Editor’s Note: The following is part 3 of a three-part series featuring candidate stories from a three-night virtual forum event hosted by the DeKalb County League of Women Voters and WNIJ-FM radio and the DeKalb Public Library. Read part 1 about DeKalb County Board Districts 1, 3 and 4 here. Read part 2 about the DeKalb County clerk and recorder’s race here. Read part 2.5 about the Illinois state representative for District 76 race here. Visit www.shawlocal.com/news/election for more.
Full video recordings of all three nights’ forums can be found on WNIJ’s Facebook page.
DeKALB – Privatization of the DeKalb County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, solar farms, the SAFE-T Act and the county budget were debated during Thursday night’s virtual forum for DeKalb County Board candidates in Districts 8, 10, 11 and 12.
Four are running to represent District 8, three for District 10 and one candidate each from Districts 11 and 12. Because Districts 11 and 12 each only had one candidate attend the forum, those individuals were given two minutes to stump.
“I’m running on small steps in a positive direction,” said Jeff Kowalski, a Democrat running in District 12.
Kowalski said he wants to focus on creating a program that helps public school students in DeKalb County create trade skills that will help them become employed after high school graduation.
“Being in the trades for 30 years, I talk to a lot of trades people, and the most common question is ‘Where is the help?’ And that needs to change. We need better incentives,” Kowalski said.
Cate Williams of the League of Women Voters of McHenry County hosted Thursday night’s virtual forums, the final of a three-night series hosted by the League of Women Voters, WNIJ and the DeKalb Public Library. She said Kowalski was the only candidate available for the virtual event. The two other candidates for District 12 are Jerry Osland, an incumbent Republican, and fellow incumbent Republican John Frieders, chairman of the board.
For District 11, Williams said only Celeste (Shell) DeYoung Dunn, a Democrat, was able to join the forum. The two other candidates for District 11 are Republicans Roy Plote and Karen Cribben, both incumbents.
Because Plote and Cribben did not attend the virtual forum, Dunn was given two minutes to stump her campaign. Dunn said she’s running because she wants to prepare the county for a strong future.
”I have unique insights into health care and mental health, as my late partner was paralyzed from the waist down for the last 10 years of his life,” Dunn said.
Dunn said she believes in sustainable energy and supporting local businesses. She said she’s also a union supporter.
“If we can’t make changes for the betterment of everyone here, then how can we expect to prosper?” Dunn said. “It’s up to us.”
All three candidates for District 10 – Republican Susan Smith Lindell, Democrat incumbent Mary Lee Cozad and Democrat incumbent Suzanne Willis, who is vice chairman of the board – participated.
All three candidates were asked what relevant experience they bring to the board. Cozad leaned on her three years of experience.
“I read every word of all the backup material we are given, along with the agenda,” Cozad said.
Willis, who’s been on the board since 2016, said she believes her time as a physics professor at Northern Illinois University prepared her for work as an elected official.
“I was a department chair, I was a dean, I was president of the faculty Senate, so that’s also given me a lot of insight into dynamic relationship between people taking leadership positions,” Willis said.
Lindell, a certified public accountant, business owner and former instructor at NIU, said she believes her professional experiences also give her the skills needed.
“These experiences have provided me with a lot of business and financial skills that would be required for the position,” Lindell said. “However, I think that the most important and relevant experience I had to prepare me was being a single mother for 13 years.”
The District 10 trio each were asked what challenges the County Board currently faces.
Willis said the July 20 County Board vote to move forward with a sale of the financially struggling DeKalb County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center for $8.3 million to Evanston-based Illuminate HC is “one very hot topic at the moment.” Illuminate is a private health care company that specializes in operating skilled nursing facilities.
The sale, which will close on or before Dec. 31, was spurred by more than $7 million worth of debt due to delinquent billing, falling resident numbers and what officials have said was unrealized mismanagement.
