We continue WNIJ’s Friday Forum, in which we interview politicians and others whose decisions affect you. This morning, we check in with two new county board chairmen in northern Illinois. We’ll hear how the two men will attempt to transform their campaign platforms into action plans.
Former state lawmaker Jack Franks, a Democrat, was elected to chair the solidly Republican McHenry County board. Before he took the role officially, he says, he reached out to the two dozen board members, 23 of whom are Republican.
“I’ve made multiple efforts,” Franks said. “I’ve called every person multiple times. I’ve written them multiple times — both hard copies, snail mail, as well as emails. So there’s a lot of communication. But a few of them still don’t like the outcome of the election and have not accepted it.”
Indeed, it’s been a chilly reception so far for some of his early initiatives.
Meanwhile, the new Winnebago County Board chairman, Frank Haney, says he feels confident that he can start right in on changing the administrative culture at the county level.
“We want to follow this thing called our ‘ACT’ initiative,” he said. “That is, Winnebago County government is going to be the most accountable, collaborative, and transparent unit of government in the state of Illinois. What is very unique about us is a beautiful balance really of urban and rural. We are a county that is uniquely positioned in many, many ways to lead the comeback in the state of Illinois.”
Haney worked in the insurance industry and is a former chairman of the Rock Valley College board.
A centerpiece of Haney’s campaign in Winnebago County is to issue report cards for departments and programs.
“In the game of football, you want to know where the field goal posts are, and then you want to know for every ten times you try to kick a field goal, how many times does the ball go through the uprights?” Haney said. “Defining where the field goal posts are and then keeping track of how successful you are as you go about your business is something we have seen happen in the private sector and manufacturing for years and for decades. In sports, regardless of particular sport, you always get the scoreboard to look up at; so we are just building on that concept.”
In McHenry County, Jack Franks wants to implement zero-based budgeting to keep a close eye on spending.
“So instead of starting with last year’s budget and building from there, which actually locks in waste and makes it almost impossible to eliminate,” Franks said, “instead what we are going to do, we are going to start at zero and every line item is going to need to be justified.
“They have never done it like that before,” he continued. “If there are redundancies, we are going to cut them out. It is going to be disorienting at first, but eventually we are going to be doing things differently and it will just makes sense.”
Franks says McHenry County committee meetings are now live-streamed on the county website. He says he wants to institute electronic voting so there can be a searchable database to track how individual members vote.
“We need to throw back the curtain on our government and let the people know what we are doing,” Franks said. “I want the voters to be very critical of our actions and to get more involved.”
Transparency is also on Frank Haney’s agenda, but not necessarily by choice. Haney inherits a board that is working to regain trust. The county’s former purchasing director is now behind bars after a federal investigation revealed she stole more than $400,000 from Winnebago County coffers. Haney says new staff has been brought in to oversee spending.
“There’s no simple, quick silver bullet way to earn trust with taxpayers or with your partners, so we are just going to do it one step at a time,” Haney said. “We are going to over-communicate the brutal facts of what we find in our review process. We are going to over-communicate changes we make, and we are also not going to be afraid to admit we make a mistake from time to time, but we are in a constant and never-ending improvement process.”
Frank Haney says there is a real chance that these two leaders will lean on each other to solve common issues.
“I don’t know Mr. Franks personally, but we do have one thing in common. We both are committed to good government in a state that has some struggles,” Haney said. “We have very high tax rates in the state of Illinois and we need to work together as a team and I am very excited with partners like Mr. Franks. Although of a different party persuasion, I think we have many shared ideals and we are aligned in many of things we need to accomplish for the people we serve.”
Jack Franks also sees areas of overlap.
“We are all in this together, and all of us have to collaborate,” he said. “Because if we don’t work together, our area is never going to reach the potential that we should have because of our crushing property tax burden so we have to be more creative and more collaborative. Frank [Haney] has some really good ideas. I’ve read what he is trying to do and what his platform is and it is exciting. I want to work with him and help him get his accomplished there as well as here.”
Franks said he also has met with Aaron Lawlor, from Lake County, and Dan Cronin, from DuPage County.
“I worked very closely with Dan, and he is a Republican,” Franks said. “We worked together on passing the law to allow the counties to be able to consolidate redundant governments. Dan has actually implemented some of those, and he claims DuPage County is going save about $13 million dollars as a result. So I am meeting with Dan and he is going to give me some ideas as well of what we can do in McHenry County to do the same.”