Jessica Phillips: Candidate profile, McHenry County Board District 2
Incumbent Republicans Jeffrey T. Thorsen and John J. Reinert face a challenge from Democrat Jessica Phillips in the race for McHenry County Board District 2, which includes parts of Crystal Lake, Lake in the Hills, Cary, and Algonquin.
The Daily Herald asked the candidates a series of questions. Here are their responses.
For complete election coverage, visit www.dailyherald.com and click on "Election Central."
Q: What do you bring to the table that your opponent does not?
A: I have a different outlook on issues and concerns than my opponents hold. For example, 26% of small businesses in McHenry County experienced closings due to COVID. I would have voted for, not against, granting $5,000 to 60 of these local businesses which did not qualify for other grant relief related to COVID. I would not ask taxpayers to pay for my mileage while showing off my airplane on social media as it might make voters wonder if the cost of jet fuel has gone up. At the same time, I would not implement a Cat Tax to offset other spending, such as mileage reimbursement.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing your district and how do you propose tackling it on the County Board?
A: Taxes and spending. McHenry County ranks 29th nationally in property taxes and pays more in property taxes, per capita, than 99.9% of all Americans. We are losing population to Wisconsin. There are simple ways that we can further cut property tax which my opponents have opposed. We must vote to remove health insurance as a benefit to County Board members. There should not be full time benefits for an elected part-time position when taxpayers cannot obtain the same. It is always an insult to our community and even more so when COVID is having an economic impact on many households. Also, the Board will be reduced from 24 to 18 members in 2022. I would like to consider reducing the size further, to 12-15 members. It has been suggested that this could save taxpayers close to $1 million dollars over four years. Not only does this reduce costs, it also makes elected officials more visible and accountable to their constituents. We can also completely forgo the previously mentioned mileage reimbursements for Board members. Both of my opponents value this "perk." Taxpayers can use that money in their own gas tanks. Taxpayers are also owed a property tax cut and every penny counts.
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 have learned that we need to have a budget that is better prepared for emergencies. I would like to see an Illinois Department of Health testing facility in McHenry County. I think Gov. Pritzker has done a particularly good job of leading us through this crisis in Illinois. It is disheartening that John Reinert has implied on social media that the action taken to protect our community is a political stunt.
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: I support a 10% salary reduction, something my opponents have voted against. Our community is experiencing economic strife due to COVID. It has had an effect on my own household budget. Why would there be any opposition to this by County Board members? To keep money in their pockets. I consider working toward all possible budget cuts as important and needing attention currently.
Q: Should the McHenry County Jail keep its contract to house U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees?
A: What happened to Meydi Guzman Rivas was heartbreaking. An 18-year-old high school student, seeking asylum was detained for four months by ICE for allegedly missing a court date. I am proud of the people in our community that worked endlessly to get Meydi released. An $8 million dollar contract is not worth the trauma caused to her, her family, or our community. Will the facility in McHenry County be put on the chopping block if new centers are built? Just a few months ago the Department of Homeland Security revealed plans to build a privately owned and operated detention center in Dwight, IL. Will reform close the facility? "The Biden Plan for Securing Our Values as a Nation of Immigrants." What he proposes will lead to modernization of our immigration system and less need for these centers. Considering public pressure, or additional facilities built by the current administration that could make the facility in McHenry unnecessary, or reform brought by a Biden administration it seems that we need to get to the business of adjusting the budget by $8 million dollars. The time to plan is now.
Q: Should on-duty McHenry County sheriff's deputies wear body cameras?
A: I am in full support of having officers wear bodycams and audio recording equipment, that when turned on, stays on and cannot be tampered with when turned off. Camera usage results in a decline of complaints against police, increases trust and enhances relationships between the police and community. Other benefits include resolving disputes, improvements in training and transparency. However, good policy matters and they should not be used in bad faith, unreasonably, or for rogue surveillance of our community.
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 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: Transparency is key to a well run county. We need to have all the facts on what is being spent, where, and why. From this point we can prepare for looming threats. We need to take a serious, line-item consideration of every department. We always need to consider threats to agriculture and the environment. Then there is the challenge of COVID, which we are continuing to adapt to. Before dissolving an unincorporated part of a county, there needs to be a comprehensive plan in place. The manner in which new town and district lines will be calculated and drawn up must be discussed before anything can be voted on or decided. The potential economic consequences to the residents and county need to be carefully considered. Who absorbs the cost of maintenance of that section of the county? Will property taxes increase, or will they decrease? What departments of the city will be affected, and will there be job cuts? While an interesting concept, a well-researched plan needs to be crafted before a vote to dissolve, not after the vote.
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: There have been many improvements made to the McHenry County's website over the past two years. County budgets, meeting minutes, recordings and agendas are now available to the public. This said, there is always room for improvement. Getting input from the community would be helpful if there is a need to streamline the website further to make it easier to navigate searches for this information. I also think the entire website should be available in Spanish language format.
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 think asking our community where they feel a need for improvement is important. I can navigate the system well enough, but not all residents are tech savvy. They also might have a question without knowing where to begin. This is where having a person on the other of the line is helpful. We need to ask residents if an update to the layout of the website makes it easier to find information. We can update the automation service with more relevant issues that have been trending in the county. Include a FAQ section to the system like we have online to the system. That could help residents who may not tech savvy or have the time to do the digging through the current layout of the website.