How new chairman Franks plans to lead the McHenry County Board

Claiming a victory in the race for the first popularly elected McHenry County Board chairman was no small feat for Democrat Jack Franks.

The 63rd House District, which he represented for nine terms, has only one-third the number of residents Franks will now serve in a countywide position — a notion that caused him to explore new towns and meet new people.

Since announcing his decision in May to leave the state legislature and run for chairman, Franks estimates he and his campaign volunteers knocked on more than 60,000 doors throughout the county, listening to residents’ concerns over their property taxes, the economy, the county’s infrastructure.

And so far, his hard work has paid off — even in a county that is known for its strong GOP presence. Franks garnered 79,100 votes in Tuesday’s election, beating out his opponent, Republican Michael Walkup, by more than 20,000 votes.

“I would say I have a mandate from the citizens,” Franks said. “They wanted reform. They want what I was campaigning on.”

The way he ran his campaign perhaps exemplifies the leadership style of the 53-year-old Marengo resident, who says he’ll spend his four-year term fighting for taxpayers and eliminating government waste.

“If nothing else, he’s a great communicator,” said Michael Bissett, the county’s Democratic Party chairman. “He’s a person who connects to people very quickly, and he can elicit their opinions and their concerns very directly. I think that’s very valuable.”

Making the decision to run for board chairman rather than re-election in the state legislature was difficult for Franks, who is known for challenging his Democratic colleagues in the General Assembly on issues of taxes and government spending.

“(Running for re-election) personally would’ve been an easier decision, but that’s not why I got into public service. The reason I did it was to help people,” Franks said. “I had to decide where I could be of most use to the citizens of McHenry County and do the most good for the most people.”

As chairman, Franks intends to restructure the county government, change the budgeting process and cut the county’s property tax levy by 10 percent. He also wants to find a way to rebate part of a $40 million surplus at Valley Hi Nursing Home in Woodstock, as well as hold other government entities, such as the county’s Mental Health Board, accountable for their expenditures.

The first step, he said, is meeting with the 24 county board members and other officials to find the means to get there.

“We’re always excited when we can get a clear road map made for us by our policymakers,” County Administrator Peter Austin said. “Then we can do our best to carry it out.”

Franks has been criticized by his opponent and the McHenry County Republican Party this election season for his seemingly “heavy-handed” approach. Having been at odds with the county board in the past, Walkup argued, Franks may have trouble getting along with the board members — all but one of whom are Republican.

But in his victory, Franks said being able to collaborate with board members is the least of his worries.

“We need to work together to accomplish our goals. We’re going to be a professional body for a change,” he said. “I don’t care what party you’re in. I only care about good government.”

Franks will be sworn into office Dec. 1, along with the other candidates who were elected Tuesday to countywide positions, Austin said. The new county board members will be seated Dec. 5.

“I’ve been trying to reform our government for so long and streamline our government to give the citizens of Illinois — but particularly McHenry County — something to be proud of,” Franks said. “I’m really excited for the opportunity.”