Robert L. "Bob" Larsen: Candidate profile, DuPage County Board District 6
Republican incumbent Robert "Bob" Larsen of Wheaton faces a challenge from Democrat Greg Schwarze of Carol Stream for the DuPage County District 6 board seat in the Nov. 3 general election.
Larsen, an attorney, was elected to the board in 2010. He served as Milton Township trustee, 2005-2010. Larsen served for 20 years in the Marine Corps and the Reserves, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring in 2011.
To explore his campaign website, visit boblarsen.net.
The district covers all or parts of Bartlett, Hanover Park, Carol Stream, West Chicago, Wayne, Roselle, Bloomingdale, Glendale Heights, Wheaton, Winfield, Naperville, Warrenville, Aurora and St. Charles.
The Daily Herald asked the candidates a series of questions. Here are Larsen's responses.
Q: What have we learned as a county from the COVID-19 pandemic and what changes should be made looking forward as a result?
A: We've learned how important long-term planning is, both fiscally, and in addressing the health needs of the community. DuPage County has done extraordinarily well compared to many places, including our neighbors, because we've engaged in sound financial planning my entire 10 years on the board.
I also serve on the Board of Health, where we've spent years planning how to respond to a pandemic. Our response has been a model for others to follow. That doesn't happen if you haven't asked the "what if" questions before a crisis hits and planned accordingly. Financially, you can't weather a crisis like this as we have if you don't start from a strong base. Through sound fiscal management, we finished 2019 about $8 million under budget. This added to our cash reserve, and is why we are not panicking while other governments seem to be. We have not been big borrowers during my time on the board, and have a AAA bond rating because of our sound financial footing.
That, along with a conservative budget going into 2020, will allow us to balance our books for 2020 without large tax increases, deficit spending, borrowing big sums, or harsh cuts to staff and services.
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: I have been incredibly blessed to be born in the greatest country the world has ever known, and to a loving family. Not everyone has that.
I'm running for reelection because I've always felt a sense of duty to earn the blessings I've received. That led me to serve my country for 20 years in the Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserve, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2011.
I served as a township trustee for five years, and have served on the county board the last 10 years, while rejecting the generous pension and health care benefits I could have taken.
My leadership training as a Marine officer, legal training as an attorney, health care training as a member of the DuPage Board of Health, and my experience being chosen by my peers to serve as the chairman of the finance committee the last two years, have given me a rather unique skill set that can be very valuable to the county. I feel I am especially suited to guiding the county through this financial and health crisis, and into our post-COVID future.
My passion is to do my work with a servant's heart. I have tried to work in a bipartisan way to find solutions for the community, not just to score petty political victories.
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've served in many capacities on the board, including 10 years as vice chair of judicial and public safety. I coordinated a youth detainee agreement with Kane County that saved millions of dollars a year, reduced youth incarceration, and freed space on the county campus.
As chair of the health and human services committee, I helped shore up the finances of the DuPage Care Center, protecting the future of this five-star rated gem to provide quality care to our most vulnerable seniors and permanently disabled adults. I am proud of the work done with our finance staff to shepherd the county through economic issues and the financial crisis of 2020. We fielded calls from constituents, coordinating with municipal leaders, and worked with board members to find innovative ways to help the public. My committee was tasked not only with overseeing the county's budget, but also with overseeing the distribution of $161 million in CARES Act money.
Through bipartisan efforts we helped taxpayers avoid late fees, provided millions in forgivable loans to struggling small businesses, set up COVID-19 testing sites, and supported municipalities, park districts, townships and first responders.
Q: Describe your position regarding the allocation of resources in the recorder of deeds' office. Are personnel allocated as they should be? Are there capital expense or other budgetary items that the office must address, and, if so, how do you propose to address them?
A: DuPage County has been fortunate for many years to have the best recorder of deeds in the state of Illinois in Fred Bucholz. Through Fred's leadership, the recorder's office has leveraged new technology to provide top-notch service and document security at costs that are lower than most of the surrounding counties.
The recorder's office has operated efficiently, with minimal budget or head count increases, and some decreases, in the years I've been on the board. The recorder has just completed a rate study that will provide guidance for the office to properly price the services it provides, so the costs of running the office are borne by those who use the services of the office, not the public at large. Still, I am always on the lookout for improvement, and ways to reduce costs and head count. I have also voted to eliminate stipends for the recorder and other elected officials, and to reduce or eliminate proposed raises.
Q: Name one concrete program you'll create or personnel move you'll make to improve efficiency in the office or make it more successful. Explain how it will be funded and how you will overcome any obstacles to initiating it.
A: Government efficiency can't be boiled down to a single program or personnel move. There is no magic formula. It takes hard work over a long period of time to ensure high levels of efficiency and productivity while offering high quality services to the taxpayer. As a board member and finance chair, I carefully scrutinize every dollar we spend, asking why an expenditure is needed, and what other options are available.
I will continue to pursue transparency in our procurement process, particularly when it comes to "sole source" no-bid contracts. I will also push for a reduction in the number of board committees. The current committee structure is largely a creature of a time before I joined the board. Committee chairs used to receive a stipend for being the chair. We have eliminated those stipends, and I believe some of the committees can be merged to reduce staff time, and increase the time we can spend actually doing substantive work rather than taking more roll calls. I have voted, and will continue to vote, to freeze county board salaries. I'd also like to see the elimination of expensive health care benefits for part-time board members.
Q: Describe your position on transparency in the office and the ease of access to records by the public. If you believe improvements are needed, what are they and how would you go about achieving them?
A: As chairman of the finance committee, I have conducted what I believe is the most open and transparent budget process we've ever had. Members of both parties have complimented me for the fair and open way I run my committee meetings.
I have altered the way individual department heads and elected official budgets are presented so as to allow more time and opportunity for feedback from the entire board. When we received our CARES Act funding, we conducted a long Special Call meeting of the Finance Committee via Zoom to review and discuss staff proposals, necessary expenditures, and proposals from members on both sides of the aisle. The result was a well-thought-out and bipartisan road map for responsibly allocating CARES Act dollars to help the most people possible.
Our finance committee meetings are now all available for public viewing on YouTube. I invite the public to review the meetings I've held and see for themselves the open and fair way I conduct them. I have also tried to be as open and available as I can be to my constituents, fielding calls, holding in-person meetings, and exchanging emails to address their concerns, provide information and discuss their ideas.