Clerk's hiring of spouse makes McHenry County Board committee uneasy

WOODSTOCK – A request by McHenry County Clerk Mary McClellan to reclassify two election-related positions – one of which is now held by her husband – was not well-received by the County Board Human Resources Committee.

Committee members voted last Thursday, 6-1, to table the proposal to reclassify the positions from hourly to salaried, which McClellan said would help save taxpayers at least $11,500 a year by cutting overtime incurred during elections. But the fact that McClellan hired her spouse for a position outweighed thoughts of cost savings, committee members said after the meeting.

"I just couldn't wrap my head around it," Committee Chairman John Jung, R-Woodstock, said. "To be honest, the big gorilla in the room was her husband."

Under McClellan's proposal, the existing positions of election administrative supervisor – now held by husband Edward Gil – and election administrative analyst would become salaried positions of chief deputy and chief of operations. However, McClellan stressed on Monday afternoon that her husband would not be receiving that management position, and would continue in his current position of maintaining optical-scan and touch-screen voting machines.

McClellan, a Republican from Holiday Hills, said she did not run for the office so she could give her husband a job, but said he had a unique skill set that she did not find among other applicants. Until now, the office employed an outside vendor to maintain the machines at a much higher cost.

McClellan, a former County Board member who had chaired the Human Resources Committee, won the March primary and ran unopposed in November to replace longtime clerk Kathie Schultz, who did not seek re-election.

"I didn't hire him because he's my husband. I hired him because he's a qualified person to do that job," McClellan said.

That argument did not persuade retired Crystal Lake businessman Joe Alger, who started the debate at Thursday's meeting by questioning the hiring choice during public comment. He said he was angry enough to attend the meeting when he heard about the hire.

"Of everyone else in the county, or within a 20-mile radius, he happens to be the most qualified person, and happens to be married to her? That would be more divine intervention than coincidence," Alger said. "If I want to live in that kind of a world, I'll move to Chicago where I can buy my alderman."

Countywide elected officials have autonomy when it comes to hiring, but only the County Board that approves their budgets has the authority to change how much department employees get paid, create new positions or alter existing ones.

Committee members Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard, and Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, likewise spoke out against the recommended changes based on Gil's employment. Kurtz said the public is tired of politicians "using their positions of authority to hire family members."

Evertsen's arguments were along similar lines.

"There is no doubt in my mind as to why people have such a dim view of elected officials," Evertsen said.

McClellan called the debate a distraction, and said her proposal should not have come to any of the committee members as a surprise because she contacted all of them before the meeting. Only Don Kopsell, R-Crystal Lake, voted against tabling the measure.

"I was trying to save the county some money. Obviously, [the committee] is not interested in saving money," McClellan said.

McClellan's resolution also sought to lower the pay for two vacant positions as a cost-cutting measure.

How they voted

The McHenry County Board Human Resources Committee voted Thursday, 6-1, to indefinitely table a request by County Clerk Mary McClellan to reclassify two election-related positions, one of which is now held by her husband.

Committee member Don Kopsell, R-Crystal Lake, cast the sole opposing vote.