Incoming McHenry County Board chairman tasked with appointing two members to fill vacant seats

The McHenry County Board will soon have two vacant seats, one left by a Democrat and one left by a Republican, that will need to be filled in the coming months.

It will be up to incoming County Board Chairman Mike Buehler to interview candidates to fill the two seats and then bring a nomination forward to be confirmed by the full board, one of his first duties as he steps into the new role.

“It will be best to seek someone with strong leadership skills, diversity in background that will bring value to the board,” Buehler said. “We’ll definitely be looking for someone who values teamwork and collaboration in order to best work to solve any of the issues at hand.”

The first vacant seat was left by the late Chuck Wheeler, a Republican, who died the morning of Nov. 12.

A second seat will open when Democratic County Board member Suzanne Ness leaves her role to become the next state representative for House District 66.

“As for Mr. Wheeler, there’s no doubt that his replacement is going to have to fill some pretty big shoes,” Buehler said. “I would say that probably goes for Ms. Ness as well. I mean, she’s a very strong leader and has high integrity.”

Each seat must be filled by a candidate of the same party as the outgoing official and candidates must reside within the same district, according to state statute. This process must be completed within 60 days of when the seats are officially declared to be vacant.

An official declaration of vacancy for the two seats has not yet occurred.

McHenry County Democratic Party Chairwoman Kristina Zahorik said this may be the first time that a Democratic County Board seat has been left vacant.

McHenry County Republican Party Chairman Tyler Wilke could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The county's Democratic Party has already put an initial call out for applicants and asked that anyone interested in filling the role email the party at info@mchenrydems.org, according to a recent news release.

Zahorik said she and her colleagues have also reached out to a few candidates that they feel are particularly well-suited for the position to ask them to apply.

They are looking for qualified, Democratic candidates who will also be interested in running for the position when they come to the end of their predecessor’s term in 2022, she said.

The party will collect applications, vet candidates and submit a name or list of names to Buehler for consideration, she said. The McHenry County Republican Party will likely follow a similar process.

“I would hope that this would be the incoming chairman’s first really large public gesture and that, if he does want to govern in the spirit of true bipartisanship, he would take the recommendations of either party,” Zahorik said.

The process of nominating a candidate to fill a vacant seat has varied significantly under the leadership of different board chairmen, said County Board member Carolyn Schofield, a Republican.

“I’ve seen [board chairmen] be very involved with the party that was vacating the seat; I’ve seen no involvement with the party vacating the seat,” Schofield said. “It’s really their choice.”

After her initial conversations with Buehler, Schofield said she feels confident that he will make the positions open to all well-qualified candidates and will work collaboratively with board members to confirm someone they can all agree on.

Buehler himself is a good example that “there might be people out there willing to serve that haven’t really been heavily involved in politics, so I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing that they aren’t really known by a party,” Schofield said. “So you have to let people know.”

This has always been Buehler’s plan, he said, adding that he plans to adhere to the 60-day time frame to fill the seats, barring any “unforeseen circumstances.”

Outgoing County Board Chairman Jack Franks said he would advise that Buehler make his own decision based on who he thinks will best serve county residents, independent of partisan influences.

The two political parties can play an advisory role in the process, but not a decisive one, Franks said.

When it comes to candidate recommendations from the two parties, “I think [they] would carry a great deal of weight,” Buehler said. “I would probably consider their recommendations first and foremost, ... but I wouldn’t just default to that.”

Buehler said he is appreciative of Franks’ suggestions and may consider reaching out to him or other former board chairmen for further consultation during the process, as Franks said he did when faced with choosing his first appointment to the board shortly after being elected.