Two state representatives traded barbs and pats on the back in a lively debate Wednesday night about their opposing views on having a county executive in McHenry County.
McHenry County voters will choose Nov. 6 whether they want a county executive form of government, now present in Illinois only in Will County. Cook County has a county board president with similar executive power.
State Rep. Jack Franks, a Democract from Marengo, and state Rep. Mike Tryon, a Republican from Crystal Lake, spoke at a forum organized by the conservative group Patriots United and attended by about 200 people at McHenry County College.
The referendum was placed on the ballot after Franks gathered enough supporting signatures this summer. The county executive would run the day-to-day operations of the county, have the authority to hire and fire staff and the power to veto decisions by the county board.
Franks argued that a county executive would add transparency and accountability to county government, and allow for a stronger county board that would be focused solely on legislative matters.
But Tryon cautioned that a county executive from of government is the equivalent of the current state and federal systems. "This works just like Springfield, and Springfield isn't working too good for us," he said.
Franks pointed Will County's lower per-capita taxes as an example of how a county executive works to residents' advantage; Tryon countered that tax rates in the two counties are calculated differently, and McHenry County has four more taxing bodies on its rolls.
A county executive would make sure the county board isn't working against people's interests, such as when it raised property taxes when property values went down, Franks said.
"This is not about (County Board Chariman) Ken Koehler, or Mike Tryon, or Jack Franks -- it's about the broken system which desperately needs to be repaired," Franks said.
A county executive would make much of his or her decisions behind closed doors, with "extreme power" concentrated in one person's hands, Tryon said.
"There's too much contained power in the office of county executive that isn't transparent, that isn't done in front of the newspaper, that isn't done in committees, that isn't done where people have input," Tryon said.
Franks argued that those against a county executive are not thinking about McHenry County's best interests.
"Czar" he said, referring to the term used by opponents to describe the office, "is just a code word for 'Don't take away my fiefdom.'"
But a county executive would add a large expense to county government, Tryon countered, because a county executive would hire an attorney, finance director, communications officer, and more, he said.
If voters approve the measure, they would elect a county executive, beginning with the 2014 primary. Franks said he would not seek or accept a nomination to county executive, while Tryon said he would probably run if "the wrong person" sought the office. In that case, Franks quipped, he'd "totally" vote for Tryon.