Wendy S. Meister: 2022 candidate for Lake County Board District 3
Office sought: Lake County Board District 3
Age: Not provided
Previous offices held: None
Why are you running for this office, whether for re-election or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you?
I'm running for Lake County Board because there is a need to examine the structural components of Lake County's governance and transparency, rather than just focus on details of individual programs, services and infrastructure. While individual programs, services and infrastructure are part of my platform and are all very important, I don't believe that the existing structure of Lake County government has kept pace with the County's growth. Specifically, the County has a large, part-time Board overseeing a $600 million annual budget. This structure may have worked in the past, but I don't see it as a sustainable model moving forward.
The Board has many options. For examples: Does Lake County really need such a large Board? Should the Board keep the same responsibilities but move to full-time? Should the Lake County Board remain part-time, but establish a separate entity to oversee the park system?
If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of any important initiatives you've led. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?
Describe your position regarding the balance between county spending and revenues as it exists today, then describe the chief threats you see looming and how the county should deal with them.
Lake County has an accountability and transparency problem. A perfect example is the Lake County Courthouse. The referendum for the project was $110 million. According to bits and pieces of information, the building is missing a floor from the original plan and has a current price of $150 million. It is unclear if that sum includes or excludes an estimated $16 million required for completion of two floors.
Any questions about the extreme cost overrun are dismissed. This general attitude -- that no one is responsible to investigate or explain to the public how the project went so horribly wrong -- is very concerning.
Without a full understanding of how this spending got so out of control and implementation of structural changes to insure that it doesn't happen again, Lake County will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.
The need to tackle the systemic problems resulting from Lake County's rapid growth is very important to the County's future fiscal responsibility.
How do you rate the county government on transparency and the public's access to records? If it's adequate, explain why. If you think improvements are needed, delineate them.
Transparency and public access to records has been a concern in Lake County for years. Since 2018, there have been positive and negative changes. As with most things, there is always room for improvement.
Resuming the posting of video taped meetings and online access to most contract information is a positive. However, all contract information should be attached to the respective resolution in the agenda and meeting minutes. These attachments will permanently archive the bid process and actual contract in a single search. Further, this will greatly reduce the need for Freedom of Information requests.
An additional regression in transparency is posting about employees. Most governing bodies in Illinois have an online list of employees by name, job title and compensation. In 2020 Lake County posted this data. However, in 2021 Lake County quit providing this information on its website. There is no reason that Lake County can not and should not make this basic information available.
What, if anything, should be done to improve automation and customer service in county offices? What steps should be taken to make that happen?
Residents should have an option to get their County business done in person or online when possible. The difficulty with making services available online has to do with the organization of the website and general lack of knowledge about which department or elected official is responsible. I appreciate that "Property Tax" and "Transparency" have been moved to the County's homepage. However, it is likely that other business could be quickly done online, just by moving those links to the homepage.
Determining what to move to the front page should be driven by understanding what residents most commonly need. People who understand County operations don't necessarily know the frustrations of the residents who try to use the website. Thus, the best way to improve services is to have focus groups with a wide variety of residents to determine what information people want and need. The most common needs should be moved to the homepage.