Lawmakers launch petition opposing bill to empower McHenry County Board chairman

Bill would empower County Board chairman

State Rep. Tom Weber addresses the public during a "Coffee with your legislators" event held by the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce at Park Place Banquets on Dec. 11 in Crystal Lake.
State Rep. Tom Weber addresses the public during a "Coffee with your legislators" event held by the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce at Park Place Banquets on Dec. 11 in Crystal Lake.

A pair of Republican lawmakers have teamed up to gather signatures for a petition opposing a proposed bill that would effectively give the McHenry County Board Chairman executive power – something voters rejected at the polls years ago.

The petition – launched from the offices of state Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, and state Rep. Tom Weber, R-Lake Villa – is available online and targets House Bill 3317, legislation that would restructure power on the McHenry County Board, giving the chairman veto power and the authority to act without full approval of the board.

“In 2012, the voters of McHenry County resoundingly opposed a referendum that would have changed the county’s government structure to a County Executive form of government,” Reick said in a statement. “[There] are some Springfield politicians who want to disregard that public mandate and make those changes anyway.”

Reick is 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.

“Doesn’t that result matter?” Weber said in a statement. “If the motives behind HB 3317 are about what is in the best interests of taxpayers, then bring the question back to the residents of McHenry County for another vote.”

In February, state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, launched HB 3317 with a provision that 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.

The bill would give explicit authority to the chairman to choose not to spend money for budget line items appropriated by the county board.

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.

The bill has concerned McHenry County Board members.

In a letter sent to county board members, McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks said he shared his stance on the bill with McSweeney and state Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, who is chairman of the House Counties and Townships Committee.

In response, Yingling told Franks in an email that he has no intention to advance the bill as it stands.

“As the Counties and Townships Committee works to develop an omnibus bill to address a variety of topics, we welcome any further input from you and members of the County Board,” Yingling said.

McSweeney said he stands by everything included in the bill he introduced.

He later transferred chief sponsorship of the bill to Yingling. McSweeney still is a chief co-sponsor of the bill.

“It would give the ability not to spend money,” McSweeney said. “We have a county board that is not interested in cutting property taxes. They should be cutting property taxes a lot more than they have.”

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