The following was written by District 3 McHenry County Board member Mike Walkup:
Proposed changes to the County Board Rules will be debated and presumably voted upon at a Special Meeting of the County Board scheduled for this Friday, May 1, at 9 AM.
As a member of the Management Services Committee both during the previous term when sweeping changes were proposed and largely rejected by the full Board, and as a current member as well of that committee, (who cast the sole No vote in committee on the Rules changes), I wanted to take this opportunity to inform the readers of this blog about what is being considered with reference to committee assignments and Chairmanships of the various committees.
The committee structure is central to the operation of the County Board and with it the County government.
Most resolutions are first considered by one or more committees before being passed on to the full Board for final vote.
As the committees have subject matter expertise in the various areas, and have an opportunity to discuss the proposals in more depth, the resolutions which come out of the committees are generally accepted by way of a Consent Agenda item when they come to the full Board for vote.
Although individual Board members can, and often do, pull some of the Consent Agenda items off for further discussion, it is rare to see something which had been approved by a committee being ultimately rejected by the full Board.
The agendas for the various committees are set by the Committee Chair, in consultation with the Board Chair, County Administrator and relevant department heads.
If the Committee Chair does not want something to be heard by the committee, he/she can effectively keep it off of the agenda under current rules. This has happened in more than one instance in the past couple of years.
Therefore, it is like a funnel.
At the mouth of the funnel is the Committee Chair, followed by the committee members.
If something gets stuck in the funnel, it never makes it out the other side unless someone organizes a special meeting, as was done with the initial attempt to place the referendum on the ballot for a popularly elected Board Chair.
This makes the assignment of the Committee Chairs, as well as the filling out of the committee memberships, critical to the functioning of the County Board and with it, the entire County government structure.
Under the present system, the County Board elects a Chair at the first meeting after the general election every two years.
That Chair then designates six people, one from each County Board District, to sit on a Committee on Committees. (I am informed that in the past this was done by seniority but started being done by the Chair later on regardless of seniority, giving rise to the present practice of having a hand picked committee).
The Chair is a member of the Committee on Committees but does not vote.
A vote by the Board Chair is superfluous as the Committee on Committees is simply advisory to the Board Chair.
The Board Chair typically presents a list of those persons he/she wants to sit as committee chairs and vice chairs and then throws it up to the committee to pick the remaining members taking into consideration the pretences that have been expressed by members as to their assignments.
There needs to be one member from each County Board District on each committee, and by tradition there have been two members from District One on Transportation and two from District Six on Planning and Development.
The Rules changes that were approved by Management Services this year would change this process by eliminating the Committee on Committees and having the Board Chair, now elected at large, present a list of all committee Chairs, vice Chairs, and members, to the full Board for approval.
If the Board did not approve the list, the Board Chair would go back to the drawing board and present a new list.
If the new list was also rejected, the full Board would develop its own list and presumably vote in favor.
The Vice Chair would be appointed by the Board Chair and would have few ongoing functions.
One effect of this would be that all discussions on committee assignments would now take place entirely behind closed doors with no public meeting of any kind other than the meetings of the full Board.
As it stands now, there is at least a meeting of the Committee on Committees which is open to the public.
Another effect would be that an apparently more or less leaderless Board majority would be able to sit on their hands and reject committee assignments proposed by the Board Chair until it became their turn to submit, and I would expect, approve, their own list.
The Board Chair, however, could head this off by trying to mollify some members by giving them Chairmanships or other rewards so as to secure majority support on either the first or second go around.
In any scenario, this all takes place in private meetings and conversations not subject to public scrutiny.
Query whether the Open Meetings Act would apply.
Even if it does, given that the majority of a quorum for the full Board is 7, members could meet in groups of up to six or fewer at a time in complete secrecy, as well as communicate individually.
This is the Management Services Committee’s proposal.
Now that it has gone to the full Board, however, any member can propose their own amendments and several have done so in writing.
Others can propose further amendments orally or in writing at the time of the special voting meeting on the 1st.
One such amendment has been submitted by former Board Chairman Ken Koehler, R-District 2.
In his proposal the Board would still elect a Vice Chair and the Vice Chair, rather than the popularly elected Board Chair, would appoint the Committee on Committee members.
This would be a perpetuation of the existing system with the Vice Chair being substituted for the Board Chair, drastically limiting the powers of the latter.
An interesting side effect, however, could follow.
Assume now that we have a popularly elected Board Chair and that the Board has elected a Vice Chair who is opposed to the Board Chair.
The Vice Chair now appoints all of the committees.
That person now has at least ten people who are beholden to him/her plus others who may have been given coveted liason positions such as to the Mental Health Board, CMAP, Valley High Board, etc.
He/she will effectively command a majority of the Board in opposition to the popularly elected Board Chair.
He/she will effectively be a Majority Leader of the County Board.
Think Mike Madigan.
So that’s where it stands.
Your feedback is requested.