Kenneth C. Shepro: Candidate profile, Kane County Board District 12
Republican Kenneth C. Shepro of Wayne and Democrat Ruth Kuzmanic of St. Charles are newcomers vying for a seat on Kane County Board District 12 in the Nov. 3 general election. Longtime incumbent Republican John Hoscheit isn't seeking another term after 24 years on the board.
Shepro is a former Kane County Board attorney. He is the chairman of the Kane County Republican Central Committee and was the longtime chairman of the St. Charles Township Republicans.
District 12 covers parts of Wayne, St. Charles and Geneva.
For a map of the district, visit countyofkane.org.
The Daily Herald recently asked the candidates to answer a series of questions. Here are Shepro's replies.
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: Kane County is a great place to live, work and raise a family. But the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, a changing economy and the burden of ever higher taxes at virtually every level of government needs to be met to ensure that the blessings we enjoy will be preserved for future generations.
My 30 years of experience in virtually every aspect of local government in Kane County I believe makes me uniquely qualified to address these urgent issues. We must continue our careful stewardship of our taxpayer dollars; we must maintain Kane County's leadership in transparency, farm and open space preservation and water resource conservation.
Specific issues include:
• The challenge of redistricting the Kane County Board in the same bipartisan fashion that I participated in 10 years ago;
• Restoring a working relationship between the county board, the chairman and our countywide elected officials.
• There is no magic bullet to solve our financial issues, but innovative solutions must be found to address not only the current budget shortfall resulting from the pandemic but also finding ways and means to maintain and improve county services that our citizens have come to expect.
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 20 years on the Kane County Regional Planning Commission, and my eight years as county board attorney under Chairman Karen McConnaughay have provided me with experience in virtually all aspects of local government.
• A leading role in the drafting and implementation of the Kane County 2020 Land Resource Plan and the 2030 and 2040 updates.
• In 2011, I was the legal adviser to the special committee appointed to oversee the decennial redistricting of the Kane County Board.
• Chairman Mike McCoy asked me to defend a lawsuit challenging the county's zoning ordinance. I successfully upheld the county's development review process at trial and won the resulting appeal.
• As attorney for the Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District, I was instrumental in creating a fire department for what had been a purely "paper" district. We brought greatly improved response times to our 25,000 residents at the lowest tax rate of any comparable fire department in Kane County.
• I worked with the Illinois Audubon Society, the Illinois Nature Conservancy and the village to preserve for future generations 34 acres of wildlife habitat at no cost to our residents.
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. In particular in the suburbs, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle has set a goal of eliminating unincorporated areas from county oversight. Do you agree with this approach? If so, how should the county go about it?
A: The specific proposal suggested in this question makes absolutely no sense for Kane County.
First, the unincorporated areas of Cook County are widely scattered and bear no similarity to the large percentage of agricultural land and rural residential areas in central and western Kane County. While President Preckwinkle's desire to rid Cook County government of the administrative and law enforcement expense of dealing with those areas is perhaps understandable, the solution would simply transfer the problems of those areas from county government to municipal government. There is no plausible reason why any municipality would want to annex areas that may have inadequate water and sewer systems, substandard road structures and commercial and residential buildings that likely will not meet the more exacting standards of the municipality. Moreover, it would result in virtually every case in a significant tax increase for the unfortunate residents.
The Illinois Municipal Code does not allow for county government to force unwilling residents into incorporated cities and villages nor does it allow county government to force a municipality to annex them.
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: In 2012, the Illinois Policy Institute, an independent research and education organization, ranked Kane County No. 1 out of all 102 Illinois counties in transparency with a perfect 100% score.
This achievement was the result of a term-long effort by Chairman Karen McConnaughay and her team of Department Directors that included extensive training and education in all aspects of the Freedom of Information Act.
As the chairman's legal adviser, I was involved on an almost daily basis in reviews of FOIA requests and in ensuring that all department heads and elected officials understood and implemented the chairman's strong commitment to open government. That commitment to transparency has continued under the current board chairman.
