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County Board rule changes take aim at chairman's power

Published: Friday, July 5, 2013 12:51 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 5, 2013 10:58 p.m. CDT
Caption
Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock

WOODSTOCK – The powers of the McHenry County Board chairman would be significantly curtailed under proposed changes to the County Board's rules.

In one of the most sweeping sets of changes in recent memory, the Management Services Committee will vote Monday to forward a list of 49 proposed changes for full County Board approval. About 10 of these rules would diminish the authority of the chairmanship, which has come under scrutiny over the past few years.

The changes are aimed at the chairman's term of office, the seat's influence over committee memberships, and the power to appoint to boards and commissions. Another set of significant changes takes aim at the board's structure itself by eliminating several committees.

Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, will likely convene a Committee of the Whole for the County Board to review the volume of changes prior to its voting meeting, where some changes will almost certainly be rejected. The Management Services Committee is tasked with reviewing and revising board rules following the seating of the new board after each November election.

The most controversial and significant change – imposing term limits on the chairman and vice chairman – goes against the advice of the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office. The County Board after each November election elects a chairman and vice chairman from among its 24 members.

Under the new rules, the chairman and the vice chairman would be limited to no more than three consecutive two-year terms. The state's attorney's office has opined that state law does not explicitly empower counties to impose term limits.

Former Chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, served four terms as chairman before losing his bid for a fifth term to Hill last December. Calls to make the chairmanship popularly elected – as is done in DuPage and Kane counties – culminated last year in an unsuccessful referendum to change to a county executive form of government like Will County has.

Another set of changes go against the chairman's incumbency by taking away its ability to appoint the chairmanships of the County Board's standing committees. Critics on the County Board have alleged that the current system heavily favors the incumbent chairman, who can secure all but one of the votes needed for re-election with the power to choose the chairmen of the board’s 11 standing committees. Another change removes the chairman's power to appoint the Committee on Committees that sets assignments for new members after each election.

The chairman's power over the committee process came into question earlier this year because of a controversy surrounding an appointment to the McHenry County Mental Health Board, which has come under fire over its size and spending practices. 

A reform-oriented committee's pick to fill a vacancy was overwhelmingly defeated by the County Board, prompting Hill to advance her own candidate. The Public Health and Human Services Committee made another selection, but Hill exercised her prerogative to not bring him forward for a vote.

County Board members approved Hill's candidate. Hill also wanted to replace a member of the public health committee, citing an alleged conflict of interest, but relented after board members expressed unease with the idea.

One proposed rule change would require the chairman to first bring a nominee before the appropriate committee for appointments to 22 boards and commissions for which the chairman has the power to nominate under state law, but for which final approval rests with the County Board.

Another change would raise the vote threshold to a three-fourths supermajority, or 18 out of 24 members, if the chairman wants to change a County Board member's committee assignment against his or her will. 

Several other changes seek to streamline the County Board structure by eliminating two standing committees and a third minor one.

Under the proposals, the Human Resources Committee would be abolished and its duties assumed by Management Services. The Building Projects Committee, which meets on an as-needed basis, would be absorbed as a sub-committee of Management Services. One of the minor committees, the Pollution Control Facility Siting Committee, would likewise be absorbed as a sub-committee of the standing Natural and Environmental Resources Committee.

If approved, committee eliminations would not take effect until after the November 2014 election.

While the County Board in past years has been resistant to making significant changes to its rules, that could change in the light of last November's election, which resulted in nine seats – more than one-third of the County Board – changing hands. The turnover is the largest in at least 20 years.

OUTBOX

Changing the rules

A McHenry County Board committee is poised Monday to recommend 49 changes to the rules under which the County Board operates.

A number of the rules are aimed at curtailing the power of the County Board chairman, such as:

• Limiting the chairman and the vice-chairman to no more than three consecutive two-year terms.

• Eliminating the chairman's power to appoint the chairpeople of the County Board's standing committees.

• Eliminating the chairman's power to appoint the committee that meets after every November election to assign board members to their committees.

• Raising the number of votes needed if the chairman wants to replace a committee member to a three-fourths supermajority, or 18 out of 24 members.

• Codifying which appointments made by the chairman must be approved by a full County Board vote.

Another significant structural change would eliminate two of the board's 11 standing committees.

What's next

The Management Services Committee will vote to move the changes forward at its next meeting, which starts at 8:30 a.m. Monday at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock. Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, will likely call a Committee of the Whole meeting for the full board to review the rules.

On the Net

You can view the resolution for Monday's meeting and read the proposed changes at http://shawurl.com/o2y.

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