McHenry County voters might get the chance to shape the future of county government via not just one, but two referendum questions in the fall.
State Rep. Jack Franks filed a petition Monday with more than 1,500 signatures to place a referendum question on the Nov. 6 ballot asking voters to decide if they want a county executive form of government in McHenry County. This form of government revolves around a county executive who would manage the day-to-day operations and have veto power over the county board.
Franks, a Marengo Democrat, said chairman Ken Koehler has accumulated too much power during his 12 years in office, eight of them as chairman, and this form of government would benefit the county.
"We need direct accountability, and checks and balances," Franks said.
In Illinois, only Will County has an executive form of government, County Administrator Peter Austin said at the county board meeting on Tuesday. Will County voters chose that in 1988, while voters in three other counties -- Lake, Champaign and Winnebago -- turned down the idea sometime in the 1980s, Austin said.
Several county board members equated the county executive's position to a "czar."
"This is not what's best for McHenry County and McHenry County citizens," county board member Peter Merkel said. "Once that person gets entrenched in there without term limits, it is a czar."
County board member Kathleen Bergan Schmidt said voters need to be properly informed about the choice they would be making. "No other county other than Will County has hopped on this bandwagon. Isn't that curious? We need to say that (county) executive is not equal to (county board) chair, and we need to keep saying it and saying it and saying it. It is equal to czar."
To counter Frank's measure, the county board might place a second referendum question on the November ballot, one that would have voters directly elect a chairman. On Tuesday, county board members Sandra Salgado and Donna Kurtz said they wanted the chance to discuss the issue further. The county board has until Aug. 20 to adopt such a resolution, but its next regular meeting is Aug. 21.
The county board can call a special meeting when one-third of its members sign a request to that effect, McHenry County Clerk Kathy Schultz said.
Koehler declined to comment, but said the special meeting will most likely take place next week.
Franks has been a longtime advocate of voters directly electing the chairman, but only the county board can place a binding referendum question on the ballot to that effect.
"They left me no choice," he said of filing a referendum petition for an executive form of government.
Merkel said Franks was interested in setting himself up "for a new position" with his referendum initiative, to which Franks declined to comment. "That is a personal attack. I will not let my motives be questioned," he said.
Franks filed the referendum petition with the circuit clerk's office because of the particular section of law that governs such referendums, Schultz said. Twenty-second Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Michael J. Sullivan said a hearing during which people can present any objections to the petition will take place at 10 a.m. Aug. 15.
If both referendum questions are approved by voters, the executive form of government would take precedence, Austin said, citing an opinion by the McHenry County State's Attorney's office. If the measure is approved in 2012, the first election for a county executive would take place in 2014.