Kane County's website has undergone constant revision and upgrade, and virtually every aspect of county government is readily accessible from meeting agendas and minutes to real-time financial information. There are always opportunities to provide even greater information access. An initiative I would pursue is to increase the amount and type of information that is available without a need for a formal FOIA request.
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: Kane County government has a record of outstanding customer service. Our county clerk has opened a permanent satellite office in Aurora, saving many citizens long drives to the government center. More and more services and information can be accessed online without the need to visit a government office.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant changes to how the county interacts with our constituents. Most offices remain closed to normal foot traffic. More and more of our county employees are working remotely. But essential functions are carried on.
Many of the changes in the way we serve the public during the present public health emergency will become permanent. Greater use of remote work opportunities, flex time and opportunities for part-time workers have all increased and should remain.
Daytime meetings of the county board and committees are more accessible than ever through the use of Zoom platforms. There are always new ways that automation can make life simpler, safer and allow government to function more efficiently. However, I believe our citizens do not like to always talk to a voicemail box or listen to recorded messages.
Q: The county board will undergo redistricting following the 2020 Census. What is the most fair process? Do you support the current number of seats on the board?
A: In 2011, the board redistricting was begun as soon as the census data was available in sufficient detail. A bipartisan committee was appointed by Chairman McConnaughay that worked with our IT Department staff to develop the detailed maps necessary to complete the process.
Ideally, districts should not unnecessarily divide municipalities and should incorporate defined communities. Geographic boundaries such as waterways should be respected. Overall a district should be reflective of the community it represents. To be successful, any redistricting plan must be seen to be fair to all groups and political parties. The board ultimately reduced the number of districts by two, reflecting the retirement of both a Republican and Democrat board member. I am inclined to oppose further reductions unless mandated by state law.
The comparatively minor savings achieved by eliminating two board member salaries is not justified by the loss of representation for our citizens. Moreover, the larger the district in population, the less likely it is to elect a minority board member and more likely to invite litigation.
Q: Do you support the current salary and benefits structure for the county board?
A: Because the current board failed to act last May, any change in board salaries would not take effect until after the 2022 election, when the entire county board is up for election. There has been no change to the salary structure of the county board since 2008.
Our board salaries are significantly smaller than Cook, Lake or DuPage counties. While nobody should run for the board just for the salary, there are some members who may have to make a financial sacrifice to serve in an office that has so many weekday meetings. I would want to see evidence that an increase in compensation is justified before I could support it. The current benefits structure for the county board is another matter.
I do not support medical insurance, pensions or other benefits for board members. Although many board members (including me, I hope) will devote full time to the office, we are not full-time employees and should not receive the benefits that are extended to our full-time staff.
Q: What actions must the county take to continue to address COVID-19?
A: First, the county must continue to communicate with all of us to provide timely and factual information about every aspect of living with and surviving the COVID pandemic. Despite those who remain in denial about the value of social distancing and personal protective equipment, the evidence is overwhelming these simple precautions save lives.
If you don't want to wear a mask because you don't think the governor has the authority to make you, wear it because it protects you, your friends and your family. I have had the opportunity to work with the CARES Committee chaired by John Hoscheit to ensure that our county fire protection districts receive a significant share of the allocation for local governments. I have been impressed by the bipartisan nature of their proceedings.
While there have been spirited discussions, I believe the committee has acted responsibly to prioritize the needs of county government, and yet ensure that businesses and not-for-profit organizations are given the resources they need to remain open.
Q: The new board will take over during a time of unprecedented budget challenges. What is your plan to balance the budget? What will your spending priorities be?
A: The new board elected in November will have very little initial impact on the county budget. The current board will adopt a budget in October or November for the fiscal year that begins Dec. 1. I won't have the opportunity to vote on a budget for over a year, unless the board has to take the drastic step to formally reduce the budget previously adopted. In this current environment, one year is a very long time and it is almost impossible to predict where we will be next summer when the work on the FY 2022 budget will commence.