Inspired by the first-ever race for McHenry County Board chairman, state Rep. Mike Tryon filed a bill to prevent someone from running for both board chairman and board member at the same time.
House Bill 6418, if passed, would forbid someone from holding both offices simultaneously, as County Board member Michael Walkup is attempting to do. Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, is running for his board seat as well as against incumbent Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake.
Tryon, who had served as County Board chairman prior to his 2004 election to the General Assembly, called the situation an attempted “power grab” that needs to be stopped. Because state law does not allow an elected chairman in a county the size of McHenry to vote on anything, Walkup said he wants to hold both seats so he can still cast votes on important issues.
“Board members decided the new chairman would have supervisory powers rather than decision making powers as they relate to typical County Board votes. It was never their intention that one person would serve as a member and as the chair simultaneously. We need to close that loophole,” Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, said.
If approved by legislators, the law will not affect this election – Walkup cannot legally be removed as a candidate. But should he prevail and win both seats, Walkup if he seeks re-election in 2020 would have to choose to run for one seat or the other.
Walkup called the bill a red-herring effort to sabotage his campaign. He said what he is doing is no different from the former power setup on the County Board in which the chairman is also a voting member.
“Was it a ‘power grab’ when [Tryon] was chairman and he voted on issues for his district? Is it a power grab that Joe Gottemoller does the same thing?” Walkup said.
He also argued that existing statute proves that state lawmakers wanted to give county boards the option. State law allows for county board chairmen to be popularly elected to two-year instead of four-year terms, provided that the chairman also is a sitting member of the board. County Board members rejected that option, among other things because state law does not address what to do if a candidate wins the chairmanship but loses the race for his or her board seat.
Tryon, who is endorsing Gottemoller in the election, said he filed the bill of his own accord and was not asked by anybody to do so.
This election is the first in which McHenry County voters will directly elect the chairman, following a successful 2014 referendum ending the long-standing practice of board members electing the chairman from among themselves following each November election. Gottemoller, the last chairman to be chosen by the 24-member board, was elected chairman in 2014.
The size of the board after the election will depend on its outcome. Should Gottemoller be elected, he said he will give up his board seat and the board will be 25 members once a replacement is named. Should Walkup win both races, the board will stay at 24 members. The County Board amended its rules last year to make sure that holding two offices will not result in a salary and benefits above the $82,200 salary of the chairman.
A tangled web of state statutes dictate which elected offices can be held simultaneously and which ones cannot – for example, a McHenry County Board member also can hold an elected position in township government, but cannot serve on a city council or a school board. Prohibitions typically decrease with population, the argument being that there are fewer people to hold all the needed offices.
Tryon’s bill also makes a change clarifying that elected chairmen would be able to vote to break a tie. The way the law reads now, only elected chairmen in counties with more than 450,000 people can break ties on the board.