Sandra Hart: Candidate Profile
Lake County board District 13
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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 Bluff
Office sought: Lake County board District 13
Family: Married for fourteen years to Tom, who grew up in Lake Bluff. We have three children, two girls and a boy, aged 11, 8, and 6.
Occupation: Former employee of Kraft Foods, Sales and Human Resources Former employee of Shields Township Assessor's office.
Education: BS, Indiana University School of Business, Marketing MBA, DePaul University, Marketing and Organizational Development CIAO (Certified Illinois Assessing Official)
Civic involvement: Vice-President, Lake Bluff Park District Board, 2005-present. Member, Northwestern-Lake Forest Hospital Women's Board. Chair, 21st Century Skills, Lake Bluff Elementary School. Chair, VoteYes65, resulting in passage of referendum for LEED certified elementary school in 2007. Site Coordinator for co-op of local organic family farmers. Parent Representative for Eco-Club at LB Elementary School
Elected offices held: Lake Bluff Park District Board, 2005-present
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No
Key Issue 1
STRENGTHENING THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY AND GROWING THE JOB MARKET It is critical to our county that we create a positive environment for businesses and the people who work here. Lake County must create incentives to keep Illinois businesses from moving to Wisconsin. We need to reexamine the role and effectiveness of Lake County Partners, an organization primarily funded by the county and intended to improve the county?s business climate. I will be setting up business roundtables to hear firsthand how Lake County can work more directly on issues that matter to our local small, medium, and large businesses. Lake County businesses need strong advocates on the board, and the business community will have a stronger voice under my leadership.
Key Issue 2
FISCAL ACCOUNTABILITY I believe that the budget is the most important policy document of any governmental body. I have the skills and experience necessary to evaluate and monitor County operations on behalf of District 13 residents. After our schools, Lake County is the largest taxing body for our residents. It is critical that we maintain the County's AAA bond rating and continue to carefully examine the budget for any opportunities to alleviate the tax burden. I will monitor the budget carefully to be sure that every penny is used as effectively as possible.
Key Issue 3
ACCESSIBILITY AND TRANSPARENCY I will hold "county hall" meetings regularly to listen to residents and provide an opportunity for dialog. County government is critical to many of the areas of the 13th District, and I will seek input from residents to be sure their concerns are being represented. I already communicate with residents via email and will work to expand that to as many residents as possible. I will be walking in the unincorporated areas that may be affected by proposed changes/ordinances in order to hand deliver information. I will also make sure that the processes of Lake County government are completely transparent. All financial information should be readily available to interested residents via the County's website and emails.
Now that golf at Fort Sheridan is a dead issue, what types of amenities should be added to the site?
First, I am very pleased that the Forest Preserve District passed the resolution to request that the U.S. Army remove the golf course deed restriction. As a member of the Ft. Sheridan Advisory Committee, I was the only one to vote against a golf course on the property. Now that this incredible property is preserved, we must determine the optimal use. Due to the unique nature of the property and the turmoil that surrounded the golf course situation, the Forest Preserve District must continue to use community involvement to determine the amenities that should be added. This should be done using various strategies to engage the greatest number of residents. I serve on the Lake Bluff Park District Board and we strongly believe in involving the community when undertaking large initiatives. We advertised and conducted community-wide surveys, online and mailed; focus groups; task forces; open houses; and advisory committees. While this may translate to a great deal of work for the board and staff, the benefits of community engagement are well worth it. The Forest Preserve District already conducted an Open House on June 12, and I understand they received good feedback on what people would like to see at Ft. Sheridan - more trails, open space, and views of the lake. As a board member, I will favor those amenities that serve the greatest number of residents at a low cost. Now is not the time to make sizeable capital investments on this site.
What, if any, new ethics-related rules are needed for the county board and county staff?
Ethics are of the upmost importance in any field, but especially in government. Preserving the public trust is critical, and a strong ethics ordinance is a valuable part of any government entity. The County Board updated the Ethics Ordinance in 2011 and added a requirement to review the policy every five years. One significant change was prohibiting board members from influencing employment or vendor selection (Article 5, Section 5.2). There was a concern among board members regarding whether this may impact the diversity at the county, but a diversified workforce should be achieved and managed through a formal HR strategy, which is beyond the scope of this ordinance. I recommend that the county board add language to the ordinance stating that board members must resign from the board prior to applying or bidding for work at the county, or having an immediate family member apply or bid. This may be inferred from the language already provided, but it needs to be clear that this act would be an ethics violation. When any organization develops a strong culture of ethics and acts in a manner that is consistently ethical, it builds public trust. There is no greater goal for an elected board than earning the trust of the people they serve and with whose tax dollars they are entrusted.
