Marking what several community leaders are calling a new era of McHenry County government, Jack Franks took office Monday as the first popularly elected county board chairman.
It didn’t take long after being sworn into his new leadership role for the Marengo Democrat to begin executing the platforms on which he campaigned: Restructuring the government, reducing property taxes and pushing for bipartisanship among the 24 board members, all but one of whom are Republicans.
“My goals are your goals,” Franks told the board. “I ask each of you to join me, put aside party labels and focus on working together to reduce taxes and show all of Illinois what can be done when elected officials put the good of the people first.”
Also sworn in Monday were the 12 board members elected in November, seven of whom are new. Jeffrey Thorsen of District 2 was chosen over District 6 board member Mary McCann as the new vice chairman.
Each district also appointed one member to the committee on committees, which is tasked with assigning board members to each committee.
Already, Franks created a temporary rules committee tasked with evaluating his proposal to streamline the policy-making process and reduce the number of county board committees from 12 to seven. The group will also explore Franks’ ideas to allow any board member to substitute on any committee, and to meet as a committee of the whole before every regular board meeting.
The ad hoc committee is expected to meet Wednesday before making a recommendation to the committee of the whole on Dec. 19, Franks said. The committee on committees will meet next Monday, and all other committee work will be on hold until after the county board makes a final decision on the structure — a concept that was met with resistance by some board members.
Thorsen said the board should adhere to the rules in place to help guide members through times of transition phase. Those guidelines would call for continuing committee-level work while officials develop the new structure.
“I don’t have a problem with getting the job done,” he said. “But I have a problem with, at this time, (talking about) what should be a goal as though it were already an accomplishment prior to us having an open and transparent hearing in front of the public.”
Michael Walkup of District 3, who ran against Franks for the chairman seat, questioned the necessity of the ad hoc group when the county already has a committee for establishing government regulations.
But Franks argued there’s no reason to continue with a committee structure most board members have indicated they want to change.
“The argument that we’ve always done it this way is not going to fly anymore,” he said. “We need to get more efficient.”
Franks, who calls himself a fiscal conservative, also promised to carry out his “Cut 10” initiative — a proposal to reduce the county’s tax levy by 10 percent — and asked board members to start thinking of ways to cut government spending to meet that goal. He also introduced his plans for a reformed budgeting process, voiced his support for infrastructure projects and indicated his intent to grow the tax base.
Franks, who is leaving the state legislature to serve as chairman, has historically been at odds with the county board on issues of pensions and government spending. But several board members and community leaders said it’s time to set differences aside and compromise for the betterment of the county.
“This is a new age for this county,” Algonquin Village President John Schmitt said. “I really hope that you take the high road, all of you, and work things out and get things done.”
Franks told board members he will work closely with them to improve government transparency, provide high-quality services to residents and create a vibrant economy.
“We all want these things, and we are all on the same team,” he said. “Let’s never forget that.”