Northwest Herald

Franks sounds a warning on executive referendum
Northwest Herald
September 11, 2012
WOODSTOCK – If the McHenry County Board goes through with providing information on the
upcoming county executive referendum, the state representative who has raised its ire for
spearheading the effort feels it’s only fair he write it.
State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, asked board members in a Thursday letter to be the author
of any educational materials the board decides to release on the referendum. The letter, written to
Chairman Ken Koehler and copied to all County Board members and State’s Attorney Lou
Bianchi, also served as a warning for the board not to overstep its legal bounds and cross the line
into advocacy against it.
“If the County Board is contemplating this type of expenditure, I would request, as the principal
proponent of the referendum in question, to write the information that would be disseminated for
and against the proposition,” Franks wrote.
But whether county government will decide to engage in any kind of informational campaign is
still uncertain. State law limits governments in such situations to providing factual and unbiased
information on ballot issues and forbids them from taking positions on them or doing so on
taxpayer time.
Franks supervised the collection of signatures necessary to get the referendum on the ballot after
unsuccessful efforts to persuade or force the County Board to allow for direct election of the
chairman, who currently is elected by the board from among its members.
Under a county-executive form of government, voters elect their county board representatives, as
they do now, but also elect a chief executive to a four-year term to run county government’s dayto-day operations.
The law grants the executive powers that far exceed what the chairman now exercises, such as
veto power over board legislation. The executive also is responsible for developing the county
budget, recommending appointments of department heads and entering intergovernmental
Franks’ letter referred to an Aug. 24 meeting of the board’s Legislative and Intergovernmental
Affairs Committee in which members discussed whether to provide information to voters
regarding the two different forms of government. They did not recommend an action, pending an
opinion from Bianchi’s office regarding acceptable political activities for board members
running for election.
The opinion, which has been tentatively released but is confidential because of attorney-client
privilege, is a summary of all applicable laws and does not deal specifically with the countyexecutive referendum.
Some committee members at the Aug. 24 meeting expressed unease with the idea. Some, such as
Marc Munaretto, R-Algonquin, warned of risking the appearance of impropriety if what the
county calls unbiased information ends up being reported as alleged advocacy by someone else.
Franks’ letter incorrectly alleged the committee was seeking a legal opinion of whether county
government could advocate against it with taxpayer resources. County Administrator Peter
Austin reiterated Monday that county government clearly understands its boundaries.
County government embarked on a neutral voter education campaign in the March primary when
it, and 17 other municipal governments, asked their respective voters whether they wanted
governments to shop competitively for lower residential electrical rates. Such information
usually gets vetted by the state’s attorney’s office before release.
“I’m surprised there was any question of spending money to advocate, but that’s because that
was never the question at all,” Austin said. “We know better than that.”
Franks said he wanted to be sure. He wrote in his letter that the County Board’s lobbying group
in Springfield, paid for through taxpayer money, joined other government lobbying groups in
successfully fighting his efforts last year to enact taxpayer relief by holding governments’ levies
increases to zero in years their overall assessed values decrease.
“They have used taxpayer funds against the taxpayers in the past,” Franks said.
Duties of a county executive
Voters on Nov. 6 will be asked whether they want to change to a county-executive form of
government, without granting the county home-rule authority.
Under this form of government, county voters elect not only their representatives on the County
Board but also a countywide executive who acts as a CEO running the county’s day-to-day
A county executive under the law wields more power and authority than a County Board
chairman, which currently is selected by the County Board’s 24 members. Those powers include:
• Signing bills passed by a County Board and vetoing legislation. Vetoes can be overridden by a
three-fifths majority vote.
• Preparing the annual budget for board approval.
• Recommending appointments and dismissal of department staff, boards and commissions. The
executive’s power does not apply to staff of countywide elected officeholders such as the sheriff
or county clerk.
• Entering intergovernmental agreements.
• Presiding over board meetings. The executive votes only to break ties.
• Appointing independent legal counsel. However, the salary is set by the County Board and
cannot exceed that of the state’s attorney.
• Redrawing the board’s legislative districts to adjust for population after each decennial U.S.
Source: Illinois Compiled Statutes