Ten applicants will be interviewed to replace former GOP insider Al Jourdan as McHenry County's representative on the Regional Transportation Authority Board.
They include a number of former elected officials, local businessmen and a few newcomers. The field is Republican dominated, but two have Democratic connections and one is a Libertarian.
All 10 will be granted 30-minute interviews Nov. 22 before a four-member McHenry County Board panel, Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, said. The interviews will be open to the public, and the panel will make its recommendation for a full board vote after the interviews.
The open process deviates from long-established practice. State law grants the power to recommend appointment to the four Chicago-area mass-transit boards to each county board chairman, pending approval by the whole board.
"This is precedent-setting. It's always been just the chairman bringing it forward," Hill said Tuesday.
The 16-member RTA Board has financial oversight of the boards of Metra, Pace and the Chicago Transit Authority. All of them have come under serious scrutiny in recent years, primarily over controversy and allegations of corruption and mismanagement at Metra, but also because of resignations at the RTA Board and whether it was negligent in its handling of the most recent Metra scandal.
Jourdan's term expired in April – the plan is for him to step down after a successor is named. The appointment process has been delayed twice because of the ongoing turmoil.
Jourdan, 79, was appointed as the county's RTA representative in 2008. He spent 30 years as McHenry County Republican Party chairman between 1968 and 1998, and about three of those years as state chairman.
Two of the candidates to replace him are former Republican County Board members. Lyn Orphal, of Crystal Lake, served from her 2000 appointment until she lost her re-election bid in 2010. Blake Hobson, of Lakewood, served for eight months in 2006 to fill an unexpired term, and has served as a Lakewood village and Nunda Township trustee.
Two more are current or former trustees of McHenry County College. Dennis Adams, who owns Adams Collision Center in Lake in the Hills and Huntley, is chairman of the board's Finance Committee, and had served as a McHenry alderman. Crystal Lake attorney Richard Jackson, now an adjunct business law professor at the school, served one six-year term on the board in the early 1990s.
Others have thrown their hats in politics in the past. Candidates include Crystal Lake college textbook salesman John Darger, who made unsuccessful runs for the MCC board and for the County Board on the Democratic ticket. Former McHenry County Board of Health member Ed Varga, a Richmond engineer, unsuccessfully ran for County Board last year as a Republican.
An 11th candidate, John J. Smith of McHenry, dropped out of consideration without citing a reason, Hill said.
Smith, a retired engineering consultant and CEO who is president of the McHenry Riverwalk Foundation, had contributed in the past to the Jourdan Committee to Preserve and Project Good Government, which supported Republican candidates, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records. Smith was the only candidate to list Jourdan as a reference on his application.
The appointment process gained attention several months ago, when state Rep, Jack Franks, D-Marengo, and Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, publicly urged County Board members to reject reappointing Jourdan. It came in the wake of growing lawmaker outrage over a $718,000 severance package that the Metra Board granted to former CEO Alex Clifford, who alleged he was forced out because he would not turn a blind eye to political patronage hiring and contracting.
Joining Hill on the interview committee will be County Board Vice Chairman James Heisler, R-Crystal Lake, Transportation Committee Chairwoman Anna May Miller, R-Cary, and Planning and Development Committee Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake.
An RTA Board member receives a $25,000 salary. But a new law, drafted by Franks, eliminated the pension and insurance benefits that previously came with appointment to the four mass-transit boards.
Who they are
Ten county residents have applied to replace Al Jourdan as McHenry County's representative on the Regional Transportation Authority Board:
• John Darger, Crystal Lake
• Thomas Moore, Huntley
• Richard Jackson, Crystal Lake
• Dennis Adams, McHenry
• Ed Varga, Richmond
• Lyn Orphal, Crystal Lake
• Robert O'Halloran, Harvard
• Kelly Liebmann, Wonder Lake
• Frank Cuda, McHenry
• Blake Hobson, Lakewood
An 11th candidate, John J. Smith of McHenry, withdrew from consideration.
A panel of four McHenry County Board members will interview the candidates and make a recommendation for full board approval. The meeting starts at 9 a.m, Nov. 22 at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.
Source: McHenry County