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Article posted: 1/16/2013 4:50 PM

McHenry board may ask voters to elect chairman

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A coterie of McHenry County Board members are starting a movement in hopes of getting voters to weigh in on the selection of the next county board chairman.

The board will hold a special meeting Friday to decide whether to hold a referendum that would let voters elect the next county board chairman.

At the moment, county board members elevate one of their own to chairman every two years.

But if the board approves the ballot question, the public would get to weigh in on it during the April municipal elections. If voters endorse the measure, the first time they'd get to vote a board chairman in would be 2014.

"This doesn't really change anything in terms of pay or authorities, it's just where the chair comes from," County Administrator Peter Austin said, adding that the current chairwoman makes about $82,000 a year. "It's still up to the county board as a whole what authority they want to bestow upon the chair."

The deadline to get referendums on the ballot is Tuesday, which is why the board is holding a special meeting Friday. Both Kane and DuPage counties have elected chairmen, Austin said.

Michael Walkup, a new board member representing the county's 3rd District, campaigned on the idea of letting the public pick the county chairman. It's important to keep things fresh and to ensure the county chairman is accountable to the public, he said.

"The previous one we had for eight years and we couldn't get rid of him," said Walkup, one of 11 board members who called the special meeting. "At least it means that the chair isn't able to dole out political favors to 12 members on the county board to get elected. It means they have to go to the public."

But County Board Chairwoman Tina Hills says it's too soon to let the people have their say. She was hoping to have at least a year to educate the public on the issue.

"I agree that we should let the voters decide, but I did want to take some time to educate them on what it would really meant to have an elected at large chair," Hill said. "If the will (of the board) is to put in on the ballot ... then we'll have to educate the public in a shorter time frame."

Meanwhile, it wouldn't be the first time voters would get to weigh in on the county's leadership.

Last fall, voters rejected the idea of a county executive form of government. The county executive would have run the day-to-day operations of the county, had the authority to hire and fire staff and the power to veto the county board's decisions.

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