McHenry County Board chairman says Republican Party’s coroner pick not qualified, an attempt to politicize office

WOODSTOCK – A total of nine candidates, including a former McHenry County Board member, have applied to replace former McHenry County Coroner Anne Majewski, who resigned in March to address ongoing health complications.

McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks said whoever the board ends up appointing to serve as county coroner will be eminently qualified for the job. However, Franks said one candidate – the McHenry County Republican Party’s pick for the position Michael Rein – is not qualified.

“I want to professionalize the office and depoliticize our government,” Franks said.

Majewski was first elected coroner in 2012 and was reelected in 2016. Her current term was set to expire in 2020.

In April, the McHenry County Board declared a vacancy within the coroner’s office. Since then, McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim has served as interim coroner with David Devane, the sheriff’s office’s chief administration officer, assisting.

Coroner applicants include Rein of Woodstock, Patricia Bogard of Island Lake, Shannon Havenhill of Crystal Lake, Richard Jackson of Crystal Lake, Mark Justen of McHenry, Lisa Maire of Wonder Lake, Orlando Portillo of Richmond, Teresa Steph of Cary and Edith Varga of Richmond.

Coroners are the conservators of peace and in the performance of their duties as such, they shall have the same powers as the county sheriff, according to Illinois statute.

Other duties include investigating the death of any ward of the state, conducting public and community education programs, issuing death certificates and handling office finances.

Rein, a chiropractic doctor who served on the County Board from 2014 to 2018, said his medical background, critical-thinking skills and experience on the County Board make him the right candidate.

“Majewski set a high standard for McHenry County being an M.D., and I want to continue that higher standard for McHenry County and the taxpayers,” Rein said.

Rein was unanimously chosen by the McHenry County Republican Party as the party’s pick for coroner, according to a news release sent June 12.

“During his tenure on the County Board, Dr. Michael Rein showed a strong desire to control expenses while continuing delivery of quality service. His attention to budget details and a commitment to service to the community is exemplary,” said Diane Evertsen, chairwoman of the McHenry County Republican Central Committee. “We’re very pleased that Dr. Rein has stepped forward to fill this vacancy and continue the professionalism and caring of Dr. Majewski.”

The McHenry County Board chairman is responsible for naming a potential coroner candidate for board consideration.

Franks said nominating Rein, who has no background in pathology or forensic science, is an attempt to politicize the office. Because of that, Franks said he would not be bringing Rein forward for a full County Board vote.

“This is insider crony politics that I vowed to smash when I was elected,” Franks said.

Although he has received nine applications, Franks said he is waiting to hear an analysis of the coroner’s office before he sends out questionnaires.

 “Under state statute, we have to name someone under 60 days [after a vacancy is declared], but there’s no penalty if you don’t, so I want to make sure that we get this right,” Franks said. “It’s too important of a job to play politics with.”

During the vacancy period, the sheriff’s office has been working with a medical consultant to perform a top-to-bottom evaluation of the coroner’s office.

McHenry County Administrator Peter Austin said the county won’t be paying more than $30,000 for the evaluation.

“It’s a very open-ended, broad review,” Austin said. “We wanted to use this time when we’re between coroners to have that opportunity.”

Austin added that he hopes to have the evaluation finished in July.