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McHenry County Board set to review rules overhaul

The McHenry County Board is set to debate the most substantial overhaul of its rules in recent memory.

And it is just as controversial as it is substantial, because a number of the changes are aimed at the powers of the County Board chairman.

Board members are set to convene Friday morning in a Committee of the Whole to review the proposed changes – 49 in all – from its Management Services Committee. They could go to a vote as early as the following Tuesday, if they are not sent back to the Management Services Committee, or the Committee of the Whole meeting is continued because of the sheer number of changes.

The Management Services Committee is tasked with reviewing and revising board rules after the seating of the new board after each November election. While previous boards have balked at deep and substantive changes, recent controversies – and the fact that more than one-third of the 24-member board is new after the November 2012 election – could change that dynamic.

About 10 of the proposed changes would diminish the authority of the chairman, primarily through attacking the power of incumbency – the County Board after each November election elects a chairman and a vice chairman from among its 24 members. And the most significant rule change doing so runs counter to the advice of the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office.

That proposed change limits the chairman and vice chairman 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 current Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, in December. Calls during the latter years of Koehler's eight-year reign 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 counter the chairman's incumbency by taking away its ability to appoint the chairmanships of the County Board's standing committees in which much of county government's work gets done.

Critics on the County Board have alleged 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 proposed change removes the chairman's power to appoint the Committee on Committees that sets assignments for new members after each election, If approved, the four members from each of the County Board's six districts would choose their representative.

Yet another change indirectly affects incumbency by taking away two of those chairmanships. The proposed change eliminates the Human Resources and Building Projects committees and places their responsibilities under Management Services.

Several proposed changes are aimed at curtailing the chairman's power to appoint to boards and commissions and blunt influence over the selection process.

They were inspired by a conflict earlier this year surrounding an appointment to the McHenry County Mental Health Board, which has come under fire over its size and spending.

The Public Health and Human Services Committee's pick to fill a vacancy was overwhelmingly defeated by the County Board , prompting Hill to advance her own candidate. The 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 in many cases to first bring a nominee before the appropriate committee. Another 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.

There are several minor changes that could stir debate, such as the previously attempted proposal to put a second public comment period at the end of County Board meetings. Opponents say it would offer nothing substantive because all that speakers will do at the end is either thank or criticize board members for how they voted during the meeting.

What it means

The McHenry County Board will meet in a Committee of the Whole to examine a radical overhaul of the County Board's rules.

There are a total of 49 changes that have been proposed by the Management Services Committee. They include:

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

• Eliminating the chairman's power to appoint the chairmen 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.

• Eliminating two of the boar 's 11 standing committees.

On the Net

You can view the existing County Board rules and the proposed changes at http://shawurl.com/o2y.

What's next

The County Board must vote to approve the rules at one of its regular meetings – it cannot take action in a Committee of the Whole.

The Committee of the Whole Meeting starts at 9 a.m. Friday at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

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