Votes lined up to find new Mental Health Board director, attorney

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013 4:41 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 12:22 a.m. CDT

The McHenry County Mental Health Board could move to fill two important leadership voids this Saturday.

Members are scheduled to vote to move forward with hiring a permanent executive director, almost one year to the day that the previous permanent leader left, and to hire official legal counsel after the longtime board attorney resigned.

Closed-session meetings are scheduled Friday and Saturday for board members to interview executive director finalists. Saturday is also the effective resignation date of interim Executive Director Todd Schroll, who has held the position since the November 2012 departure of former director Sandy Lewis.

The new director and attorney will join a Mental Health Board made up almost entirely of new members trying to find their way as shrinking revenues force cuts long sought by critics who have alleged for years that the agency has become a top-heavy bureaucracy that spends too much on administration and overhead.

A shakeup after the 2012 election put one of those critics at the head of the McHenry County Board committee in charge of Mental Health Board appointments, and gave her a majority to pursue new blood.

Saturday's vote will in fact be the second attempt to hire a permanent executive director. The board's first attempt collapsed in April when one of the two finalists backed out, forcing it to start over.

A successful vote Saturday would result in The Meyers Group, the Maryland-based behavioral health search firm hired to find a new director, drawing up the employer-employee contract, with a formal announcement to come later in the month.

The board put out a bid request for legal services on Sept. 3, about two weeks before longtime attorney Frank Gosser resigned at the meeting in which the board was scheduled to vote to terminate his services, which board members concluded were too expensive.

Scrutiny of the board's legal bills began in earnest under the new board. The board under its previous members blew its 2012 legal budget by almost 600 percent – it budgeted $50,000, but spend $290,000. About $180,000 of that went to Gosser, whose hourly rate was increased late last year by the previous board to $250.

The board successfully fought a federal lawsuit filed by The Advantage Group, a now-defunct social service agency that the board stopped funding after an audit revealed numerous fiscal irregularities. While the board's insurance company provided the legal counsel, the board paid Gosser to provide oversight.

Reform efforts began in April after board member Paula Yensen questioned 100 items totaling $83,556 billed by Gosser between December 2010 and February 2013 for items she considered unnecessary, such as reviewing board packets and Freedom of Information Act requests. Yensen, one of the McHenry County Board's two Democratic members, holds the board's voting seat on the nine-member Mental Health Board.

Mental Health Board members in July passed a temporary rule forbidding legal counsel for billing for any service not requested in writing by both the board president and interim executive director, and instructed staff to start drawing up a request for proposals so it can bid competitively for legal services.

The Mental Health Board budgeted $70,000 for legal services for the current 2013 fiscal year that ends Nov. 30. As of Sept. 30, it has spent $119,492 on legal services, or 170 percent over budget, according to the board's most recent spending report.

OUTBOX

What it means

The Mental Health Board meets Friday and Saturday to interview executive director finalists. A vote is scheduled for Saturday, along with action to select new, and cheaper, legal counsel.

The Saturday meeting starts at 8:45 a.m. at the board's headquarters, 620 Dakota St., Crystal Lake. While interviews will take place in closed session, votes are required by law to take place in open session.

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