WOODSTOCK – An advisory referendum question that McHenry County Board members said will be obvious for voters – whether the board should shrink from 24 members – turned out to be a tougher one for board members struggling over whether it should be asked.
In the end, the County Board voted Tuesday, 14-6, to put the nonbinding question on the Nov. 8 ballot, but not before 45 minutes of debate in which even members who ultimately voted in favor raised issues.
Supporters, such as Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake, said constituents have been asking for a voice to decrease the board’s size. Schofield in 2014 was chairwoman of a working group that examined the issue.
“Maybe if the public speaks, then board members will start listening,” she said.
But opposition took on several forms. To Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, the question comes without the due diligence of how it would affect the board’s ability to govern. Diane Evertsen, on the other hand, alleged that a reduction would mean even less representation for the rural western half of the county, which is covered by one district and its four board members.
“Not for one minute do I believe most people in District 6 are saying, ‘By God, we want less representation,’” said Evertsen, R-Harvard.
The proposed question that will go before voters was amended at the request of member Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, to specify that it will not be until after the 2020 U.S. Census that the County Board could legally pursue reducing its size. It does not specify a target size.
State law gives county boards a window after each decennial U.S. Census to alter its size or how representatives are divided among districts.
Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, proposed the referendum on the grounds that county government’s job can be done with fewer members. While three other collar-county boards shrank after the 2010 U.S. Census, the McHenry County Board resisted calls to do so.
Besides giving voters a voice, Gottemoller said an advisory referendum would nudge the County Board forward and get the needed work done before the 2020 Census.
“I think that if we’re going to change the size of this County Board, it’s going to take every minute of the next four years to do it,” Gottemoller said.
The County Board will be able after the 2020 U.S. Census to put a binding referendum to the voters, which if successful would take effect with the 2022 election.
While Vice Chairwoman Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary, stressed that she supports decreasing the County Board’s size, she was among several members who questioned the need and the cost of an advisory referendum. Barnes voted in favor of it.
“This is spending [taxpayer] money on something that we can’t do for years,” Barnes said.
However, member Anna May Miller, R-Cary, called the cost to add one question to a ballot a very minuscule one, and said such worries are essentially a cop-out.
“Either you want the people’s feedback … or you don’t,” Miller said.
The County Board’s size has stayed the same since 1972, ever since voters began directly electing its members after the new state constitution ended the practice of county boards made up of township supervisors. In 1992, the board went from three districts of eight members each to its current configuration of six, four-member districts.
How they voted
The McHenry County Board voted Tuesday, 14-6, to put an advisory question on the Nov. 8 ballot asking voters whether the board’s size should be decreased from 24 members.
Voting yes: Robert Martens Sr., R-Spring Grove; Anna May Miller, R-Cary; Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry; Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake; Michael Skala, R-Huntley; Larry Smith, R-Harvard; Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake; Chuck Wheeler, R-McHenry; Michele Aavang, R-Woodstock; Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary; Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake; Andrew Gasser, R-Fox River Grove; Don Kopsell, R-Crystal Lake; and Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake.
Voting no: Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake; Mary McCann, R-Woodstock; Robert Nowak, R-Lake in the Hills; Michael Rein, R-Woodstock; Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard; and John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake.
Members Jeff Thorsen, R-Crystal Lake; Tina Hill, R-Woodstock; and John Jung, R-Woodstock, were absent. Wheeler participated by phone. James Heisler, R-Crystal Lake, attended the meeting but had to leave shortly before the vote.