Some wonderful things are happening on the McHenry County Board. Since the election in November, a majority of practical, common-sense Republican members of the County Board have partnered with me, the Democratic chairman, to bring about true reforms and tax relief. The budget that the County Board will be voting on in a few months will include a 10 percent cut to county government’s property tax levy. That means that next year, county government will take more than $8 million less from you, the taxpayers. Once that becomes reality, we will work with other local taxing bodies in the county to follow our example. This common-sense majority also is working to rebate some of the $40 million surplus that Valley Hi Nursing Home has accumulated from years of overtaxation of our homes and businesses.
These lawmakers worked with me shortly after my election to streamline county government and make it more accountable to the public. They agreed to pare down the number of standing committees, and agreed to a new meeting schedule that would allow committee meetings going forward to be streamed online – previously, taxpayers only could stream full County Board meetings. We also have improved transparency and accountability by implementing an electronic voting system, and soon, our full County Board meetings will be live on video as well as audio.
We scored a big victory for taxpayers by preventing the Lake in the Hills Sanitary District from spending millions to buy Kane County farmland for the sole purpose of foiling talk of consolidating the district into its village government.
Unfortunately, although the majority of Republican members want to work collaboratively for the benefit of the taxpayers, there is a minority that does not. This minority has dedicated itself to obstructionism and hyper-partisanship, deceptively wrapped in the name of good government. Spirited disagreement is one thing. I welcome checks and balances on my office, and on all elected offices, because it keeps us public servants honest. But obstructionism to serve partisan political goals, and the vindictiveness, pettiness and anger that have arisen on the County Board because of it, is a cancer on the board, and the taxpayers are the ones suffering because of it. This minority of members took a routine request for qualifications for possibly partnering with a private entity to manage Valley Hi and have tried to make it into a big political scandal. I believe there are no sacred cows in government, and every entity must withstand vigorous scrutiny. The taxpayers demand no less. However, this minority now seeks to create another County Board committee to grow government and review such requests, which would micromanage and politicize a function that always has been the apolitical role of county staff. Their goal is to stymie any discussion on reducing property taxes and cutting government waste. They are content with a stagnant status quo, even when our county is losing population because of our crushing property tax burden. They cling to a mantra of business as usual and “This is the way it’s always been done,” while beleaguered taxpayers are screaming for change.
This minority’s efforts are threatening to put taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars more of your hard-earned money. Days ago, at a special meeting called by this minority, its members tried, and failed, to fire two legally hired employees who report to me, solely in the name of political payback. My office, as a result of a mistake by the previous board, was never funded in the 2017 county budget. Rather than fix this oversight, which the common-sense majority is working to do, this minority tried to publicly humiliate and terminate two people who did nothing wrong. Their only offense is that they report directly to me.
Had they succeeded, these two employees would have had an open-and-shut wrongful termination lawsuit, and it would have been you, the taxpayer, who would have footed the bill. When this was brought up at the meeting, several members encouraged, even invited, the idea of fighting these hires in court. Why were they so enthusiastic to shell out millions for a political grudge? Because it’s not their money that they would be wasting. Fortunately, the common-sense majority knows a political witch hunt when they see one, and stopped the nonsense. Just a few years ago, McHenry County taxpayers shelled out millions for special prosecutors, legal fees and settlements because a faction of county officials had a grudge against the former state’s attorney. The County Board’s common-sense majority should be thanked for not playing political games with your money. We are fortunate to have thoughtful, courageous and well-intentioned members on the board. It’s unfortunate that a minority continues to fight the election results and refuses to do its job of governing. Personal attacks, innuendos, invective and anonymous blogging have become their staple.
The nonunion half of the county workforce appears to be rushing to organize after watching this minority faction try to publicly fire two employees for no reason. As a result of this minority calling four special meetings within two weeks – two of which to fire legally hired employees – the county clerk’s office has decided to unionize, as has the probation department. This is a direct result of this minority sending workers the message that if they don’t like you, or like who you report to, they will hold a special meeting to publicly fire you.
The election is over. It ended almost a year ago. The majority of the Republicans on the County Board, and its sole Democratic member, understand this. It’s time to govern. We’re focused on lowering your property taxes. We’re focused on rebating some of that $40 million in the Valley Hi fund – that’s a three-year reserve – back to you. We, Republicans and Democrats alike, remember why the voters elected us.
A minority, unfortunately, is more interested in constantly calling for special meetings to micromanage and grind the gears of government to a halt. They want to turn our County Board into a circus and not address the critical issues as to why we are losing population. Our property taxes must be lowered, and we must invest in our infrastructure to attract and retain business. They don’t get it. This is all a political game to them. To them, I want to reiterate what I have told them, personally and publicly, since I was sworn in December as the first ever popularly elected chairman. My door always is open. We have to work together. We must reverse our population loss. We must invest in infrastructure to attract and retain businesses, and most importantly, we must lower our property taxes. It’s unfortunate that some County Board members are doing the hard work to bring about change and reform, while others are not. It’s wrong that the sensible members of the Republican majority are being criticized for their pragmatism and forward-thinking collaboration.
This majority remembers why we’re here. With another election looming next year, it’s time for the minority faction to remember the same, and rededicate themselves to representing the true desires of their constituents.
• Jack Franks is the chairman of the McHenry County Board.