CRYSTAL LAKE – A faction of Republicans on the McHenry County Board trying to cut the staff of Democratic County Board Chairman Jack Franks is making another bid to eliminate what they have said are political hires costing taxpayers more than $150,000 a year.
McHenry County Board members plan to hold a special meeting after Thursday’s Committee of the Whole to discuss what some board members claim were improper hirings for two positions the board didn’t approve and a potential lease on Valley Hi Nursing Home.
Consideration of the potential lease is on the Committee of the Whole agenda. The special meeting aims to focus on eliminating the two positions, according to the agendas.
A special meeting on these matters Aug. 25 failed to establish a quorum. The matter of the hirings has been ongoing since December, when two people hired as different types of managers were given media and communications roles. The Valley Hi request-for-qualifications was sent out without board approval, according to board members seeking the special meeting.
In December, the county filled two positions – utility manager and temporary project manager. Costs to fill the positions top $166,000 and the employees hired are working as executive assistant and communications specialist for Franks. Bridget Geenen is Franks' assistant and newly hired Kevin Craver serves in the role of communications specialist, filling a role vacated by Oliver Serafini. Both Geenen and Serafini had worked with Franks when he was a state representative. Craver worked as a Northwest Herald reporter for more than a decade before taking the county job in August.
County board member Craig Wilcox, a Republican from District 4 serving McHenry, Richmond and Burton and candidate for Senate District 32, said the matter has been about transparency and the employees not actually doing the work in their job descriptions.
Since the hiring, the administration has attempted to get the positions reclassified, records show.
“The process should have been followed,” Wilcox said.
The board should have had a discussion about the creation of new positions and how to fund those, which didn’t occur, Wilcox said.
“Instead, we have two positions that have been vacant used to hire in,” he said. “We want a final general discussion of that process. It attempted to come before the board on numerous occasions.”
The County’s Human Resource committee in June heard a request for the reclassification of the positions and voted against it. The committee hadn’t been formed at the time of the hirings, records show. The reclassifications would have renamed the temporary project manager as executive assistant and changed the utility coordinator to communications specialist.
County Administrator Peter Austin called the situation “unique” at the time.
“The County has never had a countywide elected chairman before,” minutes from the March 15 Human Resource Committee meeting read. “[Austin] challenged staff on how they could accommodate the new chairman’s desire to staff with a budget positive impact and neutral headcount.”
The utility coordinator position became vacant on May 3, 2013, and the temporary project manager was vacated on Aug. 12, 2016. Both were filled in December, Wilcox said.
Franks called the special meeting "a political stunt" and that nothing improper had taken place.
"This is our staff doing their jobs," he said. "Nothing more and nothing less. This goes back to folks that don't care about what happens to the taxpayers."
He said that his position as a countywide elected official is different than the previous chairman.
"Voters created a new office with expectation that whoever was chosen would have the resources to do the job that that person was elected to do," he said. "This is not the same job as the previous chairman. All countywide elected officals are allowed to hire their own staff. Any reasonable person understands that a countywide officals needs employees in order to accomplish their job. These guys are trying to thwart the citizens and the will of the people by saying 'No, Franks shouldn't have any employees."
The board attempted to hold a special meeting on the matter Aug. 25 but failed to establish a quorum – most board members didn't show up to the meeting. In addition to discussing the two positions, some county board members wanted to discuss a request-for-qualifications that went out on leasing out Valley Hi Nursing Home.
Valley Hi is a county-owned care facility that provides short- and long-term stays for elderly residents in the county. It also offers hospice and health care-related services.
The request was posted without County Board or Valley Hi operating board approval, Wilcox said.
It's not uncommon for the county administration to issue a RFQ without approval, but the issue could have a major effect on the community and should have been brought up, Wilcox said.
Franks said that almost every other RFQ has been done in the same manner and there was nothing secret about it.
"This is a manufactured, non-crisis," Franks said.
County Board member Chuck Wheeler, a Republican also serving District 4 and formerly on the Valley Hi board and current chair of the Public Health and Human Service board, said the move was a slight to the committees.
“It’s an area under our domain,” he said. “We had it on the docket for discussion.”
He said that he thought it was too early to discuss a brokers response to the RFQ.
“I think it's premature to do that before we have had a discussion about where Valley Hi is in terms of the county and what it’s doing in terms of providing services to the community,” he said.
The Committee of the Whole meeting will be at 9 a.m. Thursday at the County Board Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock. The Valley Hi lease is on the agenda. The special meeting to consider eliminating the two positions will follow.