Familiar faces apply for Mental Health Board vacancy

Published: Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 11:41 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Aug. 23, 2013 12:00 p.m. CDT

Some familiar faces are among the four people who have applied for appointment to the sixth and latest vacancy on the embattled McHenry County Mental Health Board.

They include a former County Board member who overhauled its budget development process, a blogger who has kept an eye on Mental Health Board spending and a businessman with a lifetime of work in the health care industry.

And all of them say they have what it takes to help right the ship of the Mental Health Board, which is facing intense scrutiny over its size and budgetary decisions.

The candidates, whose names were obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, are Scott Breeden of Lakewood, Andrew Gasser of Fox River Grove, Charles Wheeler of McHenry and Cary Sue Lavan of Woodstock.

The County Board Public Health and Human Services Committee will interview the four candidates and make a recommendation for full board approval, likely next month.

Breeden served on the County Board from 2008 to 2012 and served the last two years of his term as chairman of the Finance and Audit Committee in charge of the county government’s pocketbook.

“I noticed the Mental Health Board had an opening, and I think the Mental Health Board could use some fiscal restraint, and maybe a new approach to distribution of funds,” Breeden said.

Critics in recent years have alleged the Mental Health Board has swelled into a bureaucracy that spends too much taxpayer money on administration and overhead that should instead be going directly to the agencies helping those with mental health issues.

All but a few of the state’s 55 countywide mental health boards are pass-through entities that disburse money from a special levy straight to agencies, according to records obtained through FOIA.

Blogger Andrew Gasser says he is uniquely qualified to get a seat on the unpaid, nine-member board because he has worked to dissect its budget and expenses on his blog, www.andrewgasser.com.

Gasser is founder of Tea Party in Space, a Washington, D.C.-based group dedicated to applying free-market principles to space exploration. He points to successes in getting reform legislation through Congress as proof he can get things done.

“I’m applying because I think I’ve done more work than any of the other applicants to see what’s actually going on [with the Mental Health Board],” Gasser said.

The four applicants are jockeying to fill the vacancy left on the board by Kathy Hinz. She resigned last month, citing her much-expanded job responsibilities after being named interim superintendent of Crystal Lake District 47.

Wheeler, who owns Lakemoor-based The Health Insurance Mart.com, says he offers a fresh perspective because he has no political baggage in McHenry County, and as an African-American, offers needed diversity.

Wheeler, a former Glendale Heights trustee, had applied earlier this year for a vacancy left when former Mental Health Board member Sam Tenuto resigned to take a job with an agency that receives board funding.

“I want to serve the people here in McHenry County, because there’s a need to curtail some of the excessive spending and at the same time improve services,” Wheeler said.

Lavan, who works for JPMorgan Chase and has previously served as vice president and branch manager for two other local bank groups, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Criticisms of the Mental Health Board were amplified last year as it spent $1.8 million in a failed effort to save an ailing mental health agency from closing and blew its legal budget by more than 500 percent. Former Executive Director Sandy Lewis quit last year to take another job, shortly after receiving her doctorate, for which taxpayers paid at least $30,000, according to records obtained under FOIA.

Efforts to reform the Mental Health Board since the late 1990s have stalled at the County Board level until this year. The County Board in January appointed member Donna Kurtz, a longtime Mental Health Board critic, as public health committee chairwoman.

The Mental Health Board had maintained in response to criticism that it spent a flat 6 percent on administrative costs. But that figure from a 2011 report only factored in administrative salaries and general operating costs, and not items such as paying off $3.5 million in bonds to almost quadruple the size of its Crystal Lake headquarters. Its 2012 annual report puts administrative costs at 17 percent, or just under $2.5 million of the $14.9 million it spent last fiscal year.

What it means

The McHenry County Board received four applications to fill the latest vacancy on the embattled Mental Health Board, which has lost six of its nine members over the past year.

The County Board Public Health and Human Services Committee is expected to interview the candidates and make a recommendation at its meeting next Thursday morning.

NOTE TO READERS: The time that the Public Health and Human Services Committee will interview candidates was corrected in this story.

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