Lake in the Hills trustee resigns, cites county's lack of diversity
Lake in the Hills village Trustee Denise Barreto is stepping down after six years on the village board citing a lack of diversity in the county.
"McHenry County is a tough place to be, if you are different," said Barreto, 43, who has lived in the county 12 years. "As my kids have gotten older, they want to be in a place where they see people that look like them in leadership and in school."
Barreto, who is the town's first black trustee elected in April 2009 and again in April 2013, said she is moving to Evanston for personal and business reasons. She will be relinquishing her village board seat at the end of the month.
Her 13-year-old daughter, Emma, will be attending high school this fall and son, Evan, 10, will be entering fifth grade.
"Evanston matches our family's lifestyle a little bit better than out here," said Barreto, adding her Mexican-American husband, Isael, works in municipal public works and can work anywhere.
A town of 28,965 residents, Lake in the Hills' population is 81 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian, 2 percent mixed races, and 1 percent black. The county's demographics are similarly lacking in diversity, while area schools -- Crystal Lake School District 47, Huntley Community School District 158, and Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 -- have less than 0.6 percent black teachers when black students range from 1 to 5 percent within the districts.
"There's not a lot of diversity in McHenry County," said Barreto, adding it's more than racial and ethnic diversity. "You would look far and wide to find a lot of women elected around here. I'm even talking about diversity in the way you think."
Lake in the Hills Village President Paul Mulcahy said Baretto has served the village "with distinction and dedication."
"She's been a good trustee and an asset for the village board," Mulcahy said.
Mulcahy said he will appoint a replacement to serve until Barreto's term expires in 2017.
"It's nearly two years. I just feel like that's two long to leave a vacant seat," he said. "I've had a couple of people express interest in the seat. I will consider anyone that is interested."
Barreto has been an active parent advocate for the Lake in the Hills parks and recreation department, and presented at the Illinois Municipal League's annual conference on strategic planning and volunteer recruitment and engagement. She is on the Judson University alumni board and was appointed by former Gov. Pat Quinn to a two-year term on the Illinois Business Enterprise Program Council focusing on minorities, women, and people with disabilities.
She is the managing partner and founder of Relationships Matter Now, LLC, a consulting firm serving all sizes of businesses, government and nonprofit agencies since 2010. Barreto helps municipalities with strategic planning, park districts with service excellence training for their employees, and corporate clients in marketing strategy and inclusion, and diversity strategy and programs, according to the village website.
"It's doing really well," she said. "My ability to impact local policy, it's expanded and grown. I'm working with over 37 park districts across the state and seven municipalities. Strategic planning is really the real reason, but diversity is part of that and how you manage your town. How do they better use their resources."
Barreto said she is proud of her work in Lake in the Hills getting the village to adopt a strategic plan in 2014.
"When I started, they hadn't had a strategic plan for 13 years," she said. "What I've done in Lake in the Hills you will see it for years to come."
Barreto said her being elected twice proves McHenry County residents are open to diversity, though she doesn't feel the county's leadership is as welcoming.
"As a whole, in the county, it's very hard to move the needle because it's still run by older white guys," she said. "I hope I have inspired somebody else to step up."