Local Government

New law empowers McHenry County Board to remove appointees

A new state law will make it easier for the McHenry County Board to throw appointed members out of its numerous boards and commissions.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed Senate Bill 3552 into law Monday, which gives larger counties the ability to draft standards of conduct that people whom the board appoints to subordinate bodies have to honor. It also provides a mechanism by which violators can be removed. It sailed through the General Assembly earlier this year without a single opposing vote.

The law allows county boards with 300,000 or more residents to adopt standards for accountability, fiscal responsibility, transparency, efficiency and ethics, meaning appointees can be removed not just for ethical lapses, but for offenses such as being too profligate with taxpayer money or violating the Open Meetings Act or other open-government laws.

An appointee can be removed, after getting a hearing, by a two-thirds vote, which for the McHenry County Board is 16 of its 24 members. The law does not empower county boards to remove their own members or anyone else popularly elected.

County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill lauded the bill becoming law. She called it “ludicrous” that county government’s sole realistic recourse for accountability over commissions – some of which have multimillion-dollar budgets funded through local property taxes – has been to wait until terms expire to replace underperforming appointees.

“I’m very pleased with it. I think the appointing body should be able to remove an appointee for cause, so we can have a true measure of accountability over them,” Hill, R-Woodstock, said Tuesday morning.

For many boards and commissions, no legal mechanism existed to remove members. State law allowed members of some boards to be removed in cases of “abuse or neglect,” but offered no concrete definition of what rises to such an offense.

McHenry County government appoints about 250 people to at least 35 boards and commissions. While the issue of appointments came to a head in recent years with back-to-back scandals on the Metra Board, the County Board in recent years has butted heads with its Mental Health Board and the Board of Health.

Although the law does not take effect until Jan. 1, the board’s Management Services Committee will soon begin work on drafting standards of conduct, committee Chairwoman Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, said.

“I think this will offer some checks and balances as to how committees will conduct themselves, and we will have the ability to do what’s necessary and what’s in the best interests of the community regarding a commission member’s performance,” Yensen said.

The county ordinance, like the new law itself, will likely be modeled to great extent off of standards of conduct that the Lake County Board adopted last year for its 300 appointees to 70 boards and commissions. After it created the standards, it asked state lawmakers to create a mechanism by which they can be enforced.

Several collar county board chairmen asked their representatives on the Metra Board to resign in 2010, alleging they were negligent in their oversight of former Metra CEO Phil Pagano. But while several voluntarily stepped down under pressure, county boards found to their dismay that while they had the power to appoint Metra representatives, they had no legal authority to remove them should they refuse to step down.

The McHenry County Board clashed with the Board of Health in 2005 over alleged mismanagement at Animal Control, especially after the health board created a clerical job for its embattled director after her resignation. Questions of competency arose again the following year over the health board's handling of the botched investigation into an alleged brain cancer cluster in McCullom Lake.

County Board members have raised issues over the years with the size, scope and spending of the Mental Health Board, which has since come under new management. In the case of the Mental Health Board, change came last year when a round of vacancies coincidentally was timed with a shakeup that put a reform-minded majority on the committee in charge of appointing its members.

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