Wendy S. Meister: 2022 candidate for Lake County Board District 3


Party: Democratic

Office sought: Lake County Board District 3

City: Riverwoods

Age: 62

Occupation: Self-employed consultant

Previous offices held: None. I am a trustee for the Lincolnshire/Riverwoods Fire Protection District.


Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you?

A: I'm running for Lake County Board because there is a need to examine the structural components of Lake County's governance and transparency, rather than just focus on details of individual programs, services and infrastructure. While individual programs, services and infrastructure are part of my platform and are all very important, I don't believe that the existing structure and oversight of Lake County government has kept pace with the county's growth. Specifically, Lake County has a large, part-time board overseeing $665 million in annual budgets. This part-time job structure is not a sustainable model for overseeing such a large budget. As a Lake County Board member I would treat my position as a full-time job.

Q: If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of any important initiatives you've led. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?

A: I have a degree in sociology/criminal justice and a Master of Architecture. During my career in architecture, I planned a variety of government buildings including courthouses, prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers. The county spends a great deal of money on buildings and studies about buildings. My background would provide a different understanding about these capital budget projects.

As a board member, I will advocate for Lake County government to serve as the clearinghouse for overlapping programs and government functions so that the county, municipalities and townships can collectively coordinate their services and efficiently serve the public interest. This systemic approach can achieve synergy and efficiency so our residents can have tax savings and better program coverage throughout the county.

Q: Given the recent history of flat tax levies, do you think the county/forest preserve have done good jobs of budgeting or do you see specific area that can be improved?

A: Over the last 25 years, Lake County moved from an annual budget of $330 million for 609,714 residents to a proposed $665 million budget for a 17.5% increase in population. The need to tackle the systemic problems resulting from Lake County's rapid growth in budget, but not population, is very important to the county's future fiscal success.

The handling of Lake County Courthouse expansion exemplifies the lax stewardship of finances. A referendum for this project was $110 million. There was an emergency $16 million injected into the project and a floor removed from the original plan. An article identifies the current price of the projects as $150 million. It is unclear if that sum includes an estimated $16 million required for completion of two unfinished floors.

Any questions about the extreme cost overrun are dismissed. Without a full understanding of how spending got so out of control and implementation of safeguards, Lake County will continue to make the same mistakes.

Q: Would you support putting a referendum on the ballot for voters to decide if they wish to issue new bonds to preserve open spaces, restore habitats, create more trails and upgrade forest preserves?

A: Before asking residents to pay more, Lake County should use the $120 million it received from the state of Illinois to deal with flood mitigation. A recent project in Mundelein highlights how the county could use this existing money for a win/win - reduce flooding by both restoring habitats and creating open space, with no added cost to the county's tax levy. Specifically, Mundelein invested about $9 million for a flood-control project that created an eight-acre pond with natural habitat after tearing down a dilapidated building.

Other communities that experience flooding in Lake County can apply for some of the $120 million to do the same for their communities. As a Lake County Board member I would encourage Lake County to work with these communities to help them identify how they can use these existing funds to establish open space and restore habitats.

Q: What is the single most important issue facing your district and how should the county address it?

A: My district is a diverse, narrow corridor that runs approximately 16 miles from Lake-Cook Road north to Gages Lake. It includes homes on large acreages in rural type settings to homes on smaller lots close to village centers or in subdivisions. There are incorporated and unincorporated areas.

The common concern among my constituents is taxes, and particularly property taxes. Although Lake County is only a small portion of the total property bill, it is one of multiple taxing bodies that are raising their levy year after year. I would push the Lake County Board to form a committee to examine how Lake County could assist municipalities and townships in reducing redundancy in their services. I would also work with our legislators in Springfield to support full funding by the state of the school funding formula, so that homeowners are not forced to carry a disproportionate share of public school funding.

Q: Lake County officials want public feedback on how to spend portions of some $135 million in leftover federal pandemic funding. What are your thoughts on how the money ought to be spent?

A: A variety of people and organizations provided guidance on how the leftover federal pandemic funding should be spent. Lake County residents identified mental health, gun violence prevention and affordable housing as top priorities. The Lake County Health Department identified a need for additional funding for their call center and food distribution. I would add crime prevention programs.

One problem is that pandemic funding must be spent by 2026 and, once a new program is started, it is difficult to eliminate. Therefore, the county board might be best served by funding existing county programs that are successful and then establish seed-money grants to local nonprofit organizations for innovative projects. If the nonprofits can track the success of the pilot programs that focus on the top priorities, these programs have a better chance of getting future funding from other sources after 2026.

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