Richard Johnson: 2021 candidate for Elgin City Council
11 candidates are running for four, 4-year seats on the Elgin City Council. One candidate, Marcus Banner, declined to participate.
Employer: School District U-46
Civic involvement: I have been involved with my school community for the last 19 years in many different facets. I have been involved in serving my community volunteering in soup kitchens, food banks and pro bono work. I am a former president of the Elgin Teachers Association and was a candidate for Illinois House District 65 in 2018.
Q. How do you view your role in confronting the pandemic: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree, or defer to state and federal authorities?
A. I don't view this question as a single answer choice. I believe that leadership in times will lead to decisions that may be unpopular with segments of the community. However, it is the responsibility of leaders to choose what is the best course of action for the community. That means that we must give voice to our constituents, we are the conduit for their issues, their concerns and we must represent that voice. Of course we must give voice to those we disagree with as well. It is many times through disagreement that we learn more about the issue and learn how best to serve the interests of the many different residents we represent. I don't believe that deferment to state or federal authorities is the right answer though. It is our duty as elected officials to work in concert with our state and federal authorities to deal with the seriousness of a pandemic. We are the boots on the ground and we are the closest connections with our communities, so our understanding of our residents and the relationships we have with them will better serve them in the confrontation of serious problems like COVID-19 has brought to Elgin.
Q. Did your town continue to adequately serve its constituents during the disruptions caused by the pandemic? If so, please cite an example of how it successfully adjusted to providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A. I do believe that the city of Elgin took decisive actions that were beneficial to our residents and our businesses. The city ensured that we shut down immediately to slow down the spread of the virus.
If there were some opportunities for the city to improve upon their efforts, I would say that we should have focused our attention on helping our residents with desperately needed resources. We could have worked on providing rental assistance, (which was later helped by an eviction moratorium) helping people with paying their utility bills and ensuring that the city received federal resources to help our residents, and our struggling businesses.
Q. In light of our experiences with COVID-19, what safeguards/guidelines should you put in place to address any future public health crises?
A. For planning and for economic purposes, the city should put a reserve account in place to stave off the devastating effects of a future pandemic, an environmental disaster or the like. We also need to ensure that lines of communication with our department of health are open and we are setting up protocols for such disasters. We also must have protocols in place for the purchase of PPE for our most vulnerable residents.
Q. What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A. There is no doubt that there will be significant effects to economies across the state and the nation. Budget will have to be reviewed and modified. However, as a lifelong educator I know that the first item that gets cuts tends to be education. I am steadfast against that action. We have a lot of meaningful work ahead of us and lots of learning these students need coming out of this pandemic. We must not cut our education. That all being said, there is no segment of people that will not be affected by the pandemic. No matter what decision the council makes in cuts to the budget, there will be people who are left out of important programming, experiences, or work.
Q. What do you see as the most important infrastructure project you must address? Why and how should it be paid for? Conversely, during these uncertain economic times, what infrastructure project can be put on the back burner?
A. The most important infrastructure program to tackle is investing in residential, business and art/cultural projects in our downtown area. It is invaluable in attracting visitors, and businesses to Elgin. There is money available through our Central Area TIF district.
There is no doubt that portions of Route 31 must be repaired, but I think that this is something that the city should be waiting on. Funds that were promised by both the state and federal governments to improve infrastructure would be the perfect catalyst to get the project started.
Q. Do you agree or disagree with the stance your board/council has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?
A. I do agree with the position that the council has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in Elgin. I believe that the tax revenue that would be created with sales in Elgin would be important for our economy. Cities in the Fox Valley and our neighboring cities have allowed the sale and growing of marijuana and failing to attract a business to our most attractive area would leave the city in a significant disadvantage in comparison to other communities.
Q. What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A.I wouldn't say that no one is talking about the arts and cultural scene in Elgin, but I do believe it is important that we continue to support and provide valuable resources to our arts in Elgin. There are studies that demonstrate the positive impact that a thriving art scene can have on a city. It brings people, helps our economy and fosters a sense of community pride.
I would really like to see Elgin reach out to those in the tech community that live in Chicago to offer a hub for them that is not in the city. Elgin offers much to tech professionals -- multiple Metra train stops, great local businesses and restaurants, great culture and music, and a beautiful and affordable downtown area. As people continue to move away from downtown Chicago and to the suburbs we must not lose the opportunity to bring them to our great city.