Chairwoman won't consider McHenry County Board committee's choice for vacancy

WOODSTOCK – A vacant Mental Health Board seat has sparked a showdown between County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill and the committee in charge of filling it.

Within minutes of the Public Health and Human Services Committee's 4-0 vote Tuesday morning to recommend banker Jeff Thorsen to fill the seat, Hill stunned members by telling them she would not allow the nominee to advance to a full County Board vote alongside a candidate that Hill, R-Woodstock, will recommend herself.

The announcement was one of two political bombshells at the meeting, the other being that Hill will ask the County Board to remove Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry, from the committee, citing a conflict of interest with her job. Salgado is human resources director for Pioneer Center for Human Services, which receives Mental Health Board funding.

The four committee members who attended expressed outrage at Hill, alleging that she is trying to stop reform of a Mental Health Board that has received considerable criticism over the past year for its management and spending practices.

"The credibility we put in you when we voted for you is really in jeopardy," committee Chairwoman Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, told Hill, who was elected chairwoman last December by the board's 24 members.

John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, walked out of the meeting, and Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, disparaged comments Hill made in her inaugural State of the County Address regarding a new era in county government.

"Instead of a new day, it looks like we're going to be plunged into darkness," Walkup said. "I hope everyone brought batteries for their flashlights, because it's going to be a long, dark night."

Hill said she anticipates that both votes – approving her candidate and replacing Salgado – will be on next Tuesday's board agenda. Board rules require her to reveal her nominee to the County Board by Thursday for a vote at its next meeting.

Critics in recent years have alleged that the Mental Health Board has grown into a bureaucracy that spends too much property-tax revenue on administration and overhead that should be disbursed directly to agencies working with the mentally ill and disabled, which the board was created by voters to do.

Among the more vocal critics has been Kurtz, who upon appointment as committee chairwoman in January spearheaded putting new faces on the nine-member Mental Health Board. The County Board agreed with the committee's recommendations in March to install three newcomers for three open seats and toss out the Mental Health Board president.

But the County Board a week ago rejected the committee's original pick to fill this latest vacancy – former McHenry County College trustee Scott Summers – on a 6-18 vote.

Immediately after that May 7 vote, Hill invoked her right under board rules to bring forth a candidate of her own, citing the overwhelming rejection. But Kurtz pledged to reconvene the committee to choose another from six other candidates whom Summers beat. Hill had said Friday she was leaning toward allowing both recommendations to go forward.

Hill after the meeting defended her decisions, and said she has no intention of trying to replace Kurtz as committee chairwoman.

"I think the job that Donna's doing is laudable. The manner in which she's going about doing it is off-putting to all players," Hill said.

As for Salgado, Hill called her placement on the committee "the epitome of conflict of interest" because she works for Pioneer Center. Hill also pointed out that Salgado wanted to get off the committee, which was not one of her choices for assignment after the November election.

Salgado said she did not seek reappointment because she is tired of the conflict question always arising, despite opinions from the State's Attorney's Office concluding that it does not constitute a conflict when it comes to Mental Health Board votes and other issues.

But she said she will fight this reassignment because of the timing. Salgado has served on the public health committee, and has worked for Pioneer Center, since her 2000 election.

"I'm very curious. Why now? Timing is everything. What's so different now?" Salgado said.

Salgado also questioned Hill about conflict-of-interest allegations against other County Board members. While she didn't name any names, the public in recent months has.

Conservationists alleged that the appointment of zoning attorney Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, as chairman of the Planning and Development Committee constituted a pro-development conflict. And residents living along non-dedicated roads have alleged that their quest for road and bridge tax funds has been held up by Transportation Committee Chairwoman Anna May Miller, R-Cary, because she is married to Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Bob Miller and works for the department.

Absent from Tuesday's meeting were the three committee members who voted against Summers.

Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, said her absence was strictly related to her job as executive director of the United Way of Central Kane County, and Mary McCann, R-Woodstock, was chairing a Finance and Audit Committee meeting at the same time. Miller, R-Cary, has been recovering from a car accident and could not be reached for comment.

What happened

The McHenry County Board Public Health and Human Services Committee voted Tuesday, 4-0, to recommend appointing Crystal Lake City Council member Jeff Thorsen to a vacant seat on the Mental Health Board.

But County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, said she will not allow the nomination to advance. She said last week she would advance her own nominee after the County Board crushed the committee's last choice – former McHenry County College trustee Scott Summers – on a 6-18 vote.

Hill also said she will ask the County Board to remove Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry, from the committee. Hill said Salgado's job as human resources director for Pioneer Center for Human Services, which receives Mental Health Board funding, as a conflict of interest.

What's next

Both recommendations – Hill's nominee and Salgado's removal – will likely go before the County Board at its next meeting.

The County Board next meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

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