McHenry County Charging Forward With Good-Government Reforms
WOODSTOCK, Ill. – The McHenry County Board in the coming weeks will be voting on major reforms to further cement its reputation as a state and national leader in good government.
Members will vote this month whether to put binding referendums on the Nov. 6 midterm election ballot to impose term limits on County Board members and the County Board Chairman. A proposed ordinance also up for an August vote will promote transparency and ethics by preventing county elected officials from purchasing or mailing name-branded items in the months before an election. And in September, the County Board will decide whether to reduce its size from 24 members to 18.
“High taxes aren’t the only reason why people and jobs are fleeing Illinois,” County Board Chairman Jack Franks, D-Marengo, said. “There’s also the perception that their elected officials are a protected ‘political class’ who are out only for themselves, accountable to no one, and almost impossible to remove from office. We are going to do everything we can to ensure that McHenry County’s voters know that they are in charge, and that they hold the power.”
The two proposed binding referendums will limit the County Board Chairman starting in 2020 to no more than two consecutive four-year terms, and limit County Board members to no more than 12 years in office, starting in the 2022 election. Board members will vote on the referendums at a special meeting Aug. 16.
Polls show widespread support in Illinois for term limits, with 80 percent supporting them in a 2016 poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.
“We’re not making the tough decision here – the voters are,” Franks said. “They at the end of the day have to decide whether to term-limit the County Board. All we’re doing is deciding whether to empower them to be able to choose the kind of government they want. For me, it’s a simple decision – we work for the voters, and it’s their decision to make."
In September, the County Board will decide whether to reduce its number of seats by 25 percent – state law puts that authority in the hands of county boards themselves rather than the public. Should the County Board approve the reduction, it will take effect with the 2022 election in which all seats will be up because of redistricting following the 2020 U.S. Census.
McHenry County voters in a 2016 advisory referendum supported reducing the size of the County Board by almost a four-to-one margin, and in a binding March 2018 referendum voted to eliminate the elected office of County Recorder of Deeds. McHenry County is the only collar county that has not reduced its size since county boards went to direct election of their members with the 1970 Illinois Constitution.
“This reform is long overdue,” Franks said. “People are screaming for government to do more with less, just as they have been forced to do. The fact of the matter is, in the 21st Century, we do not need 24 members to do the County Board’s work.”
Also in August, the County Board will vote on a proposed “blackout” resolution to limit the printing, purchasing or mailing of items containing the name or likeness of a county officeholder for a period of 60 days before their office being up in a primary or general election. The resolution also will require elected officials making such purchases at any time to sign an affidavit attesting that the purchase is not being made for political purposes.
While elected officials have important jobs, Franks said, the public should never be given the perception that their elected officials are spending taxpayer money to campaign by purchasing office supplies, advertising and public notices, or other items with their names and pictures on them. Besides preventing intentional or inadvertent campaigning with taxpayer resources, the resolution would prevent waste in the event that a county officeholder makes such purchases before an election but loses.
“Here in McHenry County, we don’t do reform piecemeal, or only in reaction to scandal. Here, reform is steady. We aren’t dragged kicking and screaming into making positive changes to make government leaner and more responsive. We seek out reform and best practices. And we just presented the public we serve with a torrent of them. They deserve nothing less, and I challenge other county boards across Illinois and our General Assembly to follow our example.”