McCaleb: Time to let this bird fly

Only in McHenry County can a middle finger cause such a distraction in the middle of an important political campaign.

In 2002, it was a hefty tabby cat flipping the finger – er, paw – to voters in a mailer sent by Democrat Nancy Vazzano in her campaign for treasurer against incumbent Bill LeFew.

In 2013, it’s McHenry County Undersheriff and sheriff’s candidate Andrew Zinke giving the bird – or not – to local blogger Cal Skinner.

Skinner claims Zinke gave him the middle finger at Crystal Lake’s Independence Day parade back in July, and posted a photo to support that claim on his blog.

Zinke, who is one of three announced candidates to replace Sheriff Keith Nygren after Nygren retires at the end of his current term, denies Skinner’s claim and says that whatever the photo depicts was inadvertent.

Zinke went so far as to explain his side of the story in an email to county officials. Problem was, Zinke used his Sheriff’s Office email address to send his message, and he did so while he was on duty. Both possibly violate ethics rules prohibiting campaigning with taxpayer resources.

Skinner filed a complaint with the county’s Ethics Commission, arguing that Zinke violated the county’s ethics ordinance.

Zinke filed a countercomplaint alleging that Skinner’s original complaint was frivolous.

It’s all made for some interesting headlines, but it’s done little to push the campaign for sheriff forward.

Zinke faces a challenge in the March Republican Party primary from retired police commander Bill Prim. The winner of the primary will face independent candidate Jim Harrison in November’s general election. There’s still plenty of time for other candidates to jump into the race.

A lot of time and energy have been spent on this middle-finger issue that would be better spent on the real issues in this campaign.

As Nygren’s handpicked successor, Zinke essentially is the establishment candidate. If voters think Nygren has done a good job and want to continue his policies and practices, Zinke may be their choice.

Prim has the support of State’s Attorney Louis Bianchi. He says the Sheriff’s Office is top heavy with administrators and is run like a private club, with insiders given preferential treatment.

Harrison also says there is a culture of political favoritism within the department and promises to bring political independence to it.

There is plenty to debate here without focusing on such petty stuff.

Middle finger or no middle finger, it’s time to let this bird fly away.

• • •

Crystal Lake South High School and School District 155 can’t seem to annoy their neighbors along Amberwood Drive enough.

First, they built ginormous new bleachers and placed them too close to several residents’ properties according to city code, leading some neighbors to file suit. And now they’ve placed several portable toilets behind those towering bleachers, in the direct view of the neighbors’ homes.

Why doesn’t the school district just get it over with and move all of its garbage dumpsters back there too?

• • •

For the past couple of years, the Northwest Herald’s Editorial Board has been pushing the McHenry County Board to put a referendum on the ballot asking voters countywide whether they’d prefer to elect the County Board’s chairman at the ballot box.

Under the current system, voters elect County Board members by district, and then the elected County Board members choose their own chairman every two years. We’ve been strong proponents of voters being able to decide whether they’d prefer the status quo or whether they’d like to change the system.

So in an Aug. 22 “Our View” editorial, we congratulated the County Board for finally placing such a referendum on the March 2014 ballot. But our editorial went a step too far in saying that we’ve been longtime proponents of changing the system – having voters elect the board chairman at-large.

That’s not the case.

The Editorial Board, of which I’m a member, actually has not taken a position on the ballot question’s merits. There are strong arguments for both changing and maintaining the current system, and in the months leading up to the March election, we’ll explore those.

As it does before each election, our Editorial Board likely will make a recommendation on this referendum. But I and other Editorial Board members need to carefully examine all sides of the issue before doing so.

Thanks to McHenry County Board member Michael Skala for bringing the editorial’s discrepancy to our attention.

• Dan McCaleb of Crystal Lake is group editor of Shaw Media’s suburban publications, which includes the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603, or by email at Follow him on Twitter at @Dan_McCaleb.

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