For the first time, voters in McHenry County next month will elect not just their county board representatives, but also a chairman to preside over the board's activities. They'll decide between Republican Michael Walkup, a current board member from Crystal Lake, and Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks of Marengo, who is leaving his seat in the Illinois House after 18 years to run for the new post.
Both have staked a claim as the reform candidate in their often-feisty campaigns. They've clashed over taxpayer-funded pensions, financing for the Valley Hi nursing home and infrastructure needs, while also finding room for agreement on issues such as reducing the size of the county board. What stands out in particular and informs our endorsement is the candidates' views on the roles and responsibilities of the chairman.
Walkup says state law makes the post largely a ceremonial one, with duties limited mostly to setting agendas, appointing committees and running meetings. He says his relationships with other board members and county officials would allow him to work positively with the panel and accomplish more than Franks, who he accuses of having a "hostile" approach.
Franks has a more dynamic role in mind for the chairman. He sees the office as a bully pulpit from which to spearhead reform in all parts of county government. In our view, McHenry County voters didn't decide by referendum in 2014 to make the chairman an elected office because they wanted someone who would simply run meetings and sign off on agenda. They want someone to lead and bring change.
Because he embraces that role, and is better suited to fulfill it, we endorse Franks.