Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoes bill aiming to allow McHenry County Board chairman to create committees

WOODSTOCK – Gov. Bruce Rauner has vetoed a bill that aimed to give McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks the power to create standing committees and appoint members with the consent and approval of the board.

“We should not be codifying in state law carve-outs and special solutions that only apply to certain counties to account for local concerns,” Rauner said in a statement. “Passing state law on such specific question of local authority undermines local control and the ability to create rules as elected boards may deem appropriate.”

House Bill 171 – vetoed Friday in Springfield – applied to all Illinois counties with a population between 300,000 and 900,000 and would allow Franks and other county board chairmen to create standing committees and appoint members.

“While the county governance model introduced by this legislation may represent good practice and a healthy balance of power between the local officials for McHenry County, it is not appropriately addressed by state legislation,” Rauner said.

Franks said the governor’s veto was a big mistake.

“I think the governor’s rationale doesn’t make much sense,” Franks said. “The opponents of this were not telling the truth and wanting to empower and perpetuate a partisan political arena. The citizens rejected that by electing a popularly elected chairman.”

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 board. The rules required that the chairman appoint one member from each district to each committee.

In 2014, the board changed the rules and transferred the ability to create committees to the longest-standing members of each district.

This is not the first time the issue of local control has been a hot button in McHenry County.

An advisory referendum went out to voters in the Nov. 6, 2012, election that asked whether residents would want to create a county executive form of government for McHenry County. Voters rejected the referendum at the polls.

On Nov. 14, 20 board members signed a petition addressed to Rauner also asking the governor to veto the bill. 

“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 said. “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.”

Board members Michele Aavang, Mike Skala, Bob Nowak and Paula Yensen did not sign the petition to veto the bill.

State Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, hosted an online petition to gather signatures to fight the bill.

“A few years ago, the voters of McHenry County voted down by a 2-to-1 margin an effort to increase the powers of the leader of the McHenry County Board,” Reick said on his website promoting the petition. “The electorate was clear in their mandate. They do not want an all-powerful County Board chairman.”

In the lead-up to the 2016 primary election, Reick’s campaign for the 63rd District focused on Franks. Reick believes Franks is part of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s status quo in Springfield, pointing to Franks’ continued willingness to elect Madigan into leadership and support of Madigan’s House rules.

“If the county board chairman’s authorities are to be expanded, they should be expanded by the same people who gave them those powers to begin with, and they’re the people of McHenry County,” Reick told the Northwest Herald.

Franks said HB 171 – sponsored by state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, who served as the Kane County Board chairwoman 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.

“I thought that this was the codification of best practices,” Franks said. “I think this was a political decision by [Rauner]. ... That’s OK. We still beat them. We have a working majority of sensible, common sense county board members that want to work for the people, and we’re going to be just fine.” 

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