Government transparency has been an important issue in recent years. Name one thing the county government or forest preserve district should do to improve transparency.
Government accountability and transparency go hand in hand. Earning and keeping public trust must be a top priority for any government agency, and the best way to achieve this is to have a well-organized, easily navigable website with a large database of information. This has been a priority for the Lake Bluff Park District as well, and it is part of our strategic plan to have information accessible to the public. The County government has made great strides in this area, but more information could be added to enhance transparency. Currently, the capital improvement plans for the county are embedded in the budget (page 40). These should be directly accessible so the public can be more aware of upcoming projects. As a board member, I would recommend adding the capital improvement plans and projects, results from any surveys, as well as the Ethics Ordinance and FOIA information to the home page. These can be found on the site, but placing them more prominently would speak to the value the board places on ethics and transparency in government. Lastly, a simple addition would be to show how to easily calculate the tax dollars from the tax rate, as well as how the tax levy process works. The Forest Preserve site gives considerable user information to the public, but it is currently being revamped, with the new site going live in February 2013. Testing is being done right now, and the end result will serve to simplify searches for financial documents, monthly bills, the budget, and financial reports. Providing quick and easy access to financial information will be a great improvement to their site. Lastly, I believe that accountability and transparency are enhanced by board members being available to the community. It is one of my top goals as a board member to hold frequent open houses and forums within the district to hear directly from the residents their questions, concerns, and suggestions. Keeping the public informed via regular emails, newsletters, and attending community meetings throughout the district is an effective way to ensure that residents are well-informed and their representative is accessible to them.
Should the forest district use eminent domain to acquire the land needed for the final link in the Des Plaines River Trail? Why or why not? If your answer is no, how should officials go about acquiring that land sooner than later?
The Forest Preserve District, as a government entity, reserves the right to utilize eminent domain, but it should not be enforced in this situation, and should always be used only as the absolute last resort. While the lack of use of eminent domain creates a situation in which cyclists are forced to ride along Milwaukee Avenue, the rights of property owners are paramount and should not be impinged upon. The Forest Preserve District has spent considerable time and effort to acquire the land and easements necessary to create this incredible 31-mile-long bike trail over a 33 -year period. Biking and walking trails are a priority for the residents of Lake County, and therefore for the Forest Preserves as well. Our bike trails afford us safe and direct transportation and recreational opportunities, and it is my goal as a Forest Preserve board member to enhance bikeability throughout Lake County. While this 1,500-foot gap is a major inconvenience, I believe the Forest Preserve should continue to be open to all available options, including working with IDOT to create a bike lane along Milwaukee Avenue.
What will be the biggest issue facing the county over the next decade, and how do you propose dealing with it?
The biggest issues facing Lake County are jobs and rising property taxes. It is my top priority to work with local businesses to make sure we are providing the right environment to retain and attract companies in Lake County. The unemployment rate in Lake County is above the national average for the first time in ten years, and we must establish a strategy to ensure that our residents and business owners have the support and resources they need to keep jobs here. Having a strong commercial base is of critical importance: it enhances the quality of life for our residents by enabling them to live close to work; it decreases the residential tax burden; and it grows the economic climate. We need to see clear, quantifiable results for the dollars given to Lake County Partners, assess the current conditions, and make changes to ensure we stay on track to provide the right services for companies to thrive. Rising property taxes are impacting families across Lake County. Even though the county represents only 7% of our tax dollar, and the forest preserve district another 3%, alleviating the taxpayer burden is a central focus for me. In 2011, the Lake Bluff Park District Board, on which I serve, voted unanimously to abate the CPI increase in our tax levy for 2012 to alleviate some of the tax burden, however small, to our residents. One of my top three goals as a board member is ensuring that the county board continues to be fiscally conservative while providing necessary services. Many families throughout the county are struggling with underemployment or lack of employment, and I will carefully analyze the budget to ensure crucial services are delivered with the fewest taxpayer dollars. In today?s economic climate, particularly in the state of Illinois, there is no alternative. The county has done a good job reducing costs and becoming more efficient, paring millions of dollars from the budget, but this is a work in progress, and I am looking forward to being a part of that process.
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