Adam Didech: Candidate Profile:
Name: Adam Didech
City: Buffalo Grove
Office sought: Lake County Board District 20
Occupation: Communications/PR consultant for progressive campaigns and nonprofits
Education: DePaul University, BA in Political Science, John Marshall Law School, JD candidate
Civic involvement: Board member of Chicagoland NOW PAC, board member of Golder Family Foundation
Elected offices held: None
Questions & Answers
Question 1: If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?
Getting property taxes under control is priority No. 1. The first thing voters ask when I knock on their doors is, "what are you going to do about property taxes?" We need to cut wasteful spending, bring accountability to the property tax system, and end the county's habit of giving no-bid contracts to connected insiders.
Cutting wasteful spending needs to start with elected officials. The county should end the use of p-cards by elected officials, reduce compensation for elected officials, and cut the amount we spend on communication by the chair's office. Lake County cannot justify providing the chair with a large communications staff or highly produced self-promotional videos when my neighbors face rising property tax bills every year.
We should also change the county's chief assessment officer to an elected position. Giving Lake County voters a voice in the final decisions about the value of their homes will increase trust and accountability in the system. Cook County voters recently fired an assessor with whom they were unhappy; Lake County voters deserve the same opportunity.
There are also potential opportunities for savings in the county contracting process. Although they may be technically legal, the practice of awarding no-bid contracts is rightly viewed with extreme skepticism from voters and is ripe for abuse, particularly in Lake County where contractors are not required to make even the most basic ethical disclosures. Putting more contracts out to bid and instituting long-overdue ethics disclosure requirements will generate long-term savings for Lake County taxpayers.
Question 2: What is the single biggest need in your district?
Property tax relief. My district has very limited retail and commercial development, so a huge portion of the tax burden falls on individual homeowners. It is not unusual for a homeowner in my district to pay over a thousand dollars a month in property taxes, functionally a second mortgage. That level of taxation is untenable and is forcing too many of my neighbors to consider moving out of what is an otherwise wonderful community to live in.
Our community understands that some property taxes are necessary in the present system to maintain the world-class educational opportunities available to our kids, and we all want our schools to maintain their high quality. We also want our schools to remain safe learning environments, which is why I will be an advocate for common sense gun safety measures. Everybody in my district bought their homes knowing they were buying into Stevenson High School. As a Stevenson graduate myself, I am thankful for that opportunity.
What people need and deserve is a reasonable amount of relief. They want to know that government is taking their concerns seriously. The county board needs to do everything it can to keep its property tax levy from increasing every year, and after years of regular increases we no longer trust the current County Board to keep taxes under control.
Question 3: Should the county government eliminate procurement cards, or p-cards, for county board members? Should county board members even have expense accounts? County board members in some other counties don't, their salaries cover work expenses. Should employees' p-cards be eliminated, too?
It is clear that the p-card system for elected officials has failed and needs to be discontinued. Even when used in accordance with the rules, those accounts provide very little value to taxpayers. Mailings, convention trips for elected officials and similar expenditures have minimal worth to the average citizen. We should severely limit funds spent on discretionary activities of individual county board members, require advanced approval or reimbursement applications for any such expenditures, and tightly regulate the entire system.
The county board should also make all such expenditures viewable by the public on the county website. It is disappointing that, even after a month of p-card-related scandal, the county board as a whole has not taken any proactive steps to disclose the past few years of p-card records. The majority of the county board has displayed a shocking lack of curiosity about this subject and has totally abdicated their oversight responsibilities. A few county board members have made extremely reasonable requests for an outside noncriminal investigation and minor, simple ethics and transparency reforms. Those members have been either ignored or shouted down.
Unfortunately, it appears that this problem is rooted in the culture set by the county board. We clearly need new leadership when elected officials openly reject basic ethics reforms and oppose disclosures that have been the norm all over the country for decades.
Question 4: Is the county doing enough to control expenses? What additional, specific steps do you recommend?
We need to significantly curtail expenses that primarily benefit elected officials. P-cards should be discontinued and compensation for elected officials should be reduced. Taxpayers should no longer be footing the bill for luxury accommodations provided to elected officials.
The county should also be looking at reforming the contracting process. No-bid contracts without even basic ethics disclosures are ripe for abuse and should be heavily discouraged. Putting more contracts out to bid can create long-term savings and give us confidence that spending decisions are being made responsibly.
We should also try to reduce its dependence on expensive consultants. Outside expertise is often necessary for complicated policy questions and audits are essential for oversight, but the county has a large, qualified full-time staff that does not always need outside consultants to develop policy and procedures.
Question 5: Historically, county board meetings have been free of partisanship and political antics -- but party-line fighting has become more noticeable in recent years. How do you feel about that?
Antics and bad faith are certainly unwelcome, and Lake County should not devolve into the mess we see in Washington. Good-faith disagreement, however, is a healthy and necessary aspect of good government. The county scandals we saw this year were not the result of too much conflict; they stemmed from a clubbish and oversight-free atmosphere where dissent and even honest questions were not tolerated on controversial topics.
Most county board action is routine and can be handled unanimously with minimal debate, but Lake County is large and diverse, so it is natural that board members represent different interests and will have different viewpoints on controversial questions. Disagreements should be resolved by negotiation and compromise when possible, but no board member should be faulted for the mere act of standing up for their district or their values. Of course, for subjects like civil rights and ethical government, compromise is wrong and we should expect our leaders to fight for us.
Two-party systems function well when one party stands as a loyal opposition to the party in power. Both parties should set aside obstructionism and shenanigans, but there is nothing wrong with offering an alternative when people are not being well-served by the majority. An opposition party can be a useful source of ideas, a force for accountability, and a viable alternative in elections for voters who want change. De facto one-party government, where voters see no opportunity for change, decreases voter trust in government and leads to internal stagnation and unaccountability.