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New bill would strip McHenry County Board members' health benefits to pay for chairman's staff

State Rep. McSweeney’s House Bill 3317 focused on McHenry County Board

A new bill proposed in Springfield would strip health benefits from McHenry County Board members and create a pool of money for the board chairman to pay for his staff, state Rep. David McSweeney said.

That’s one of the provisions of House Bill 3317, proposed legislation the Barrington Hills Republican filed Friday.

“I’m confident people want to see property taxes reduced,” McSweeney told the Northwest Herald. “I’m confident people want to see health benefits taken away from professional politicians.”

In 2018, 19 County Board members took health insurance benefits. The cost of plans ranged from $7,500 to $27,000.

If passed, the bill immediately would give the chairman veto authority and effectively shake up the government’s power structure – a transformation board members oppose.

“This is the exact form of government McHenry County voters voted down by referendum in 2012,” District 4 representative Pam Althoff said.

She was referring to a referendum question that appeared on McHenry County ballots in 2012 that asked whether voters wanted an executive form of county government. A majority of residents voted against the idea and killed the referendum. To Althoff and her colleagues, McSweeney’s bill ignores what the voters wanted.

“Actually it’s worse. It makes county government less transparent and places too much authority in one person’s hands,” she said.

Similar to McSweeney’s township abolishment bill, the legislation is centered on McHenry County.

A provision would give the board chairman veto power to outright reject a proposed budget, veto specific line items of that budget or reduce line items in that budget. An override would require a three-fifths majority of board members – much like how it works in the office of the Illinois governor.

Under Illinois law, the county board chairman, has limited powers above board members. The chairman sets the agenda for board meetings, runs the meetings and assigns committee chairmanships with the consent of the full board. The chairman also serves as the board’s liaison to other governments, giving him more political muscle.

McSweeney’s bill would give “explicit authority” to the chairman to choose not to spend money for budget line items appropriated by the county board.

Another provision of the bill, McSweeney said, would allow the chairman to rebate money to taxpayers from county surpluses exceeding 150 percent of the previous year’s budget without going through the full board for approval.

The bill also would allow the chairman to:

• Eliminate advisory committees or commissions.

• Approve all appropriation expenditures before they are paid.

• Appoint an inspector general to investigate waste, fraud and abuse.

McSweeney’s bill would immediately terminate the office of the county recorder and the county auditor, requiring the county to bring in a nationally recognized public accounting firm to audit spending.

McHenry County Board members are concerned.

“This gives the chairman more power than the governor,” District 6 representative Jim Kearns said. “This isn’t about [County Board Chairman] Jack Franks, even though he’s participated in this bill. It’s about the unintended consequences.”

Franks may have the best intentions to use the powers of the bill to better McHenry County, Kearns said, but there’s no telling what the next chairman does.

“The next guy would have the power to abuse it,” Kearns said. “The county will be bankrupt in a matter of months. Where does that bring us? This is not good government. This is why people don’t trust government.”

The Northwest Herald reported details of the bill before McSweeney filed it. News of the forthcoming legislation raised questions about whether Franks worked with McSweeney to develop the bill.

McSweeney said Franks reviewed earlier versions of the legislation and offered input. The chairman and lawmaker discussed the bill the Sunday before it was filed, McSweeney said.

Franks confirmed that he offered suggestions, particularly the provision giving the county board the power to appoint an inspector general.

“I gave him a lot of good government stuff,” Franks said. “We need to improve our county government. It’s healthy to have ideas.”

McSweeney said he didn’t build the bill for Franks.

“Regardless of what Jack wants or what the board wants,” McSweeney said, “I work for my constituents.”

McSweeney said this legislation would open a window for a Republican to defeat Franks in the next County Board election – if a candidate campaigns on using the powers in the bill to lower property taxes.

“This is the best opportunity for the Republican Party to beat Jack Franks,” McSweeney said.

Franks said he doesn’t take it personally, and he’s not upset about the lawmaker’s comments.

“If he wants someone else to run on this, that’s fine,” Franks said. “That’s the wonderful thing about America and this system of government – they’re entitled to do that.”

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