McHenry County Board Finally Goes Too Far

I’m sure a number of you have had that feeling for a long time.

But, now there is hard evidence.

McHenry County politics and the courts have been closed systems for decades.

After I beat the system in 1966 and had served a couple of years as County Treasurer, I remember meeting Doc Edinger one day in Woodstock.

He told me how a bunch of guys came home from World War I and decided to do something about the courthouse. (I am certain those were not his words, but there certainly was an attempt to change who was in charge.)

The McHenry County History Books ways he served as sheriff for the following terms: 1922-26, 1930-34, 1938-42 and 1946-50.

This was during the days governed by the 1870 State Constitution. It did not allow sheriffs or county treasurers to succeed themselves.

The theory apparently was that sheriffs and treasurers were very powerful offices and the constitutional fathers did not want to them to abuse that power by serving consecutive terms. Often sheriffs and treasurers traded jobs.

You might ask why a county treasurer would be powerful. Certainly, despite the fact that current McHenry County Treasurer Bill LeFew is chairman of the McHenry County Republican Central Committee, the office itself has little but investment power.

Back in 1870, however, the county treasurer was also the real estate tax assessor.

Now, that is raw power.

That authority continued until the 1950’s when I assume abuses led to the reform that allowed county boards to strip the county treasurer of that power and vest it in a new appointed office called the supervisor of assessments. McHenry County did that and appointed Stanley Cornue in the 1950’s, I think. He still held the job when I was County Treasurer. (And, not that he didn’t have power. I think he must have greatly antagonized Dick Tracy cartoonist Chester Gould, who lived in Bull Valley. His character Prune Face looked a lot like Cornue.)

But, back to Edinger.

After those four separated terms as McHenry County Sheriff, he became circuit clerk. The history book is not real clear on when, but he served until he retired in 1963. He was replaced by Harvard’s Margaret O’Neil, whom this color blind guy remembers always dressing in vivid primary colors.

So, what’s all of this “memory lane” stuff got to do with today.

Well, today’s McHenry County Board members have raised the salary of county officials like the county auditor and circuit clerk to $93,111 in 2009, $96,836 in 2010, $100,709 in 2011 and $104,737 in 2012.

All but one of the county officials require no specialized educational or profession requirements; just a Republican primary election victory. The exception is the State’s Attorney and the salary is set by state law higher than the other offices.

So, McHenry County has the office of County Auditor up this year. Pam Palmer was appointed to it after Ruth Rooney resigned too late to allow a primary election last year. She subsequently won the right to run in the fall as the GOP candidate when she won a election to a two-year term. She is now running for a full four years.

But, with the salary so high and being a lawyer not an easy job to make as much money as the income set by the county board, an attorney has stepped up to challenge Palmer.

The two Heralds have played the angle that challenger Richard Kelly, Jr., is an ally of McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi and that Palmer has labeled expenditures of Bianchi has improper, although her office approved them.

Maybe that plays some part in Kelly’s motivation for running, but I think it more likely that Kelly likes the salary, the easy commute, the working conditions and not having to earn enough money to keep a law office open as well as earn a living.

We know from the work habits of at least one county official that coming to the office is not even a prerequisite of getting a regular salary check.

Not that that’s new.

In the later part of the term before I took office as treasurer in 1966, McHenry County Sheriff Ed Dowd had his checks sent to Texas. That’s what my bookeeper told me.

Oh, yes. There’s one other reason a lawyer might run for public office.

Lawyers never lose, even if they don’t get elected.

The campaign is just a different form of advertising.

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