Paula Yensen: Candidate Profile
McHenry County board District 5
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Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.
City: Lake in the Hills
Office sought: McHenry County board District 5
Family: Married, two children
Occupation: Executive Director of United Way of Central Kane County
Education: Ph.D. in Education and Urban Affairs, Michigan State University, 1994
Civic involvement: Grafton Food Pantry Board of Directors Environmental Defenders of McHenry County Girls Scouts USA National Operations Volunteer
Elected offices held: Village Trustee, Lake in the Hills, 2001-2008 McHenry County Board, 2008-present
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No
Key Issue 1
Fiscal responsibility and tax revenue stewardship In my two terms as a Village Trustee in Lake in the Hills, and in my one term as a County Board member, I have never voted for a tax increase, and I also voted against a pay increase for County Board members. I lost those votes, but I've donated my raises to charity every year. I believe one of the reasons so many voters are fed up with government is that they don't see a good return for the taxes they pay. People aren't expecting miracles, but they want their roads plowed and the potholes fixed, and they are tired of seeing their property taxes go up every year even when the value of their home is declining. I'm not an anti-government zealot. I believe government services are a very important part of our community, and I don't believe "good government" is an oxymoron. But good government IS hard work. It takes diligence, honesty and a respect for the taxpayers who fund government programs. Most of all it takes common sense. As government officials, we are stewards of taxpayers dollars, and our duty is to ensure those dollars are not wasted.
Key Issue 2
Sustainable economic security and quality of life for McHenry County residents One of the first principles of a healthy, economically secure community is that most people should be able to work near where they live. This will become even more important in the future as transportation costs increase. So our challenge is to encourage the kind of economic growth that will bring good-paying jobs to McHenry County. We need a growing and diversified mix of manufacturing and service sector jobs, not just more retail and restaurant jobs. We have an Economic Development Corporation that's partially funded by the County, but they've provided very little evidence that their efforts have been productive. That's why I voted against providing them with any more taxpayer dollars. I'd rather spend those dollars on tangible improvements to make the county more attractive to entrepreneurs. Ultimately, businesses will decide to locate here because it's a good place to do business.
Key Issue 3
Proactive transportation planning to address increasing congestion and rising energy costs As vice chair of the county's transportation committee for the past two years, I've been deeply involved in improving the way the McHenry County Transportation Department collaborates with the community. We've introduced what's called "context sensitive solutions" to the transportation department's initial planning process to ensure that the old "one size fits all" methods are indeed a thing of the past. My goal is to make certain that everyone's concerns are heard during the planning process and that we can work together to find solutions. Our transportation infrastructure shortcomings are certain to get worse, especially as the economy rebounds and economic activity increases. We've been behind the curve for many decades. We cannot afford to fall further behind.
McHenry County has managed the recession without a budgetary crisis like those in other counties. How do you ensure the county continues on that path and that reserves aren?t depleted? Are there specific budget areas that need more attention?
We have some very capable people managing our budget process, as evidenced by the County's AAA credit rating and awards for financial reporting and transparency. Every time a department comes to us asking for more money, I take a hard look at the expected value to the taxpayer. Population growth and economic activity has slowed dramatically during the recession, so there's not really a justification for most County departments to expand staff or increase spending now. I'm concerned by weak cost containment in some units of County government. For just one example, I was appalled by the cost overruns for the circuit court software upgrades, which I believe were a direct result of poor oversight of contracts and poor project management. I also believe the 708 Mental Health Board needs to review its mission and scope. Our Mental Health Board has a huge budget compared to other counties of similar size, and I question whether taxpayers are getting a proportionally greater return on that investment. Their sheer size may have led them to offer very generous perks to top executives. For example, I recently learned they have a policy of paying the tuition for Ph.D. programs for staff, who are free to leave for greener pastures as soon as their degree is granted. Taxpayers are left with no return on this lavish investment. Unfortunately, the County Board has no control over the Mental Health Board's operations with the exception of the approval of the annual budget. Finally, I'm disappointed by the huge legal fees forced on taxpayers in recent years. Most of the focus has been on the high profile prosecutions and investigations of the State's Attorney, but there have also been a disturbing number of very expensive worker's compensation claims against the Sheriff's department. I serve on the Human Resources committee, and we've offered input that has helped the Sheriff's Department significantly reduce these claims.
Does the McHenry County Board have a good transportation improvement plan? Please be specific and suggest whether you think anything is missing or should be scrapped.
We are working on the 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan to identify and prioritize the county's major transportation issues. We've taken a significantly more proactive approach to community outreach and education, which has paid off with much greater involvement by members of the public. Most of the County's transportation budget is funded by our share of MFT money, and is primarily devoted to repairs and incremental improvements to existing roads and bridges. We also aggressively pursue state funding sources, including grants for programs like PACE. But the really major highway projects depend heavily on scarce state and federal matching funds. That's why we need to continue to be creative in our approach to funding road expansion projects. We need to negotiate significant financial partnerships with commercial developers in the early stages of projects that will add traffic volume to our roads, so that the roads are ready to handle the increased traffic as soon as the developments are open for business. Most of our county's residents are forced to look outside the county for the kinds of jobs that support a middle-class lifestyle. We can't attract good-paying jobs to the county, especially manufacturing jobs, without good roads to move the raw materials and finished products into and out of the county. Our three main north-south connections to I-90 -- Hwy 31, Randall Road, and Hwy 47 -- each have serious deficiencies as commercial transportation arteries. These same roads are used by our commuters every day, and the already bad congestion is only going to get worse. We need to make McHenry County a priority for state and federal highway funds, and we need another Metra station in or near Huntley to provide more options for our commuters.
Does the county need to address its ethics policies? Why or why not? If so, how?
Some members of our County Board have knowingly violated the Open Meetings Act for purely political purposes. That's disappointing. I support strong enforcement of existing rules that require the people's business to be conducted in public. The law is very clear on this subject. Secret meetings have no place in county government. We also have clear requirements for financial disclosure for elected officials. I support the recent move to extend these requirements to appointed members of public bodies, because they often make decisions that are just as important as those made by elected officials.
Assess McHenry County?s efforts thus far in terms of groundwater preservation and protection. What needs to be done now and in the future?
The 2030 Plan is a good start. We must prevent scattered developments in rural areas and encourage more cluster developments within municipal service areas so that we preserve groundwater recharge capacity and prevent contamination. As chair of the county's Storm Water Commission, I am also focused on strengthening the county's storm water ordinance, so that more of our storm water runoff is diverted safely back into our aquifer; we can't let it become part of the flow downriver to the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico.
Assess how the county health department approached the whooping cough outbreak. What should have been done differently?
By the time the outbreak occurred, it was already too late to do what should have been done. I remember having my kids vaccinated for DPT -- diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus -- as infants, and about 10 years later they got booster injections. If all children in McHenry County got the booster injections when they are supposed to, I don't think these sorts of outbreaks would be happening. As I recall, most of the cases in McHenry County were among high school students. I would like to see the Health Department take a more proactive role in promoting the universally recommended vaccination schedules, in partnership with the school districts. Outbreaks are inevitable if children are not receiving all their vaccinations.
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