McHenry County Home Rule?

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McHenry County voters approved a binding referendum that allows them beginning in 2016 to elect their County Board Chairman rather than the 24 board members. The referendum passed by almost 60 percent to 40 percent (18,722 to 14,134).

Voters in Kane, DuPage, Winnebago, LaSalle, Madison and St. Clair counties directly elect their board chairmen.

Will County voters elect a chief executive. Cook County voters elect their board president. In both counties the elected office is as an executive branch and wield significantly more authority in operations.

Cook County is the only county in Illinois with Home Rule authority.

In DeKalb County the County Board elects the chairman every two years after each November election.

After the 2016 election the McHenry County Board will increase to 25 members from the current 24 member board to include the chairman. The chairman will only cast a vote to break a tie.

McHenry County Board members receive a flat salary (DeKalb County Board members receive a per diem for each meeting attended) plus opt in for pension payments under the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund and are eligible for health benefits. By adding one new board member, the additional cost for salary and benefits would be between $20,000 and $40,000.

The elected chairman has the authority to call special meetings and the option to propose a redistricting of board districts following each decennial U.S. Census.

Opponents of the measure, including many current county board members, believe the public and board members are now less protected from special interest groups and corruption. They fear the voter elected chairman could become beholden to campaign contributors and special interest groups.

Supporters expressed their displeasure with the current structure because the chairman could trade appointments to chairmen of standing committees in exchange for votes. A countywide elected chair may give the public more say in the direction of the board.

Developments from this change in county government merits watching for DeKalb County. Don’t be surprised to see an effort for McHenry County to become a Home Rule unit — which would require a referendum — as the voter elected chair would then be championed as the layer of accountability the public needs.

And on that note:

Any due diligence on McHenry County issues requires a visit to Cal Skinner’s McHenry County Blog.

Skinner covered a citizen-based Home Rule legal battle between the City of Crystal Lake and Crystal Lake Community High School District 155.

On August 12, 2013, the Plaintiffs, Jeff Gurba, Louis A. Bianchi (Revocable Trust), and Jean M. Bianchi (Revocable Trust), filed for a Permanent Injunction and sought relief from a construction project occurring at Crystal Lake South High School whose football stadium abuts the rear line of the property of the Plaintiffs. The Plaintiffs alleged the project has just about doubled and otherwise dwarfed the original height of the bleachers at the stadium, at the rear line of their property, without regard to certain ordinances of the City.

The Plaintiffs argued that their due process rights were violated, they were denied any opportunity to defend their property rights or be heard and in sharp contrast, the City of Crystal Lake has extensive and detailed procedures in place to afford all interested parties their rights to due process.

McHenry County Circuit Judge Michael Chmiel ruled against Crystal Lake High School District 155:

Notwithstanding the legions of section of the School Code which cover various powers for regional superintendents, school districts, and school boards, other than Section 10-22.13a, no portion of the School Code specifically addresses and otherwise provides power over zoning (and related items like storm water management) to regional superintendents, school districts, and/or school boards.

While the District 155 Defendants and the Regional Superintendent should continue to be able to fully engage school purposes, especially with the various grants of power provided under the School Code, the City should continue to be able to fully engage municipal purposes which include specific power over zoning.

In sum, the Court generally agrees with the arguments of the City and the Plaintiffs.

The decision confirms that the Home Rule powers of municipalities take priority over school districts and other units to build structures and in matters of zoning.

That’s an argument for Home Rule. Whether that outweighs the ballooning debt of Home Rule municipalites is doubtful. But it may help protect the public from harmful site selection decisions made by school boards with only oversight from regional superintendents.

Burning Question:

Does the City of DeKalb’s Home Rule authority supersede NIU on matters of building and zoning?

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