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Investigation news leads to McHenry County Board fallout for Franks

Franks allegations lead to changes in chairman’s authority under new ethics ordinance

McHenry County Board chairman Jack Franks listens to public comment Feb. 13 during a Committee of the Whole meeting by the McHenry County Board at the McHenry County Administration Building in Woodstock.
McHenry County Board chairman Jack Franks listens to public comment Feb. 13 during a Committee of the Whole meeting by the McHenry County Board at the McHenry County Administration Building in Woodstock.

McHenry County Board members and members of the public took County Board Chairman Jack Franks to task Tuesday over a recently disclosed Illinois State Police investigation into alleged misconduct.

Several of Franks’ political adversaries took the opportunity to call for reducing the role of the chairman in a new ethics ordinance and to question whether he should face any restrictions in light of his being banned from entering the state Capitol building without a police escort.

“I am sure you agree the egregious allegations placed upon you, Mr. Chairman, are most disturbing,” said board member John Reinert, R, District 2. “I hope you find a way to clear your name, Jack, and remove the dark cloud bestowed upon this board and the people of McHenry County.”

After being in limbo for months, board members took action at its Tuesday meeting on a new ethics ordinance mandated by state statute. These state-mandated rules include bans on engaging in prohibited political activity and accepting gifts from prohibited sources.

However, board member Jim Kearns, R, District 6, sought to amend a portion of the ordinance stating that an ethics commission shall be composed of five members appointed by the chairman of the County Board with the advice and consent of board members.

Kearns suggested that the authority to select candidates should not fall to the chairman, but instead to the Law and Government and Liquor Committee – a proposal that was later amended to provide that authority to the Administrative Services Committee.

Although Franks questioned the legality of the decision because it would take a power from an independent elected official, the board approved the amended ethics ordinance by a 22-1 vote.

Board member Chuck Wheeler, R, District 4, said he thought the board would be crazy to allow Franks to select ethics officers in light of the allegations.

“It’s like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse,” Wheeler said.

Details of the investigation emerged Jan. 31, when a search warrant was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Chicago Sun-Times. According to the warrant, a judge had found probable cause to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct and stalking against Franks, who was a Democratic state representative from 1999 to 2017.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s office later said it received a complaint from a female employee in 2018 about alleged sexual harassment by a former state representative, investigated and found the complaint credible. Madigan’s office said appropriate law enforcement agencies were informed in 2019. State police executed a search warrant in January at the speaker’s office to expedite receipt of documents related to the allegations against Franks.

Franks has said he was notified in writing about the allegations in 2019 and issued a full denial. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing and has maintained he did nothing wrong.

In response to the allegations, Madigan said he asked Illinois Secretary of State Police to ban Franks from entering the Capitol without an escort.

Wheeler said he thought the County Board should discuss imposing those same restrictions against Franks at the county level. That position was echoed by several people who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.

Mike Buehler, a Republican candidate for board chairman, said he was not passing judgment about the allegations, but felt it was important for the board to ask three pertinent questions: why wasn’t the County Board immediately notified by Madigan or the Sangamon County State’s Attorney about the statehouse restrictions against Franks; why didn’t Franks notify the board of the restrictions immediately after he was made aware; and can Franks be effective as chairman?

Buehler said it would be a disservice to conduct business as usual without answers that residents have the right to know.

Several other residents said if the same allegations against Franks were brought up against teachers or law enforcement, they would be asked to step down or be placed on leave. Therefore, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to ask the same from Franks.

Franks did not address any public comments at the meeting.

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