Election 2020: McHenry County Board candidates for Districts 1, 2 and 3 discuss body cameras, budget policy and COVID-19

Some candidates for the McHenry County Board pushed for body cameras for the sheriff's office, arguing they would help protect officers as well as residents, but others appeared hesitant because of the capital cost of such an endeavor.

This discussion was part of an endorsement interview last week facilitated by the editorial boards of the Northwest Herald and the Daily Herald. 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 1 — in the southeastern corner of McHenry County and includes all or parts of Huntley, Algonquin, Barrington Hills, Trout Valley, Fox River Grove and Cary — is represented by Tom Wilbeck, a Republican from Barrington Hills, and Yvonne Barnes, a Republican from Cary. Democrat Theresa Meshes also is running in the district.

Wilbeck told the editorial boards Thursday he believes in small government and saving taxpayers money. Barnes and Meshes did not participate in the interview.

In District 2 — from Algonquin Road in the south to Crystal Lake Avenue in the north and includes all or parts of Crystal Lake, Cary, Algonquin, Lake in the Hills and Lakewood — incumbents Jeffrey Thorsen, a Republican from Crystal Lake, and John Reinert, a Republican from Crystal Lake, will face off against new Democratic candidate Jessica Phillips.

Phillips and Reinert did not participate in Thursday's interview, but Reinert provided a written statement in which he introduced himself by saying, “I won't waste your money.”

If reelected, Thorsen said he will focus on efficiency and will look at the sustainability of the recent reduction of the county's tax levy, which he supports.

The only incumbent running for reelection in District 3, Joseph Gottemoller, a Republican from Crystal Lake, said Thursday he is strongly in favor of reducing the size of the county board to save money. The district's other representative, Chris Christensen, will be stepping down from the board.

District 3 runs from Cherry Valley Road in the west to the Lake County border and also includes all or parts of Crystal Lake, McHenry, Prairie Grove, Bull Valley, Oakwood Hills, Port Barrington, Island Lake, Cary, Holiday Hills and Lakemoor.

Gottemoller will face off against two new candidates: Republican Mike Shorten and Democrat Tanya Jindrich, who participated in the first round of candidate interviews last week with prospective board members from Districts 5 and 6.

Jindrich described herself as a mother and a concerned citizen rather than a politician, and Shorten said he disapproves of the divisiveness of the current County Board.

When asked about the use of body cameras by the McHenry County sheriff's office, Jindrich, Gottemoller and Wilbeck said the devices would provide transparency and accountability to better serve residents while also protecting officers from any potential false claims made against them. Reinert also wrote that he would support the use of bodycams.

Thorsen and Shorten expressed hesitation around the idea, citing the cost of buying the cameras and training officers to use them as their main concern. Shorten said the county also would need to pay to store the video files and to hire staff to review footage and respond to records requests.

There was more agreement among candidates when it came to how the county board should go about working together and collaborating with the board chairman to create a budget.

All candidates interviewed said the board members should set politics aside in order to collaborate on a budget that will get the county through the economic recession.

Gottemoller said it was crucial that the board passed a new budget policy this year as budgeting looks different from previous years given the revenue shortfalls, but Reinert said he feels optimistic the board can come together with the chairman and department heads to balance the budget.

Wilbeck, Thorsen and Shorten said the county should use a zero-based budgeting approach in which all expenses would need to be reapproved and, ideally, each department's revenue would cover its expenses without dipping into reserve funds. This will hopefully allow the county to begin replenishing its general fund, Thorsen said.

When asked about the county's COVID-19 response, Gottemoller said the McHenry County Department of Health needs more support in enforcing rules around face masks and stressed the need for more testing centers. He and Reinert both said the process of deeming businesses “essential” versus “nonessential” favored big retailers over small businesses.

All candidates said the unprecedented nature of the pandemic required collective action moving forward and, in Jindrich's opinion, a larger rainy day fund.

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