Susan Malter: Candidate Profile:
Name: Susan Malter
City: Lake Forest
Office sought: Lake County Board District 21
Education: J.D. 1991, Loyola University of Chicago School of Law; A.B. 1986, University of Michigan
Civic involvement: Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., leader; SOS Children's Villages, board member; Chicago Legal Responders Network, founding member; Lawyers for Good Government, member; Arab/Muslim/Jewish Roundtable, host; Deputy Voter Registrar, volunteer; Domestic Abuse Counseling (Shalva), board member; Chicago Community Trust Young Leadership Group, member; McCall Family Foundation Here and Now Fund, board member; Profamily Social Service Connections, founder and director; Grand Boulevard Federation, member; Chicago Gateway Green-Green Tie Ball (a pro-environment organization), board member; Shira Piven's production of Born Guilty, synagogue and community outreach director; Theater Building, board member
Avoca School (Wilmette, Dist. 37) community working group member; Travelers Assistance Project (at O'Hare Airport during the Muslim Ban), attorney.
Elected offices held:
Questions & Answers
Question 1: If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?
The Lake County Board needs meaningful ethics reform. Elected officials should listen to the voters and not just their campaign donors. I would make changes to the ethical guidelines to require that all candidates for office, all county officials, and county employees disclose the names of family members who conduct business with the county. Further, we should have guidelines that ban no-bid contracts to family members of county officials and employees.
Republican majority members of the Lake County Board have repeatedly demonstrated, in recent open meetings, a lack of faith in the democratic process. We must not only conduct government business with honor, honesty, and respect for one another but also use care to appear to conduct government business honorably. Hiding the relationships between contractors, donors, and officials cannot continue.
Part of this ethics reform should be video recordings of all public meetings. We must make our meetings accessible by putting the recordings on the Lake County website. From the audio and video records that I have heard, it is clear that there is bad behavior by elected officials that is not apparent in the official minutes.
Making sure that people are treated fairly under the law is my life's work. Most recently I have been working to stop the widespread scam of unethical attorneys using copyright cases to trick innocent users of the internet into paying settlements. I also help people get justice through Chicago Volunteer Legal Services.
Question 2: What is the single biggest need in your district?
In my district, residents want their tax dollars spent wisely. Managing stormwater is a significant problem in our area. The Des Plaines River Watershed is near my home. Especially in unincorporated areas, people are worried about flooding and the failure of the county to appropriately address this serious problem. One of my neighbors complained to me that he and two others attended meeting after meeting demanding action. When I asked whether our incumbent board member had been helpful, he was surprised to learn that we have a board member at all. Unfortunately, that surprise is common in this district.
Last year's flooding has people worried. One friend used a canoe to get to her mailbox last summer. Residents are quite alarmed that the county board seems to be doing nothing about this.
Flooding is not the only concern. Clean and safe water used to be expected. The trust in government to keep us safe has disappeared. Trump's effect on the EPA, and news of places in Illinois and across America with poor water quality worry residents. The board member for my district has not taken a strong stand against Foxconn as president of the forest preserves. Instead, she has been silent on Trump's dismantling of environmental protection. Our district needs leadership. The development plans by Foxconn and others put our water-quality at risk. Our habitat must be protected beyond the forest preserves if our children and grandchildren are going to enjoy the Lake County that we love.
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?
As a first step, county government should publish every p-card purchase by county board members with name and date. Any continued use of procurement cards should be accompanied by rigorous training regarding their appropriate use. A lack of training appears to be a consistent problem in areas where ethics play a significant role. This must be addressed.
Yes, I would support the elimination of procurement cards for county board members.
We may want to reserve the possibility of offering p-cards to county board members whose income or credit is not sufficient to pay for the expenses that arise in the course of doing county business. Lake County must allow for people of all income levels to be able to serve on the county board.
Question 4: Is the county doing enough to control expenses? What additional, specific steps do you recommend?
No, Lake County is not doing enough to control expenses.
The public doesn't see the year-end transfer of tens of millions of dollars into a general fund for construction projects. This should not continue without oversight. Taxpayer money is transferred from department budgets where dollars were carefully allocated. They move to mysterious black box accounts that can be spent without going through the process that taxpayers deserve. The departments that lose their funding come back and ask for more tax dollars the next year. Major capital projects should have the same open process we demand when setting the budget.
Another way that expenses are out of control is eliminating salaried positions to appear to be saving money and then replacing them with more expensive outside contractors. I will fight for ethics reform.
We also should not continue the practice of no-bid contracts. We should certainly get rid of no-bid contracts to family members of county officials and employees. In cases of professional services, we should demand competitive bidding in Lake County, even though it is not required by state law.
We should honor best practices that are known across the country as fiscally responsible. Our county has been cutting costs at the expense of our veterans. Lake County's underfunded and understaffed Veterans Assistance Commission has resulted in compensation that is over 9 percent below the national average for service-connected disability. Lake County veterans lose out on millions of dollars of compensation to save thousands on staff positions.
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?
I have been surprised at the lack of decorum on the part of leadership. Again, I believe it has to do with training in ethics. It seems to me that well-meaning people can go astray without realizing that their behavior is out of bounds. For example, during a discussion of electing our assessor, one member of the Lake County Board repeatedly suggested that creating an elected position would open that position to bribery. That is not just shocking because of the attack on democracy and democratic values. It is also unacceptable to ascribe malicious and criminal motives to people with whom one disagrees. That is exactly the sort of argument that prevents compromise. It is exactly what John McCain was concerned about when he said an attack on people's motives prevents us from getting to go. For an elected official who takes campaign contributions to say that we should not trust elected officials because of campaign contributions ... well, that is a problem.