Jess Ray: 2021 candidate for Mettawa mayor
Jess Ray is the only candidate is on the ballot for the position of mayor in Mettawa. Incumbent Casey Urlacher is running as a write-in and his name will not appear on the ballot.
Age: Not given
Occupation: Retired global marketing executive
Civic involvement: Previous President of Lake Forest Homeowners association; District Boy Scouts Board; marketing for the national Lhasa Apso Club; Mayor of Mettawa; active in local beekeeping club
Q. How do you view your role in confronting the pandemic: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree, or defer to state and federal authorities?
A. Good leadership in a crisis requires that our Village Board has first exercised some level of crisis readiness planning. Ten years ago, it was the H1N1; now, it is COVID-19. Who knows what comes next -- will it be another medical issue or something to do with utilities or food? Leadership = preparedness on what to do when a crisis hits ... because it is too late to plan once a crisis erupts. As an example, while I was mayor, I attended crisis response training for a simulated downstate earthquake. It is this kind of training and planning that contributes to a village's management readiness for contingency planning and options which will protect and support residents in a pandemic or other crisis. One example: we developed an evacuation plan for horses stabled in the village and a separate plan for residents near the Oasis in the event of a chemical spill or fire. This was augmented with an installation of a county alert siren near the Oasis ... after 11 years, these plans are now in need of an update.
Q. Did your town continue to adequately serve its constituents during the disruptions caused by the pandemic? If so, please cite an example of how it successfully adjusted to providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A. It is easy to claim 20-20 hindsight but during the early stages of this pandemic, I would have collaborated with local businesses to provide scarce PPE and other life support supplies to residents. As the pandemic went on, I would have suggested the village issue a second tax rebate check to residents, many of whom were hit hard financially with income declines. This could have been done without sacrifice to maintaining proper reserve levels needed for future uncertainties. I also would had looked for specific ways to support the unique issues of residents with children or older residents.
Q. In light of our experiences with COVID-19, what safeguards/guidelines should you put in place to address any future public health crises?
A. Beyond having a detailed crisis management plan, I believe there may come a time when municipalities will establish a position for a medical doctor to add specific consulting in developing resident support during a crisis. Experience needed during a crisis commonly includes medical and psychological practitioners along with fire and first responders. These resources along with security, safety, food, utilities, and transportation should be identified in the crisis management plan. Involving expert resources in and outside of the village in the crisis management planning leads to faster, effective support for residents during a crisis.
Q. What cuts can local government ake to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A. First, our team believes we should manage the village through mostly variable expenses as opposed to fixed expense. This approach allows our village government to be nimble in trimming expenses as necessary to equalize the reduction in income that often occurs with a crisis like the current pandemic. Our current board has not done well in this area. Village income is down 12% after ten months, that is better than many village; but expenses are only down 1%. This financial situation puts a burden on the Village's reserves which are needed to support village programs. The other initiative we should be looking into beyond the previously mentioned tax rebate is reducing fees for remodeling or other home expansion projects.
Q. What do you see as the most important infrastructure project you must address? Why and how should it be paid for? Conversely, during these uncertain economic times, what infrastructure project can be put on the back burner?
A. Our road and trail infrastructure is in pretty good shape and simply needs to be maintained. Where we need to upgrade the village is in the area of wider resident access to the latest broadband capabilities and Lake Michigan Water throughout the village for at least fire protection. There have been federal and state grants available in the past which may pay for some or all these improvements if and when they are budgeted.
Q. Do you plan to address businesses that don't adhere to the governor's order to close or restrict business?
A. A few of the businesses in our village have participated directly in support of fighting the COVID-19 virus on a nationwide level. All retail businesses in the village have taken their lead from Lake County or the State for compliance.
Q. Do you agree or disagree with the stance your board/council has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?
A. The marijuana industry is here now and ever-changing. Our board must stay informed to either forbid, control, or leverage marijuana distribution in the village based on the majority wishes of our residents.
Q. Describe your leadership style and explain how you think that will be effective in producing effective actions and decisions with your village board or city council.
A. My belief is that the leadership of the village must be strategic to bring higher value to the residents in our village. For this to work, there must exist a constant two-way communication with residents to point the way to future programs.
Q. What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A. My style is leading by example: using honesty, ethics, transparency, strategic thinking, listening to residents, coupled with a strong work ethic. Using my previous executive experience in the corporate world and as a past Mayor of Mettawa, my background provides me with specific skills to make Mettawa a village that will become "Admired and Desired." It is my belief that our team's blueprint (once shaped and supported by residents) for the future of Mettawa will provide residents greater lifestyle freedoms and happiness, providing a community environment which prospective residents will envy.
Q, What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A. Creating the first "Virtual Village" (VV) in Illinois which will allow residents to enjoy a greater connected community. Websites and data access capabilities beyond passive data, replaced with real-time and interactive communication -- a facility and architecture which will facilitate like-minded residents to connect, interact for the benefit of their hobbies, a first-ever 4-H club, home-schooling and learning. Our VV may also provide the foundation for lower resident taxes and fees though agricultural and school district credits.