McHenry County Board Democrats refuse to support chairman’s pick to replace Suzanne Ness

Democratic members say the chairman’s process of selecting a candidate did a disservice to residents

McHenry County Board members listen to comments made before the vote was taken to approve Democrat John Collins to the board to replace Suzanne Ness in serving the residents of District 2.

All seven Democratic members of the McHenry County Board refused to support County Board Chairman Mike Buehler’s nomination of Democrat John Collins to fill the vacant seat left by now state Rep. Suzanne Ness.

Collins, who was chosen from a field of six applicants to be the nominee, is owner and president of Omni Supply, an Elgin company that builds environmentally responsible systems to manage fats, oil and grease for the commercial food industry, according to a news release last week.

His nomination was approved 16 to 5 Wednesday with two abstentions, a contrast to the other candidate nominated by Buehler to fill a vacancy. McHenry resident and entrepreneur Jeffrey Schwartz’s nomination to filled the seat left by the late Chuck Wheeler, a Republican, was unanimously in January.

Democratic board members Theresa Meshes, Jessica Phillips, Michael Vijuk, Paula Yensen and Carlos Acosta voted no on Collins’ nomination Wednesday. Democratic board members Kelli Wegener and Tanya Jindrich abstained from the vote, and all 16 of the board’s Republican members voted yes.

Among those who spoke out during Wednesday’s meeting to say they disagreed with how Buehler went about selecting a candidate was Phillips, the Democratic board member whom Collins will join in serving District 2.

Phillips said she felt she was wrongly excluded from the interview process in a way that she felt disenfranchised voters.

“I was extremely disappointed that I was purposely cut out of any and all talks, meetings, communications, interviews concerning the appointment to the vacancy in the very district that I was elected to represent,” she said.

District 2 includes all or parts of Crystal Lake, Cary, Algonquin, Lake in the Hills and Lakewood. By law, Ness’s replacement had to be someone of the same party and reside within the same district.

Buehler said last week that he conducted interviews in the same way that he did when filling the District 4 seat and said he thought including Phillips in the process would have violated the Open Meetings Act as the number of board members present belonging to the same committee would have required the meeting to be opened to the public.

District 2 board members Carolyn Schofield and Jeffrey Thorsen, both Republicans, sat in on the interviews along with Democratic board member Kelli Wegener, Buehler said.

Phillips dismissed Buehler’s argument, calling it “disingenuous at best” given that he did not seek legal opinion to verify if it was indeed a violation.

“It shows a disregard for me as an elected member of the board and is grossly disrespectful to the residents in my district,” she said.

Wegener also voiced her disapproval for the chairman’s selection process, but said she was “honored” to represent the local Democratic Party in the interview process.

“This is a difficult choice for me to make, but I will be abstaining from this evening’s vote because the candidate chosen was not the person that I would like to see fill this spot,” Wegener said. “I spoke to Mr. Collins this morning and he understands my decision. I look forward to working with him and helping him with any questions he may have.”

In response to their remarks, Republican board member from District 2, Carolyn Schofield, said appointing a candidate to fill a vacancy on the board is the decision of the County Board chairman as is the decision of how to go about selecting that candidate.

“I appreciate that the chairman actually included some of the board members in the process and wanted our thoughts and our feedback,” she said.