Jeffrey Thorsen: Candidate profile, McHenry County Board District 2
Incumbent Republicans Jeffrey T. Thorsen and John J. Reinert face a challenge from Democrat Jessica Phillips in the race for McHenry County Board District 2, which includes parts of Crystal Lake, Lake in the Hills, Cary, and Algonquin.
The Daily Herald asked the candidates a series of questions. Here are their responses.
For complete election coverage, visit www.dailyherald.com and click on "Election Central."
Q: What do you bring to the table that your opponent does not?
A: I am a lifelong resident of District 2. For 30 years I made my career in the McHenry County Banking Industry. My experience in local government began in 1999 with the Crystal Lake City Council. I was educated in District 47 and District 155 and earned an MBA in Finance at Northern Illinois University. Over the last decades, I have demonstrated an extensive record of fiscal responsibility, critical thought, empathy, and understanding of issues as they have been presented.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing your district and how do you propose tackling it on the County Board?
A: The biggest challenge for all districts is reflected in the damage our local economy is experiencing due to state legislation and is now exacerbated by the COVID-19 Crisis. Illinois is already a challenging state for business and retail industries and with recent actions by our leaders in Springfield the challenges were only increased. Proposed changes to the individual tax treatments currently protected to some extent by the state constitution are at risk with the currently proposed Income Tax Hike (Fair Tax) Amendment. These fiscal actions serve only to fuel the exodus from the state and from our district. With this virus we are seeing businesses established for decades, close up for good. We really don't know what McHenry County will look like in 12 or 24 months. The County Board needs to be more involved in the county's efforts to deal with the competing factors of an ever challenging Market Place and the existential threats to it from this pandemic.
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 need to all work together in the struggle with this pandemic. At the county level an ad hoc committee could be appropriately formed that would consist of county board members from each district to identify problems and suggest solutions. Separate from the standing committees, this committee should be focused, temporary, and completely transparent. It was evident in the August 26 committee of the whole that our constituents want to engage in the effort and want to know what can be accomplished. The county is engaged administratively. What is lacking is the collaboration with its citizens through their county board representation.
Q: Do you support a 10% salary reduction for McHenry County board members? Why or why not? Are there other cuts to the budget you would pursue first?
A: The last time county board compensation was reviewed was before I joined the County Board in November of 2015. I fully support a comprehensive review of all compensation. This would normally begin in committee. It would then be approved by the entire board after it passes through committee(s) (Internal Services and Finance, I believe). What transpired in recent board action did not follow any protocol and that ensured its failure. What it succeeded in doing was to provide talking points for political gain. The area of real concern is whether our representatives are actually doing the work or merely providing a rubber stamp service we don't need and did not elect them for.
Q: Should the McHenry County Jail keep its contract to house U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees?
Q: Should on-duty McHenry County sheriff's deputies wear body cameras?
A: I have suggested in committee that the time for a discussion at the board level may be at hand. However, I do not consider this issue extremely pressing for McHenry County even in light of the recent turmoil over police related shootings. Agencies are discovering that the purchase of body cameras are not the panacea they were once thought to be. They are also learning the expense only begins with the initial investment which is quite substantial. Issues of privacy and pervasive surveillance as well as transparency and public access are or should be huge concerns for the public at large. There is much to consider and I look forward to that dialogue.
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, President 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: I don't believe the 2012 ten-year goal set for Cook County would be applicable or feasible here in McHenry County. I am also concerned with centralization of government and a subsequent dilution of local and individual influence on local and individual life. That is another story. When considering McHenry County in particular, I am very concerned about the balance between county spending and revenues as it exists today. In 2017, the board came together in agreement on cutting 10% of the county levy. This was immediately demonstrable and, for some, politically expedient. Where we failed, and haven't addressed since, is the concern James Kearns raised: Sustainability. This budget year and subsequent levy request will continue to rely on fund balances which are dwindling and finite. Cutting the 10% was a first step that required follow through on the expense side of the equation. The painful side of the equation. I am certain there is a path to sustainability without returning to 2016 levy level. However, the work is unglamorous and unpopular. It must be done, though.
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: The County's ease of access and transparency is not perfect and could always be improved. While I see this as a process that evolves, I have visited other municipal websites with easier to navigate website and easier record access. I am not a web designer so my perspective is a lay person point of view. I have publicly expressed my concern and desire for improvement in this regard."
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: Again, this is an evolutionary process. For example, the onset of the pandemic, McHenry County has advanced remote methods of adjudication. Things continue to become reality over time.