The Tight Noose of Leaders

The following article about how House Speaker Mike Madigan controls what happens in the House of Representatives spurs me to make some comparisons of how McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks is emulating his techniques:

Rules Committee: Where thousands of Illinois bills go to die

About 200 state laws will take effect at the start of the new year. But what happened to the thousands of other bills introduced by legislators? Welcome to the Illinois House of Representatives’ Rules Committee, where bills go to die. Full Story

The comparative behavior by Franks is accomplished by controlling what can placed on committee agendas and on the Count Board agendas.

Jack Franks

He has been known to personally have items removed from committee agendas despite members protests.

Even in the face of a State’s Attorney’s opinion saying refusal to place items on committee agenda requested by a committee chairman, Franks continued the practice.

Upon reflection, that technique provides Franks more power than Madigan has.

The reason?

Individual County Board members cannot introduce bills the way state legislators can.

Have an idea?

If Franks does not agree with it, there is no institutional way to insert it into the process.

The second means of control is determining who will chair every committee and who will serve on each committee.

This goal of the Chairman probably was spurred by the power the Rules give each chairman to request opinions from the State’s Attorney.  There is no limitation to the topic.

A bill giving Franks unchecked appointment power passed the Illinois General Assembly at Franks’ request, but (in the only responsiveness of Governor Bruce Rauner to McHenry County Republican concerns I can remember) Rauner vetoed the measure and it was not overridden.

Obviously, such legislation can be enacted next year when JB Pritzker, a Franks’ contributor, will be Governor.

The legislation does not mirror committee assignment in Illinois General Assembly.

There the top Democrat only assigns Democrats to committee positions.

The Republican leader appoints Republican members.

Under the proposed law, McHenry County’s top Democrat, Chairman Franks, would appoint Democrats and the Republicans.

The Committee on Committees action this year may have eliminated the need for legislative authority because the two chairmen  who dared to challenge Franks–Chuck Wheeler and Yvonne Barnes.

The third technique is minimizing County Board membership influence on County government.

While County Administrator Peter Austin is contractually to report  to the County Board, the first month he decided he better do what Franks wanted.  This was ably demonstrated by his hiring two patronage employees with required County Board authorization.

Madigan hires all employees of his Democratic Party staff, while the Republican House leader selects Republican staffers.

The Republican majority on the McHenry County Board have no staff.

In Will County, which, with voter approval, has a County Executive form of government, which, by law, provides for a strong chairman, Republicans have a well-paid staffer to coordinate policy.

That is important, because of the limitations of the number of members who can confer because of the Open Meetings Act.

In any event, with the collapsing of the number committees and the probability that most will meet but once a month, Franks sets the stage to further consolidate power.

Just as Madigan has his staff pretty much write the budget, Franks has control of the administrative staff who bring policy decisions to committees on which he has determined the composition.


The Tight Noose of Leaders — 8 Comments

  1. One result of having fewer committee meetings is that Board Members are not coming to the county building as often to poke around and button hole administrators for information.

    This allows the Chairman to strong arm the Administrator to his heart’s content.

    County government is now officially a Lost Cause.

  2. Cal, how would this process differ from the U.S. house or Senate, where the majority leaders strictly control what goes to the floor?

    Isn’t this exactly the same, business as usual for any deliberative body?

  3. Good question.

    I have served under a centralized legislative system and a decentralized one.

    Starting with agreement with Lord Acton’s observation that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, I prefer the broadest distribution of power as possible.

    Robert Blair was elected Republican Illinois House Speaker in 1971.

    He turned into a dictator.

    There was a revolt led by Henry Hyde.

    In order to win a second term in 1973, he had to share power.

    I don’t follow U.S. House Democrat politics closely, but my impression is that Nancy Pelosi had to make similar concessions (including term limiting herself) to gain support for re-election.

  4. No Joe. It has never been this way at the County.

    When you had a Chairman who was elected by a majority of the Board, the Administrator could interact with that person with the assumption that he was interacting with a majority of the Board which supported that Chairman.

    Now, the Chairman and the Board are not necessarily in synch but the Administrator has continued to take his marching orders from the Chairman notwithstanding what the Board may want.

    What you have now is a Chairman who has cowed the Board rather than one who is supported by the Board.

    In effect, a Dictator.

  5. Is there an “official” organization chart for McHenry County showing the Chairman, Administrator, Board Members and other elected officials serving the County? Who reports to who? Who has authorities?

    Also, what are the “official” job descriptions of all elected officials of the McHenry County Government and Administration staff which show responsibilities, authorities and duties?

    What are the dates on the latest organization chart(s) and job responsibilities’ descriptions? Who has the authority to change, update or modify the charts and descriptions? How are these documents controlled?

  6. It seemed at the time that electing a Chairman at large would be a good idea as it would break the deadlock of having all 12 committee Chairmen being hand picked by the Chairman who they had just voted for.

    This led to King Ken and Queen Tina abusing power.

    However, electing the Chairman at large has its flaws as well as we have now seen.

    Ultimately the voters have to educate themselves about candidates and government so they don’t fall for phony claims like “Cut 10” or “I will get Mexico to pay for the Wall”.

    Now I will climb back on my unicorn and ride into the sunset……..

  7. but I repeat my self….McHenry County…..Jack Franks = Madiganstan
    Time to go!

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