano scandal and the subsequent 2013 scandal surrounding the departure of former CEO Alex Clifford. The term of county representative Jack Schaffer expires at the end of the month, and he is not seeking reappointment. The County Board is scheduled to vote Tuesday morning on appointing former County Board member Marc Munaretto to succeed him.

What it means
Senate Bill 3552, if signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn, will give the McHenry County Board the power to create standards of conduct for its appointees to boards and commissions, and a mechanism by which those who violate it can be removed.

On the Net
You can read the text of Senate Bill 3552 at www.ilga.gov

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