CNCounty News

Illinois exec McCreery retires after nearly 40 years

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Key Takeaways

Mike McCreery put his coat on before taking a gift over to his neighbor’s house on Christmas morning in 1982. As he zipped up, his son Ryan wrapped his arms around McCreery’s leg and started crying.

“Daddy, when will you be home?”

For a two-and-a-half-year-old, every time his father left their Springfield, Ill. home, it could be days until the elder McCreery came back. He had business all over the country, representing a coal mining concern.

“I remember one day I had breakfast in Indianapolis, lunch in Washington D.C. and dinner in Los Angeles,” he said.

After coming to terms with how much he was away from home, McCreery started working at State Farm in Springfield and a few months later he was the executive director and sole employee of the United Counties Council of Illinois – UCCI.  He traded a wide-ranging canvas of congressional districts for a wider portfolio of county issues on whose behalf he would lobby the Legislature. 

“Particularly what was enjoyable and fun about UCCI was the diversity,” he said. “We’ve got western suburbs, we’ve got small southern Illinois counties, we’ve got you know individuals who are the political forces.”

His working relationships spanned demographic lines in different parts of the state, where he forged particularly strong ties to Polish, Latino and African American groups.

“I worked with an organization called Black Contractors United — a group of inner-city Chicago minority contractors,” he said. “Well, I’m a downstate White guy and I think we got along great.”

Being present was crucial to McCreery in his work.

“A rule that was difficult for my family was that if they’re [the Legislature] in session, I’m in the building,” he said. “I’m hanging out just outside the House chamber, and Gov. James Thompson walks by and he could ask me right there my position on a bill. Being there was important to me, letting them know if they needed to know anything about the counties’ positions or information that could help legislation move, that I was there to consult with.

“We maintained pretty strange hours,” he recalled. “There have been times we’ve been in session until midnight or later; once or twice I would stop at a local restaurant and have breakfast on my way home, when everyone else was on the way to work.”

On top of his lobbying, McCreery helped develop the organization’s insurance pool and added roughly 15 counties to the membership rolls and expanded legal services for counties.

Washington County Commission Chairman David Meyer, who has served as UCCI president for eight years, said McCreery had the right personality for the job.

“[Legislators and members] can work you over and things don’t always go right, so there are times he could really get it from both sides, but he managed everybody’s expectations and relationships in a way that kept things going,” Meyer said.

With a large and diverse membership, McCreery had to keep his constituency focused even when the legislative process got bumpy.

“You can’t always go directly from point A to point B,” he said. “Sometimes you have to explain that we have to go east before we can go north. There are too many obstacles.”

Meyer said he quelled any discontent there.

“He got along great with everyone,” he said.

That got to the heart of why McCreery stayed in the job for almost 40 years.

“It comes down to working with people and that’s what I’ve always enjoyed about it,” he said.

The career change was good for him, and it received approval from Ryan, who succeeded his father as executive director.

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