Paula Yensen: Candidate profile, McHenry County Board District 5
Incumbent Republican Michael Skala and incumbent Democrat Paula Yensen face a challenge from Democrat Lynn M. Gray and Republican Damon Hill in the race for McHenry County Board District 5, which includes most of Woodstock.
Here are Yensen's responses. To explore her campaign website, visit www.paulayensen.com.
Q: What do you bring to the table that your opponent does not?
A: I'm trained to see the big picture through my Ph.D. studies in urban planning and my professional experience with nonprofit agencies. I understand the foundation of regional planning, infrastructure, transportation and land use. I have over 30 years of experience as an executive for social services agencies, and have taught college-level courses in the principles of leadership, grant writing, and fundraising. I served as liaison from the Lake in the Hills Village Board to the McHenry County Transportation Committee from 2001 to 2008. I then became vice chair of the county's Transportation Committee after I being elected to the County Board.
I currently serve as a board member for the McHenry County Mental Health Board, where I provide direction for funding priorities in the county. I am currently vice chair of the Public Health and Community Services Committee, and chair the Senior Services Grant Commission. I am a board member for AgeGuide (formerly Area Agency on Aging), one of the key funding sources for senior programs. I also serve as a board member for the Lake in the Hills Rotary Club, where I help plan service to our community and projects in Latin America and Africa.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing your district and how do you propose tackling it on the County Board?
A: Our biggest challenge is the COVID-19 pandemic. It has caused economic disruptions, loss of tax revenue, and political divisions. The pandemic will leave a lasting impact on the financial security of our citizens. We are just now at the point where infrastructure is starting to catch up with our needs. Economic security requires continued investment in infrastructure -- roads, mass transit, schools, internet, and government services.
As a leader in advocating for the Randall Road improvements, I also supported road and bridge upgrades in rural parts of the county where farmers depend on them to get their products to market. We must continue to compete for federal and state money to fund projects such as these. We should also partner with developers to share the costs for infrastructure improvements that benefit their projects. We must also stay smart about how we reopen the local economy. We have to support public health guidelines and do everything in our power to prevent a resurgence of the pandemic in our region. The county must work with municipalities to monitor the situation and maintain a coordinated response. The economy will not be healthy until our people are healthy.
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 fragile and interconnected our local economy is. For decades we've lived under the illusion that we can always get whatever we want, whenever we want it. Even the health care delivery system has been run with an outsourced "just in time" supply chain model similar to that used by our manufacturing sector. That model maximizes profits at the expense of resilience. I think the pandemic has made it clear that we need to rethink that model.
I would like to see the Emergency Management Agency work with our health care professionals and consumers to establish guidelines to prevent shortages of essential supplies during a pandemic or other health care crisis. We may even want to consider establishing a strategic reserve of supplies within the county so that we are not so dependent on federal or state assistance. As we've seen in the past eight months, the ability to get supplies to the people who need them on a timely basis is a moral imperative.
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: Yes, I do support the cut. I am the one who proposed it. I've been very consistent in my position on board compensation and benefits since my first term on the board starting in 2008. I voted against salary increases for board members in 2011, and donated my raise to local charities. I am also opposed to part-time board members receiving health insurance coverage when other county employees are denied the same benefit. Some board members' health insurance premiums actually cost the taxpayers more than their salary. Part-time elected officials should be willing to make small sacrifices when so many taxpayers are struggling to make ends meet.
In addition to asking for board members to tighten their belts, I supported the temporary rolling furloughs for county employees that saved about $100,000 and prevented permanent staff layoffs. I support eliminating the elected coroner (a political position which requires no forensic or medical qualifications) so that we can recruit and hire a properly qualified and trained medical examiner at an appropriate salary. I also support merging our Regional Office of Education with another region to save administrative costs.
Q: Should the McHenry County Jail keep its contract to house U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees?
A: No. It's not part of the core mission of McHenry County and it's a distraction. For years, I have been asking the Sheriff's Department for a proper accounting of the costs and revenue for the ICE detention program. We still have no idea if the program is profitable or a drain on our taxpayers, and as board members, we can't make informed decisions about the program without that information. The program has bloated the county payroll and created pension liabilities that will be a burden on this county for decades. Many if not most of the lawsuits brought against the Sheriff have been a result of the ICE program. We don't need the headache.
Q: Should on-duty McHenry County sheriff's deputies wear body cameras?
A: Yes. Body cameras are an essential tool for law enforcement. They should be a top priority. Let me be clear: I support the department and the professionals who keep us safe, and I believe that body cameras will help them do a better, safer job. In addition, the public deserves as much transparency as is practical, and the Sheriff should be eager to facilitate this. I firmly believe that body cameras will increase public trust in the Sheriff's Department, while at the same time helping to protect everyone's rights.
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 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: I'm a fiscal hawk. That means I support spending restraint and working to reduce taxpayer burdens wherever possible. I supported the Valley Hi tax rebate, which reduced the nursing home's reserve fund from four years to three years, while at the same time we expanded services at the facility. It was a win-win for everyone. Our biggest threat right now is a loss of sales tax revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with an increase in demand for safety net services due to the pandemic. County government should be ready to re-evaluate budget needs in light of the shifting demands of the public health crisis.
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: We can always do better, but we've made huge strides in transparency over the past four years. I supported live-steaming all board and committee meetings, and recording votes electronically. This makes it possible for citizens to stay informed without having to travel to Woodstock for meetings. I also supported publishing county spending detail on the county website. Since the advent of COVID-19 we have developed processes to do more county business online.
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: I support the plan to create an "app" that will allow citizens to interact with county departments and transact business from their smartphone. This is more than a convenience for the public. It will reduce staffing costs within county government. Our new accounting system enables sharing of the technology and data across departments and government entities within the county. We need to do more of this kind of investment.