WOODSTOCK – McHenry County Board member Paula Yensen is getting another shot at chairing a committee after having one taken from her by a last-minute vote.
One of the first issues that could appear on the new Human Resources Committee’s agenda might be questions about two new hires made by new County Board Chairman Jack Franks – which he said is absolutely no issue at all.
County Board members on Tuesday are scheduled to vote on reconstituting the committee. An ad-hoc rules committee convened by Franks, D-Marengo, shortly after his December swearing-in proposed to consolidate it into the Finance and Audit Committee, but the full board spared it, citing its importance.
The Committee on Committees, which met just before Thursday morning’s Committee of the Whole, recommended that Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, chair human resources. Franks originally had proposed her, with the committee’s backing, to lead the Public Health and Community Services Committee, citing her 35 years in social service.
However, the Republican-dominated board voted to demote her to vice chairman and give the chairmanship to Chuck Wheeler, R-McHenry, who is president and founder of a health insurance business. The vote took Yensen, the sole Democratic member of the 24-member board not counting the chairman, by surprise.
One of the proposed human resources members, Donna Kurtz, took aim Thursday at two new employees in the administrative office. Franks introduced Bridget Geenen as an executive assistant, and Oliver Serafini as communications officer – essentially the same roles they had when they worked under Franks when he was a state representative.
Franks told the County Board that Geenen’s roles will include constituent outreach, preparing the board agendas and other functions, and that Serafini, while working predominantly for the Division of Transportation, also would do communications work and outreach for other departments. Both, Franks said, would be available to do constituent and communication work for individual County Board members upon request.
Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, said the hires should have gone through the committee process, and told Yensen that she wants to address the issue when Human Resources meets for the first time.
“Imagine my horror in hearing that that was not done. It gives the appearance, the very strong appearance, of patronage and even cronyism,” Kurtz said.
Franks after the meeting defended the hirings as no different from other countywide elected officials, who have the power to hire and fire in their own offices. His election on Nov. 8 was the first time that voters popularly elected the chairman after a successful 2014 referendum.
The hires do not increase the county’s personnel count because of previous staffing changes and shifting of responsibilities, and their total salaries represent a net decrease of $50,000 in personnel costs, County Administrator Peter Austin said.
“I’m proud to provide additional services to taxpayers while saving over $50,000. It says we’re doing more with less and we have two individuals with a long track record of excellence,” Franks said.
Geenen’s $54,000 salary will be paid out of the county general fund, while Serafini’s $48,000 salary will be split between the general fund and the transportation division’s budget. Austin said no county employees were terminated to make room for the hires.
Besides Yensen and Kurtz, the Human Resources Committee also will consist of members Tom Wilbeck, R-Barrington Hills, Don Kopsell, R-Crystal Lake, Kay Bates, R-McHenry, Michael Rein, R-Woodstock, and Mary McCann, R-Woodstock, should the County Board on Tuesday approve the assignments.
The McHenry County Board holds its voting meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.