McHenry County Blog Missed Its Birthday

Last month was McHenry County Blog’s second birthday.

Or, was it an anniversary?

In any event, on October 21, 2005, the first article went up on McHenry County Blog. About 3,800 articles were posted during the first two years. As we hit the birthday week a month ago, over 1,700 people a day were reading McHenry County Blog.

Now, as the third year begins, it’s over 2,000 per day. Is it a fluke? Will it stay that high? Who knows? And over 4,000 people have been curious enough to check out my little bio.

What pushed me over the edge into the Ethernet was Crystal Lake’s Vulcan Lakes-Route 14 Tax Increment Financing project.

TIF for short. Some of the stories are here.

TIFs are a way for cities and villages to take money from schools, parks and other tax districts to use pretty much as they wish in the designated area.

Usually, they go to pay for things developers would otherwise have to finance.

McHenry County Blog has covered elections, school and McHenry County Conservation District referendums, the Huntley and Carpentersville school districts, McHenry County College’s baseball stadium, party politics, TIF districts and local newspaper coverage of same.

It used to be that politicians could send out press releases and see them printed verbatim in the local weekly newspapers.

Getting even a mention in the Northwest or Daily Heralds is now considered a coup.

Of course, meeting voters face-to-face is best, but it’s a big county. And, it can be stressful.

I have been publishing every political press release I get from the area because I think what they say can contain important clues to where a candidate is coming from and what he or she wants to do. There are very few cheap ways to communicate with those who are really interested in political affairs. My hope is that McHenry County Blog can provide candidates a forum. (Email them to the blog’s address, which is way down on the lower right.)

If asked if McHenry County Blog has done any good, I’d point to the goal written on the masthead:

This is a journal of news and opinion designed to bring to light matters of public interest and to encourage public participation in the governmental process. Emphasis will be on McHenry County, but state news will be covered.

I don’t claim that McHenry County Blog is anywhere near the reason for the increase participation and interest in the local tax districts it has covered, but it has played a role.

Among my favorite stories have been the series about the McHenry County Republican Cat Tax, proposed by the county board for the sole reason of raising revenue using the cover story that we had to protect all cats from rabies with mandatory shots…except those who lived in barns. You can see Keely cat, a cat never allowed outside, waiting for a rabid bat to fly by upstairs.

And it’s difficult to forget how disturbed certain members of the county board, including County Board Chairman Ken Koehler, got at my taking flash pictures of them. They tried to make me take them only from the back corners of the room without a flash. It inspired John Coonen of Crystal Lake Network to create this camera with its gigantic flash attachment for use when photographing county board members in their lair.

Although difficult to do, keeping up with developer and school vendor campaign donations to school tax hike committees in Carpentersville District 300 and Woodstock District 200 often provided information that could not be obtained any place other than the State Board of Elections web site.

The Vulcan TIF district condemnation stories were fun, too, especially when it turned out that Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley’s city council voted to condemn property not only after saying the city would not, but also before he said that the city had promised not to condemn property. So far, the evidence is my only YouTube posting. It features Shepley and Springfield power broker Bill Cellini, whose group won the Vulcan Lakes-Route 14 TIF development rights.

And being the place to break the story that McHenry County College was planning a baseball stadium. I’m still asking myself why the Northwest Herald didn’t run the story until the day after McHenry County College did. That’s got to be a really good story that probably will never be told.

Having the college board vote to release the baseball stadium feasibility study (after Equity One’s Mark Houser redacts what he doesn’t want to make public) is satisfying. My Freedom of Information requests were only rejected four times. I hope my harping here and in comments under MCC baseball stadium stories had something to do with bringing pressure on the board.

I couldn’t write about last year without mention my run-in with the police state of Prairie Grove. I almost almost got arrested without warning for taking pictures through a window of a secret meeting of the District 46 school board and laughing too hard. If you didn’t catch the story, it’s worth a read.

Fellow Crystal Lake “Heck of a Guy” blogger Allan Showalter got a big kick out of it and created the wanted poster you can see on the lower right of the page.

And, of course, there have been more stories on McHenry County Blog about the Gay Games than you can find anywhere else, even though they were in a prior year.

This past year, the highest number of people to read this source of information was the day McHenry County College met to censure Donna Kurtz and Scott Summers for speaking out about their reservations of the baseball stadium project at the Crystal Lake City Council meeting zoning meeting.

I admit to obsessing about MCC’s attempts to hide its plans for, then, get permission to build a baseball stadium on Crystal Lake’s watershed in the wettest summer in my 49 years of living here. If you type “McHenry County College” into Google’s search engine, you will find McHenry County Blog listed in the top ten. That represents how many stories I have written.

I did so because it does not pass the smell test. The process stinks. McHenry County College needs so much ventilation.

Readership this past week was over four times what it was this week last year. It was up 14% in November, compared to October. Don’t ask me to explain why.

I am confident that we are reaching readers who are not your typical disinterested citizens. You folks really take an interest in local public affairs.

My guess is that the great majority of readers are from this local area, but I know a few who move away regularly check in, because they tell me.

All are people other people ask, “What’s happening?” especially around election time.

I thank you for reading McHenry County Blog and suggesting topics worth stories.

And I apologize to those who have suggested stories I have not yet gotten to.

McHenry County Blog may be the lineal descendant of the Public Affairs Newsletter, a monthly newsletter that my father used to publish. It started as a publication of a group of citizens who called themselves the Government Improvement League—GIL for short–which was based in Algonquin Township. Members like Julie Covert successfully badgered Algonquin Township’s road commissioner to put the township logo on the side of his trucks.

Names of activists like Cary residents Julie and Stan Steckley come to mind. Steckley later became a township supervisor in Pennsylvania, where township government really has real power.

My father took the newsletter and ran with it, even turning it into The Star Reporter, a weekly newspaper. But, he didn’t like to sell advertising, so it reverted to a monthly newsletter he printed.

I’m not much of a salesman either, but I am thinking about selling advertising on McHenry County Blog. The daily viewing of McHenry County blog now exceeds that of the weekly newspapers in McHenry County when I was McHenry County Treasurer in the late 1960’s. It is not yet what I remember the Crystal Lake Herald’s having then—about 5,000—but its 5,000 was once a week.

Surely there must be business and professional folks like insurance and real estate sales people who could recognize a niche market like McHenry County Blog would provide. Others might just like to be identified as keeping an alternative information source going, something necessary for a vibrant democracy, according to a political scientist, one of whose books I read at Oberlin College.

One reader of my father’s publication told me people waited for it to appear in their mailboxes, knowing that it would contain information that did not and would never appear in the Crystal Lake Herald.

I guess I am my father’s son.

Not this one behind a mule in the early 1940’s working his father’s farm on weekends while his father was sick and I was a baby, but the one that sits in front of a keyboard and likes to put his ideas into print and share them.

Except you don’t have to wait a week for the next issue.

My mother used to complain that Dad spent all of his spare time at the office. That’s where his printing presses and typesetter were located. Dad pointed out that he could have a hobby like golf, which would cost a lot more.

My bride and son complain that I am always at the computer. At least they know where I am and can see my back.

And, when my son’s teacher assigned him a two-page paper, which had to be typed, guess who ended up doing the typing. No one ever said son wasn’t verbal. He can tell a good story and speak a biography of Teddy Roosevelt.

Now, he says he wants his own laptop.

Fat chance. I don’t even have a laptop or you would see me typing at public meetings, instead of furiously taking notes and flash pictures.

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Images can be enlarged by clicking on them.

The painting of Cal Skinner, Sr., is by Mike Gerry.

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