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Demanding a seat at the table

Committee formed to raise formal concerns about proposed state laws

McHenry County Board Member Jim Kearns discusses a resolution regarding Illinois House Bill 0348 during a Committee of the Whole meeting on Feb. 14.
McHenry County Board Member Jim Kearns discusses a resolution regarding Illinois House Bill 0348 during a Committee of the Whole meeting on Feb. 14.

If McHenry County is going to be used as a legislative guinea pig to test the effectiveness of new laws, McHenry County Board members want to be a part of the bill-building process.

Illinois lawmakers including state Rep. David McSweeney in recent months have proposed legislation targeting McHenry County. One of those bills is House Bill 348 – a bill that would give McHenry County voters the power to eliminate townships at the polls and transfer the responsibilities those townships carried to the county.

McSweeney filed the bill with no input from McHenry County Board representatives.

“It goes to show some people don’t think through their actions very well, and we’re left holding the bag," said District 5 representative Michael Skala. "It’s very frustrating.”

In February, McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks created the Ad Hoc Committee on County Structure and Best Practices – a place where board members can assemble concerns in a formal way and inform legislators of their stance on issues.

“I put this together to encourage open and transparent government to get people together and share their ideas,” Franks said. “I like best practice, and I want to hear other ideas.” 

A resurrected version of a previous bill former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed in his final days in office, HB 348 would create a world where the responsibilities of eliminated townships – particularly taking care of roads – would transfer to the county.

It's a scenario that has raise a very simple question among County Board: How?

“No one on the committee is against consolidation, but they’re also for doing it in the most effective way to save people money,” said District 2 representative Carolyn Schofield. “If you don’t have a plan, how do you know you’ll be more efficient?”

Before McSweeney filed each of his township bills, the Barrington Hills Republican had no meetings with county board members. Before he filed House Bill 3317 – legislation that would imbue the county board chairman with far-reaching executive power – McSweeney had conversations with one board member: Franks.

At a recent county board meeting, Franks, a former state legislator, said trying to get a lawmaker to listen to county officials is "sort of like beating our heads against the wall and hoping something changes."

That's not good enough, Schofield said.

​"We need to be part of the conversation,” she said. “Let’s work together to figure out the solutions.” 

The committee plans to draft a resolution outlining all concerns about legislation in the coming months to present to legislators.

"We’ve been very reactionary to legislation that’s been coming out of Springfield," Skala said. "I would like to have some kind of documentation that the board can use to give to legislators to address all the issues that keep coming up on townships."

The Ad Hoc Committee on County Structure and Best Practices will next meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

The committee will meet two hours before the county board meets for a regular meeting at 7 p.m.

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