Paula Jacobsen: 2021 candidate for Barrington Hills village board
Six candidates for three seats
City: Barrington Hills
Occupation: Senior director of clinical development at Praxis Precision Medicines
Civic involvement: Avid supporter of conservation activities, including Citizens for Conservation; member of the Riding Club of Barrington Hills
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: As a village trustee, I strive to demonstrate leadership by example in following CDC guidelines and adhering to state and/or federal regulations. Acknowledging resident concerns is vital; however, my concern is with the health and safety of our residents, our village staff and my family. This pandemic has been extraordinarily challenging, with a lot of initial uncertainty and lack of unified guidance contributing to the varying viewpoints held on the necessity of the level of COVID restrictions. Since Barrington Hills is a residential community with very few businesses, our primary concern was over village operations not regulating businesses. I feel it is important for me to demonstrate that I am taking the pandemic seriously by publicly following the guidelines in place. For businesses affected by the COVID restrictions, I fully support the sanitation and distancing protocols put in place. However, in some instances, outside of Barrington Hills blanket shutdowns of some businesses while allowing others to remain open, was not substantiated by scientific evidence. It's important to remain open minded and well-informed if you are in a position of regulating business operations.
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: During the initial shut down, Village Hall was closed to the public and only staff were allowed in the office and was reopened with capacity and safety protocols in place. I feel we have done an excellent job in continuing to provide essential services without interruption to residents during the pandemic, including police protection. As a board, we continued village business remotely at first, but were required to attend in person after the initial shutdown. Because the village has not invested in video streaming, and the quality of the audio was terrible, and it negatively impacted our ability to engage in discussion. In addition, the space where the board meets is not sufficient to socially distance making it difficult to adhere to proper protocols. Because the audio for the meetings is poor, it is difficult for residents to hear what is being discussed. Furthermore, residents are prevented from providing public comment remotely, and must attend in person. Many residents understandably are not comfortable doing that, which has led to a gap in communication and resident participation on a number of important issues that have come to the board for vote.
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: Our lack of video streaming capabilities and remote participation has become a major impediment during the pandemic. In this day and age with the technological capabilities we have at a modest expense, there should be no reason that Barrington Hills does not have a better system for remote participation. There were a couple of important issues that came before the board where more residents attended in person so they could comment, but due to COVID capacity restrictions some people were forced to wait in the hall or outside. I know that more people wanted to attend, but were understandably too concerned over health issues to come in person. A better system for remote participation would not only have allowed more residents to participate during the pandemic, but would also support greater overall resident participation and increase awareness and communication on village matters.
Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A: We have done an excellent job in reducing the budget over the past several years, while retaining important and necessary services. We should continue to look for ways to reduce expenses while maintaining important infrastructure and retaining police protection. Two of the largest areas of expenses in our budget are police protection and roads and bridges. We have an excellent police force that residents resoundingly support and I would continue to advocate for the current level of police protection. We have made improvements in our road services by hiring a new village engineer three years ago. With the current engineering firm, we get better pricing due to more competitive bidding for road repairs and resurfacing. The new firm is also implementing new technology that will prolong the life of our current roadways saving residents more. Currently, we are able to repave more roads with the same or less money than in the past. Another area of potential cost savings would be in legal fees. We have been evaluating this over the past few years and have brought the costs down some, but this is another area of potential savings to continue to evaluate.
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: Barrington Hills is a watershed and important ground water recharge area for a great portion of the Northwest suburbs, and we continue to have increasing drainage issues. I think this is an area that we have mostly be reactive vs proactive in how we address developments that could negatively impact flooding issues over roads or on neighboring properties. Fortunately, Barrington Hills has approximately 4,000 acres of forest preserve that provides valuable watershed areas. We should work with the forest preserve and local conservation groups to understand and proactively address future worsening of drainage issues. If we actively address this issue now, we could prevent subsequent costs down the road. For example, some roads in our village are already prone to washing out and have required extensive bridge/road work and we can expect the issue to worsen as more land is developed. Having a plan in place now could save us costly infrastructure expenditures in the future. In line with this issue is my commitment to preserve our five acre minimum zoning. Higher density development not only affects the rural nature of our community but directly impacts the drainage issues we are experiencing.
Q: Do you plan to address businesses that don't adhere to the governor's order to close or restrict business?
A: Our Village is residential and has very few businesses and most are considered essential (no bars or restaurants). We have no plans to restrict their activities.
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 agree on the board's decision to prohibit recreational sales of marijuana in our village.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: I would really like to focus on improving property values in our village. One trend that I have noticed since the pandemic is that sales in Barrington Hills have increased. Because our properties are typically five acres or more, there has been a lag in sales over the past few years as people were more interested in small lots with minimal outdoor open space areas. However, since the pandemic, people have come to recognize the value of having land and open space and engaging in the various outdoor activities that we in Barrington Hills enjoy, such as gardening, raising chickens, goats, dogs, horses etc., and spending time in the many acres of forest preserve. I think we have a real opportunity to revitalize our village by promoting the attributes that so many of us have moved here to enjoy and fight to protect.