Once again, the McHenry County Board is discussing whether to shrink its size from 24 members.
As a new committee begins exploring the question, perhaps the de-evolution of County Board meetings into three-ring, four-hour circuses should be Exhibit A.
Board members who oppose slimming down the size undoubtedly will repeat what they’ve said before – the board is fine just the way it is. But after seven years of covering it, and having covered two other county boards before this one, I can say with the certainty that experience brings that it’s not.
In recent years, I’ve documented in print and on my old blog how meetings of the full County Board and its standing committees have gotten ridiculously long, ridiculously complicated, and, well, just plain ridiculous.
Meetings stretch on forever because there’s neither self-control among members nor control by leaders. The length and passion of debate is inversely proportional to the importance of the subject at hand. And debates are becoming more and more like mixed martial arts matches rather than spirited disagreement.
County staff who keep things running have been sick and tired of it for years.
It’s not the fault of any one person, but the shared fault of 24. And it’s not an issue with Chairwoman Tina Hill, who does her best within reason to keep people on topic. This problem took root long before her 2012 election.
It’s the committee chairpeople who stare blankly into space while they allow members to go off-topic and stay there for as long as they please. If members want to talk about their pet cat or their mother’s famous banana bread, they can go on and on and on.
There are the members who question every last decision staff makes and every last penny spent, clearly crossing the line separating fiscal prudence and micromanagement. And, again, the longer the time spent or the louder the outrage expressed, the more likely the expense adds up to one nickel over 10 years for each taxpayer.
Of course, there are the members who, when asked what time it is, will tell you how to build a clock. Ask them a yes-or-no question, and in the time they take to deliver their dissertation, you can drive two miles to downtown Woodstock, buy a coffee from Starbucks, drink it on premises and get back in time for closing arguments. And then the question gets asked again because the board member forgot to answer it during said dissertation.
Add in the ever-growing personality conflicts, political vendettas masquerading as doing the public’s work, typical election-year posturing and other silliness, and it totals quite a sum of dysfunction. To quote the British statesman Ozzy Osbourne, they’re going off the rails on a crazy train.
I anticipate that a few board members will try to make the wiseguy argument that Mr. Craver doesn’t know what he’s talking about because his ugly mug doesn’t grace nearly as many committee meetings as it used to.
And they would be right. Not just about the ugly part, but my attendance. Because it’s rarely worth it anymore.
Every working man and woman knows what it’s like to be stuck in the Meeting That Never Ends while the stack of papers on their desk grows taller and taller. If I attend three or four Meetings That Never End every week, I can’t get the other things done that my editor and my readers expect of me. It blows my mind that county staff who have to sit through them all find the time to do anything else.
Calling board members after a meeting rather than wasting half the day for a 10-inch, page 3 story makes more sense. And given that I rarely see the county’s bloggers at meetings anymore, I think I’m not the only one who has had this epiphany.
Ironically, this newfound crazy-is-the-new-normal routine was on full display at the first meeting of the Reorganization Committee created to explore whether to trim the County Board’s size. My July 24 story was polite – it was chaos. I could have stripped naked and sung all four verses of the national anthem, and nobody would have noticed.
The committee asked county staff to examine what other boards do when it comes to size and structure. But looking at other boards is a waste of time when this County Board is in dire need of taking a long and thorough look at itself.
Maybe the class size has gotten too big to manage.
Maybe meetings have become unnecessarily protracted and out of control because members don’t have enough to do. And for goodness’ sake, don’t try to find more things to do – our wallets and our liberty always suffer when government decides it’s bored.
So let’s ask – if there’s not enough work for 24 members, or it’s too much work to corral 24 of them, why not consider fewer?
• Senior reporter Kevin P. Craver has won more than 70 state and national journalism awards during his 13 years with the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4618 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.