“I think that is probably going to be more or less settled by the time the new board is seated, although I could be wrong,” said Willis, who voted for the sale.
Willis said changes to the county’s existing solar ordinance and budgetary concerns are among other existing challenges.
Cozad, who also voted for the nursing home sale, said she believes the board doesn’t have control over all that it faces.
“One we don’t have as much control over is inflation, and basically what we can do about that is try to be as careful in managing the county’s finances,” Cozad said. “Solar is something we can do. And I think the biggest, the biggest problem to solar is resistance to solar farms that we’ve encountered, which I found very surprising.”
In 2021, two industrial solar farms by Texas-based Leeward Energy and one by cellular company Samsung spurred months of public debate. Together, the trio of major solar development will claim 6,000 acres of land. Weeks after the November 2021 vote to approve the solar farms, the County Board declared a 12,000-acre cap on the amount of land that could be designated for commercial solar projects in the area.
Several more solar gardens were approved Aug. 17 by the board: a pair of 2-megawatt solar gardens on the northeast corner of Genoa and Melms roads in Kingston and a 2-megawatt garden for Whiskey Acres on the southeast corner of Crego and Keslinger roads in Afton Township.
Opponents of solar energy lamented the loss of farmable land, the size of the panels and their impact on visibility for nearby landowners. Proponents, which included area farmers who entered into agreements with solar developers to lease their land for the energy conduits, argued private landowners retain the right to decide how their land is used. Many farmers touted the benefits of renewable energy as a future-looking alternative use for corn production. For the DeKalb County Board, solar energy provided another path to produce more taxable property revenue, officials have said.
Lindell said she believes public safety and high property taxes are a problem in DeKalb County.
“Now to me, if I actually felt safe in DeKalb County, I wouldn’t mind paying so much in property taxes,” Lindell said.
Lindell said she believes criminal activity in the area could be exacerbated when the SAFE-T Act is implemented Jan. 1.
The SAFE-T Act is a controversial crime bill that will enact a cash-free bail system on Jan. 1. DeKalb County Sheriff Andy Sullivan and DeKalb County State’s Attorney Rick Amato, both Republicans, last week filed a lawsuit to suspend certain portions of the legislation, claiming the bill would put communities at risk.
“I think that what the board really needs to do is to support as much they can – the sheriff and all law enforcement officers – as they try to deal with this crime rate,” Lindell said.
All four County Board candidates for District 8 – Republican incumbent Bill Cummings, Republican incumbent Dianne Leifheit, Democrat Christopher Porterfield and Democrat incumbent Michelle Pickett – attended the virtual forum Thursday night.
Only two of the four candidates for District 8 were asked if they support climate change mitigation efforts.
Porterfield said he supports climate mitigation protocols but said he believes details in the policy can be tricky. He said he believes the county’s regulations on wind farms were too much.
“I’m very much in favor of wind turbines and solar, but it’s a matter of figuring out exactly how we’re going to do it,” Porterfield said.
Cummings said he also supports climate mitigation efforts.
“I’m of the opinion that the solution to the energy situation that we face in the county and the world is all of the above, except fossil fuels, of course,” Cummings said. “We are definitely going to have to phase out fossil fuel use to produce electricity.”
Pickett said she believes inflation is a top issue facing the board. She also said it’s important for the board to keep listening to its constituents.
“Being able to hear multiple voices in terms of what the challenges are and thinking about how to find creative solutions [is] something that I definitely feel that I can bring to the board, and have done so,” Pickett said.
Leifheit said she believes a lot of people don’t want solar developments in their backyard. She also spoke about her time as part of the county’s Law and Justice Committee learning about the SAFE-T Act.
“We’re in a unique position in DeKalb,” Leifheit said. “We’ve had pretrial services that are recognized all over the country for a long time, and we have good judges here. So it probably won’t impact us as much as it will, maybe Cook County and other parts of the state, but that’s a current hot topic.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle