Sandra (Sandy) Hart: Candidate profile, Lake County Board, District 13
Lake County Board Chair Sandy Hart -- the first Democrat to lead the board -- is being challenged in her bid for reelection by Republican Lauren Fleming. Hart, of Lake Bluff, and Fleming, of Gurnee, are running in District 13, which includes Lake Bluff, Wildwood, unincorporated Grayslake and parts of Libertyville, Gurnee, North Chicago and Waukegan.
The Daily Herald asked the candidates to respond to a series of questions. Here are some of the responses.
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? If so, what?
A: When I first ran, I wanted to be a strong voice for my district; to listen to what people needed and make government accessible, transparent, and efficient. This is still important to me eight years later.
We have very high taxes in Lake County, and I want to keep the levy flat for a second year in a row. We must reduce costs, partner with other government agencies, and evaluate opportunities to restructure. I want to eliminate unnecessary taxing bodies, such as Del Mar and Beach Park Drainage Districts and the Lake Bluff Mosquito Abatement District.
I continue to work on bringing a Wellness Triage Center to Lake County, and we are getting very close to finalizing a site. We must continue to work on costly and destructive stormwater issues.
Lastly, our residents deserve a board that is collaborative, professional, and engaged. When I was elected as chair, I pledged to "Listen to Understand, Debate Respectfully, and Seek Common Ground." I know that we work best when we learn from each other and ensure that people feel heard. It is important to me to continue this work, to bring people together and reduce the rancor and divisive politics that negatively impacts our communities.
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'm honored to have served for eight years, and am proud to have led the fight for greater transparency and accountability, like: filming committee meetings; eliminated County Board members' P-cards; vendor disclosures of campaign contributions and county employee family members; sponsored legislation to rescind the chair appointment; yearly budgeting for capital and creating a multiyear capital plan; moved the ROE out of CLC to CPF, saving $100,000 per year; eliminated my liquor commissioner's $3,000 salary; and worked with Walgreens to place Rx disposal boxes in stores.
As a board, we: Froze the property tax levy; refinanced bonds, saving $7M; maintained a AAA bond rating; broke property tax payments into four installments; eliminated unnecessary taxing bodies; overhauled the Ethics Ordinance; ended veteran homelessness; launched 211; received $540 million for roads in 2019 capital bill and $220 million for capital in 2020 State Budget; Created Energy & Environment Committee; tested for EtO; placing solar panels on 10-plus county buildings; expanded composting and recycling; made MLK Jr. Day a holiday; updated employee policies; recognized Pride month; and fully acquired Oriole Grove FP in Lake Bluff.
Q: Describe your position regarding the balance between county spending and revenues as it exists today, then describe the chief threats you see looming in the future and how the county should deal with them.
A: The 2020 budget passed unanimously, holding the line on property taxes for the first time in at least 20 years while placing more money in reserves; setting aside more money for future capital needs; and increasing investment in stormwater mitigation, veterans assistance commission, and self-represented litigant support.
3.5 months into the 2020 budget, COVID-19 hit and revenues took a sharp decline. Our staff took immediate action, reducing expenses by $20M and implementing a hiring/vacancy freeze.
COVID-19 is projected to have a devastating impact on 2021's economy and the county's revenues with a likely increase in expenses. It is critical to continue to hold the line on property taxes, and to do that we must focus on right-sizing government.
We've begun reviewing and accounting for all of the county assets, something that to our knowledge hasn't been done before. What do we own, where is it, what are the utilization rates, and is it at the highest and/or best use, and do we still need it?
We're working closely with our municipal partners to find opportunities for cost-sharing, while looking internally at centralizing services and functions and potentially consolidation.
Q: How do you rate the county government on transparency and the public's access to records? If you consider it adequate, please explain why. If you think improvements are needed, please describe them and why they are important.
A: I'm proud of the changes we've made in the last two years, but there is always room to improve and new ideas to implement. Our small communications team is working overtime during COVID, and I know they are seeking out ways to make our website more navigable and user-friendly.
This includes ensuring that the public knows what records are available and providing a link, with instructions, on how to FOIA. Whenever possible, the records should be searchable on the website for things like vendor contracts, salaries, expenses, and financial reports, so having a searchable database available is important and would save time for staff and the public.
This is important because when people have greater access, it increases trust and accountability. Like filming committee meetings -- it doesn't matter how many people watch; what matters is that they can when they choose to do so.
Lastly, I think we should provide a highlight of what the county is working on and has accomplished. We have outstanding staff who are dedicated to public service, and it's important that we celebrate their achievements and show the public what we've done, what we are working toward, and what comes next.
Q: What, if anything, should be done to improve automation and customer service in county offices? What steps should be taken to make that happen?
A: I'm proud of our county's emphasis on customer service and automation and the changes we've made to increase online offerings. New technology investments have reduced the need for in-person services by offering residents remote technology, such as the Tyler online permitting system and mapping.
However, we can always do more by working with department heads and countywide elected officials. The pandemic has shown how we can expand online operations and public access to information, and so we must examine if it's feasible to make this standard operating procedure.
While we need to remember that technology upgrades requires a significant IT investment and protections for the data, inexpensive changes are possible. As liquor commissioner, I saw that we needed to add basic forms and information to our website to save time and money for our small business owners and our staff.
Adding text notifications for court dates and medical appointments also saves time and money. We must also provide simple access via our website to the 100-plus Illinois court approved online forms, such as orders of protection. As a board member of A Safe Place, I know how important it is for this to be easily accessible.