Local Government

County Board chairman gets tiebreaker vote under new law

H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com 
Jack Franks was sworn in as the first popularly elected County Board Chairman on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. The McHenry County Board shot down on Tuesday Franks' request for advisory tax freeze referendum.
H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com Jack Franks was sworn in as the first popularly elected County Board Chairman on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. The McHenry County Board shot down on Tuesday Franks' request for advisory tax freeze referendum.

A new law aimed at preventing candidates from holding two seats on the same county board also has given McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks a tiebreaker vote on issues.

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday signed House Bill 6418 into law, which forbids a candidate from holding both a popularly elected chairmanship and a county board seat at the same time. The bill, filed by former Republican state Rep. Mike Tryon, was inspired by County Board member Michael Walkup running in the 2016 election for both his County Board seat and the chairmanship.

But the law also gives chairpeople of county boards with 300,000 or more people, such as McHenry, the ability to vote to break ties on the board floor. The population cutoff was 450,000 before the new legislation.

Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, ran for both seats so that he would still get to vote on issues, just like the old system when the chairman was elected by the 24-member board and not the voters. Tryon, who held the County Board chairmanship before his 2004 election to the Illinois House, alleged that Walkup was attempting to exploit a loophole that violated the spirit of what the County Board and the voters wanted in a popularly elected chairman.

Walkup won re-election to his seat representing the board’s District 3, but lost the chairmanship to Franks, D-Marengo, who was sworn in last month. November’s election was the first in which the voters and not the board members themselves elected the chairman, following a successful 2014 referendum.

While state law allows elected officials to hold more than one office at the same time, a tangled web of state laws and attorney general’s opinions dictate which ones are compatible and which ones are not. 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 under the law by population, the logic being that there are fewer people to hold office.

County Board members Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, and Michael Rein, R-Woodstock, are running in the April 4 election for the incompatible offices of High School District 155 school board and Woodstock mayor – they will have to resign from the County Board if elected.

Walkup is running for Nunda Township supervisor – while the office is, in fact, compatible, he said he will resign from the County Board if elected.

At just fewer than 7,000, Illinois has far more units of local government than any other state.

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