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Special meeting set on how to pick county leader

WOODSTOCK – McHenry County Board members have gathered enough signatures to force a special meeting to decide whether to seek an April referendum that would ask voters whether they want to directly elect the board chairman.

The faction submitted a petition at Tuesday evening’s board meeting to County Clerk Katherine Schultz with the signatures of 11 of the board’s 24 members. Eight signatures are needed under board rules to call a special meeting.

The move comes a day after the board’s Management Services Committee discussed, but did not move forward with, putting a referendum on the ballot, and one week before the Jan. 22 deadline to do so. Currently, the board chairman is chosen by the 24-member board after each November election.

The meeting will start at 9 a.m. Friday, the soonest it can to meet the 48-hour advance notice requirement under the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

Board member Nick Provenzano, who submitted the petition, said Tuesday evening the lack of action by the committee, which only discussed the issue, forced supporters of a referendum to act.

Provenzano, R-McHenry, told the committee Monday that board members, when they urged defeat of a referendum to switch to a county-executive form of government in November, made a tacit deal with the voters to pursue referendum on a popularly elected chairman. The county executive referendum failed by 2-1.

The board in August considered, but rejected, putting the referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot to give voters a choice against creating a county executive. That decision, too, was made in a special meeting.

Freshman Management Services Committee member Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, supports the referendum and pushed for a special meeting. He and Provenzano questioned why the committee did not have the referendum resolution from the August meeting, vetted by the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office, ready to go for a vote.

New County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, gave the committee the task of exploring the referendum as its first order of business, citing voter interest in the topic. Monday’s meeting was the committee’s first since new committee assignments were finalized earlier this month after an election shakeup that resulted in nine new County Board members.

Committee members Monday could not reach a consensus on a referendum, but agreed to pursue reforms to the chairmanship through County Board rules.

Walkup said action is needed now because electing the chairman would be four years away if the public wishes it.

Should the County Board reject an April referendum, the soonest it could go before voters is the March 2014 primary.

If there is a referendum and voters approve it, it would not be until the 2016 elections that voters would elect the board chairman.

“I just think that board members should have an opportunity to vote on it while it still counts,” Walkup said of a special meeting.

Not everyone who signed the petition supports the idea of an elected chairman or a referendum to that effect. Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard, signed it to move discussion forward, but reiterated her position Wednesday that she supports the existing system in which the board elects the chairman after each general election.

Nine of the state’s 102 counties allow voters to elect their board chairman, or in Will County’s case, a county executive. Those counties tend to have larger populations and include larger cities, such as the collar counties, Rockford and the East St. Louis area.

State law allows county governments to go to an elected chairman without a referendum during the redistricting process after each decennial U.S. Census. The topic arose in 2011 as the County Board tweaked its district boundaries but did not move forward.

What it means

McHenry County Board members who want an April referendum asking voters whether they want to elect the board chairman have forced a special meeting to vote on the issue. Eleven board members signed the petition for a meeting. Board rules require eight signatures to convene a special meeting.

If you go

The special meeting starts at 9 a.m. Friday at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

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