Election 2020: County Board candidates for Districts 5 and 6 discuss COVID-19, body cameras

While one McHenry County Board candidate thought local businesses should have been allowed to reopen sooner, others suggested the creation of a task force charged with evaluating the county's COVID-19 response and identifying areas of need.

The conversations were part of an endorsement interview facilitated by the editorial boards of the Northwest Herald and the Daily Herald on Sept. 2. The Northwest Herald will be publishing additional stories in the days to come, laying out the background and positions of candidates across county, state and federal races.

The McHenry County Board is made up of 24 members representing six districts. Voters this fall will be tasked with picking two candidates for the district where they live. Half of the county board's seats are open this election year.

District 5, which covers all of Dorr Township and the central part of Grafton Township, currently is represented by Paula Yensen, a Democrat from Lake in the Hills, who also serves as the chairwoman of the senior services grant commission, and Mike Skala, a Republican from Huntley, who serves as chairman of the finance and audit committee.

Yensen described herself as a fiscal conservative who takes pride in being involved in her community, and Skala said he wants to reduce the size of the county board if reelected to save taxpayers' money.

They face Lynn M. Gray, a Democrat, and Damon Hill, a Republican, who did not participate in the Sept. 2 panel.

In District 6, which spans across Chemung and Hebron townships down to Riley and Coral townships, Jim Kearns is the only incumbent running for reelection this year as Mary McCann plans to step down.

Kearns has a farm and business background and said he wants to focus on lowering taxes and providing incentives for people to do business in McHenry County.

Also running in District 6 are Nancy Glissman, who said she will use her background in social work and customer service to bring more teamwork and respect to the county board, and Larry Spaeth, who said he wants to lower taxes and improve broadband internet connection for his rural district. Also running is Tracie VonBergen, a Republican, who did not participate in Wednesday's panel.

When asked about how the county board should respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all of the candidates mentioned the unprecedented nature of COVID-19 and the importance of working collaboratively to prepare for the future.

Kearns said he thought the county should have tried to reopen businesses sooner to avoid the economic impact of the virus and stressed the need to cut spending so the county has a larger “rainy day fund” for emergencies such as COVID-19.

Both Glissman and Spaeth spoke about creating a task force to evaluate the county's response and identify those who have been impacted the most. Skala and Yensen highlighted the need for a better stockpile of personal protective equipment.

The pandemic also had a devastating impact on the financial stability of county's mental health providers and social services, which Yensen said demonstrated “the fragility of that system.”

In response to a question on how the county board and the board chairman should work together to create a budget, Skala said the two entities need to take equal responsibility in the process along with the county's finance department.

Yensen, Glissman and Kearns agreed with this sentiment that all three should be balanced in the amount of say they have in budget proceedings. Kearns said that the chairman was wrong to say that he would ignore the new budget policy approved by the board, which the chairman feels purposefully excludes him.

The county's budget policy is not the issue, Spaeth said, but, rather, the current political dynamics of the board have impacted their ability to work together.

The final question posed was whether McHenry County sheriff's deputies should wear body cameras and what the role of the board would be in that discussion.

Glissman, Yensen and Spaeth all said unequivocally that body cameras are a good idea, as they protect deputies from unfounded accusations and citizens from improper policing. Glissman said the board should put pressure on the sheriff's office to implement them, while Yensen and Spaeth said the board should assist in the effort.

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