Carissa Casbon: Candidate profile, Lake County Board District 7
Democratic challenger Carissa Casbon of unincorporated Warren Township and incumbent Republican Steve Carlson of Grandwood Park are facing off in the Lake County Board race for the chance to represent District 7.
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'm running for Lake County Board because I love serving our community and I believe I have the right skills and experience to meet the historic challenges our county is facing now.
I first ran for public office in 2015. Our school district was in a financial crisis, and I ran to fight for our children, our schools, and our community. In the five years I've served on the Millburn Board of Education, our district has gone from being millions in debt to having a surplus and cutting property taxes.
We did that by governing transparently, responsibly and with community involvement. These changes made our schools better for our children and made our community a better place to call home. By opening our books, taking responsibility and working together, we didn't just survive. We thrived.
The devastation COVID-19 has created in Lake County reminds me why I ran for school board -- growing uncertainty, families in need, and serious budget shortfalls. By governing through a financial crisis, I've learned a lot about what makes government work for people -- and what doesn't. I'm ready to bring that knowledge and experience to fight for our community on the Lake County Board.
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: My priority is to help Lake County not only meet the challenges we face today, but to use this crisis as an opportunity to make our county better than ever. I know that kind of turnaround is possible, because I helped make it happen in my service on the Millburn school board.
As a candidate for the Lake County Board, I bring a solid record of successfully leading through crisis and a deep commitment to what makes government work for the people: transparency, oversight, goal setting and community outreach.
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: Seven months ago, this would have been a different answer. COVID-19 has significantly impacted the financial health of our county government, and the risk of a deeper, longer recession looms large.
In my experience, there is no magic bullet. We will need to use every tool at our disposal to address the needs of our community while mitigating the financial challenges we face. Options include (among others): working with our state and congressional representatives to capture as many COVID-19 state and federal relief dollars as possible; budgeting carefully, prioritizing the departments of our county government that are the most stressed due to the effects of COVID; looking for efficiencies, automation and consolidation opportunities; and using some of our reserve funds to bridge gaps, while being careful not to spend down reserves so quickly that we adversely affect our credit rating.
There are two things we should avoid, if possible: raising property taxes and cutting employee pay. Middle class homeowners are already squeezed beyond capacity by property taxes, and our county employees are already being asked to do more with less, so cutting their pay should be a last resort.
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: Transparency is key to earning community confidence. In the past two years, there have been gains in transparency under Lake County Board Chair Sandy Hart. I support the continued video recording and broadcasting of Lake County Board meetings.
I also support, and would strive to expand, the effort to make more documents available on the county website in a way that makes sense to the public. If a piece of information is on the website, but the average resident can't find it, that's not transparent.
Taxpayers should also have convenient access to policymaking, finance and other relevant documents without having to fill out a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request. For instance, in our school district, we make 15 years of budget and audit documents available on our website, and I would support similar measures for the Lake County Board.
In addition, I believe every piece of information (that isn't privacy-protected by HIPAA) in the county government should be available to Lake County Board members without having to fill out a FOIA request. This would seem to be an essential and fundamental element to providing good oversight, but is not the current practice.
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: Local governments across the country have made great strides in automating customer service and permit functions, and/or offering those services exclusively online. While Lake County has made some progress, there is an opportunity for growth here, and we should be looking at best practices elsewhere to see how we can further advance our efficiency efforts.
For example, the county website could be updated to be more mobile-friendly, and with an eye toward usability for the average resident. That, in itself, could significantly improve our community's experience with our county government.
Automation and online services increase accessibility and can reduce operating costs long term. The board could look for ways to incentivize automation in various county departments through targeted goal setting. One caveat to this point: In pursuing automation opportunities, the end goal of enhancing our community customer access to government services should always be front and center.
Automation shouldn't be the means to different ends (like reducing head count).