Jessica Vealitzek: Candidate Profile
Name: Jessica Vealitzek
City: Hawthorn Woods
Office sought: Lake County Board member, District 10
Family: Husband, Alex, and two children ages 8 and 11.
Occupation: Co-founder of a healthcare startup, mother, author. Former legislative aide
Education: BA from Lake Forest College; MFA from Roosevelt University; Secondary Education license from National-Louis
Civic involvement: Former lead organizer of People over Party, a grassroots group promoting civic participation. Volunteer and room-parent at my children's school. Member of Caring Women's Connection.
Elected offices held:
Questions & Answers
If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?
I will bring a fresh, experienced perspective focused on good government, fair property taxes, and environmental leadership. I worked as a legislative aide in the Minnesota Senate, and as a reporter I covered suburban Chicago city council and school board meetings. I believe deeply in good government--in what it can and should be: a transparent and responsible public service focused on improving quality of life.
Right now, there are no conflict-of-interest disclosure rules around County contracts, no-bid contracts are permissible, and contractors can donate to sitting Board members' campaigns without disclosure. A culture permissive of unethical behavior has been created and maintained by some in power on the Board, and I'd work to change that culture.
I would also add a graduated income tax to our list of legislative priorities in Springfield, to relieve our property tax burden; and I'd work to move Lake County to 100% renewable energy. Sustainability makes economic, public health, and environmental sense.
What is the single biggest need in your district?
Property tax relief. I've talked to too many retirees forced to leave their homes because they can't afford the taxes. The County Board has consistently raised their levy almost every year, up $28.5 million since 2008, or 24%. I cover some things below that the Board can do to control spending. The Board can also provide some influence in Springfield to push for a change in the Illinois tax structure so that we rely less on property taxes to fund schools, which is approximately 70% of our tax bill.
A close second is flood relief. The Board can help unincorporated areas as well as municipalities with flooding issues by making a priority the work of Stormwater Management in big-picture planning for watersheds, runoff, and wetlands to provide a system that does not burden homeowners. I would also like to see building and zoning ordinances strictly adhered to, especially in low-lying areas, as well as smarter development with more emphasis on in-filling.
Should the county government eliminate procurement cards, or p-cards, for county board members? Should county board members even have expense accounts? County board members in some other counties don't, their salaries cover work expenses. Should employees' p-cards be eliminated, too?
County credit cards should be eliminated in almost all cases; there might be a case for department heads keeping a card for smaller purchases. More specific rules about what can be reimbursed should be outlined.
Is the county doing enough to control expenses? What additional, specific steps do you recommend?
I recommend eliminating County credit cards for Board members and most staff, and cutting in at least half the $7,000 Board member allowance for constituent activities.
I would like to look at the current practice of shifting leftover annual funds from individual departments into a joint fund for future capital improvements. And I'm interested in the communications department budget. As a taxpayer, it strikes me that the Dirty Jobs videos, for example, are extraneous. How much does each video cost? Are they necessary to serve the public? I'd say no.
Historically, county board meetings have been free of partisanship and political antics -- but party-line fighting has become more noticeable in recent years. How do you feel about that?
When one party--no matter which party--is in power for a long time, that power too often leads to abuse. We currently have a system that approves no-bid contracts to friends and family without disclosure, allows contractors to donate to campaigns without disclosure, and enables abuse of taxpayer money with County credit cards. Time and again, as I've watched County Board meetings over the last year, when the system was questioned, the questioner was met with harsh rebuke by those in power. But questioning the system is not partisanship; it's good government.
It should go without saying that taxpayers have the right to see where and how every last cent of their money is being spent. There are people in both parties who believe that, and I'm confident that in the future, Board members can work together to best serve the public.