WOODSTOCK – A majority of McHenry County Board members are concerned the passage of a bill on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk will give Chairman Jack Franks absolute power to appoint whomever he wants to committees – but the recently elected Democrat contends that it’s all political nonsense.
On Nov. 14, 20 County Board members signed a petition addressed to Rauner asking the governor to veto House Bill 171 – a measure that would allow Franks to appoint members and leadership to committees with the consent and approval of the County Board.
“McHenry County Board members sincerely request that you veto HB 171, and allow McHenry County to continue to operate local government based on decisions made by local voters,” the petition stated. “The bill appears to have been drafted with apparently one concern, removing the authority/minimizing the role of the McHenry County Board to set/assign committee assignments, and provide that power solely to the chairman of the board.”
County Board members Michele Aavang, Mike Skala, Bob Nowak and Paula Yensen did not sign the petition to veto the bill.
Franks chalked up the concern to political infighting.
“It’s 100 percent political,” Franks said. “All this bill does is implement checks and balances on the County Board. This is a good government measure, and these guys are trying to stop a good government measure because it’s me. The people who are against me were for it when it was someone else.”
Before Franks won his seat as chairman, the County Board’s rule book allowed the chairman to appoint the chairman, vice chairman and members of committees with the consent and approval of the County Board. The rules required that the chairman appoint one member from each district to each committee.
In 2014, the County Board changed the rules and transferred the ability to create committees to the longest-standing members of each district, said County Board member Joe Gottemoller, a former County Board chairman.
“This bill would give the elected chairman the authority to decide whether or not a committee exists,” Gottemoller said. “This is big. If this is signed and the governor approves it, Chairman Franks can decide the entire structure of the board. It’s not just who is on the committee – it’s if the committee exists.”
State Rep. Steve Reick blasted HB 171 on his website and even wrote a letter to Rauner on Nov. 13 asking the governor to veto it.
“This is a matter of local control,” Reick wrote. “If the authority of the County Board chairman is to be expanded, the voters of McHenry County should be the ones to do it.”
An advisory referendum went out to voters in the Nov. 6, 2012, election and asked whether they would want to create a county executive form of government for McHenry County.
Voters rejected the referendum at the polls.
County Board member Donna Kurtz pegged the bill as one step closer to giving the chairman absolute power.
“The primary focus of it, regardless of what anybody says, is to take the power of the County Board and give it to the chairman,” Kurtz said. “This is the first step in creating a one-man- rule type of government. That never serves the people in the community. This is just bad government.”
Franks said HB 171 – sponsored by state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, who served as the Kane County Board chairman from 2004 to 2012 – would allow him to build committees with members and leadership best suited to do a good job governing the county and serving voters.
“The goal is to have the best people running committees,” Franks said. “I want to have a merit-based system. Not political. Take the politics out of it and put the merits back in.”