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5 questions with District 4 McLean County Board candidates

There are four people vying for two open seats on the McLean County Board: Democrats Jim Rogal and Krystle Able and Republicans Steve Harsh and Jerry Klinkner.

Of those candidates running to represent the county district that covers north Normal, Rogal is the only incumbent. He was appointed to the seat in 2021 after a stint on the Normal Public Library board and chairing elections committees for the McLean County Democrats. Rogal said he decided to run this year to set an example for his children.

"I want to make this community some place where they want to grow up in, as well as hopefully in the future, possibly live here with their families," he said. "I used to walk to Parkside when I was in junior high; I want that kind of experience for my kids. I want them to be able to safely walk through the neighborhoods, I want them to experience and enjoy the things that McLean County has — from our parks to the library system."

Jim Rogal
Jim Rogal is running for McLean County Board.

Able is a longtime Normal resident and community organizer who works with the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans. She also is vice president of the Young Democrats of McLean County. Like Rogal, Able attempted to fill a vacancy in District 4 created by the resignation of Matt Coates earlier this year — although Republicans on the board voted against appointing her, saying her politics were too radical.

"At the end of the day, it's the voters who are going to get to make the decision, not the county board," she said. "I had and still do that the voters in District 4 are going to stand behind me, as well as Jim Rogal, and elect Democrats to the county board again — whether Republicans like it or not. I've been in McLean County my entire life; I'm the eighth generation of my family to be living in McLean County. The well being of the people here, it's kind of in my blood, I guess."

Here are five questions WGLT posted to Rogal and Able — the only candidates who responded to WGLT requests for interviews.

How effective do you feel McLean County has been in executing its mental health action plans? Are there changes you would like to see?

Rogal: I think we're just starting to see the execution portion. The plan that we saw and voted on a few months ago was an OK road map of what we can do here locally, but it's going to be (in) how it's all implemented. We've got a lot of potential providers; it's the execution part of that. I think the plan that we passed was a good starting point. But you can't have a 10-year plan and then not deviate that from that occasionally as new new things arise; the pandemic is proof that we have to be a little more adaptive with mental health and with health care in general, going forward.

One thing we lacked in the mental health plan that was voted on by the county board was how directly it will be addressed at the county jail. I wasn't here when they came to the agreement to build the new extension on the jail, but I know one of the purposes was to have more mental health built into that for the people that are incarcerated. I know they are working on that, I know they have some vendors that are built in with that, but it wasn't addressed in the plan — and I think it has to be.

Able: Because I don't really have a background in mental health services, there's nothing I could specifically point to where I would say, 'I think doing this or that would make the outcomes better.'

Krystle Able has three kids in Unit 5 schools.
Krystle Able is running for McLean County Board.

If I'm elected to the county board, I would really lean into the people that are on the county board that have mental health backgrounds and education, and the people that are making up the health committee. Those committees all come from professionals in the industry, so I think that we should really listen to the professionals when they tell us what we can do, and continue to... make sure that we're funding the things that they're asking for so that we actually can get those outcomes and accomplishments that we want.

The McLean County Nursing Home had been a financial strain on the county for years. It has done much better financially in the last year under new management. Why is it doing better? And do you believe that’s sustainable?

Rogal: I think it can be sustainable. Senior care has changed over the years; nursing homes are not what they used to be. It used to be they would get to a point where the family couldn't take care of their elderly family members and they would end up in a nursing home, mostly bedridden. Now, there are more seniors who are more mobile and there are more challenges, or some people are able to take care of their family member right up until a few months of them passing on. So now, they (the McLean County Nursing Home) have the hospice care, they're looking at a rehab portion ... as well. Meeting those needs and are what is going to keep it sustainable.

Keeping it profitable is not necessarily what I care about. I'm more worried about it being accessible to people that live here. We have a lot of the facilities here in the county that address seniors and ... some of them are drastically expensive and cost prohibitive for seniors to be able to stay there. So, the one good thing that the county nursing home is able to do is allow for a not-overly-priced location for people that are on a much lower or fixed income to stay at.

Able: I know that in May of this year, Gov. Pritzker signed a bill that provided an extra $700 million annually for nursing home staffing across the state; I'm not 100% sure if McLean County was able to tap into any of those funds. But there was also the Biden administration in February announcing new measures to improve the quality, safety and funding for public nursing homes. ... I would guess that a lot of those things, probably, has trickled down hopefully into McLean County.

I absolutely think the McLean County Nursing Home has to remain a public entity. It has to remain county owned and operated. I know that in the past there's been rumblings — usually from Republicans — about selling the nursing home for private equity. Just as recently as last year, there was a study that came out that showed residents in nursing homes that were acquired by private equity were more likely to have a preventable emergency department visit and more likely to experience a preventable hospitalization when compared to residents of nursing homes that were not associated with private equity. So if we want to make sure that we're having the best patient outcomes possible, I think the proof is in the data that the McLean County Nursing Home definitely needs to continued to be owned and operated.

McLean County has leaned more into solar and wind energy in recent years. That has come at the expense of farmland, one the county’s top economic producers. Do you anticipate the county will reach a saturation point with wind and solar farms anytime soon?

Rogal: I'm not sure. I think at some point, wind will have to because the turbines are only allowed to be so distant from each other, so distant from homes, so far from residential buildings, not inside city limits. So at some point there will be, but I don't know where that is as far as looking at how many we've got and how many are coming, not coming or anything like that. I think that maybe 10-15 years down the road, maybe we'll see something where we might start discussing that, but I haven't seen a reason to as of yet.

Able: I've heard people ask about being oversaturated in solar farms, but I don't really believe you can be oversaturated. Renewable energy is something we need to lean really hard into. Whether people want to focus on it or not, there is a very clear and present climate crisis happening. We've seen our local farms get flooded and lose a lot of crops and produce in the last couple of years — and lose a lot of their income and have to apply for government-funded grants to get out of the holes the climate crisis is putting them into. So, I think we need to be doing everything we can to advance renewable energy initiatives and projects.

Do you feel you can work with the other party on certain issues that have divided the board?

Rogal: It's not as partisan down the line — I mean, now it seems like it at times because we're 10-10, but I don't think anybody's decisions for the most part, they're not partisan-based. Most everybody there is, at least at their core, (are) trying to do what they think their constituents want or need to have happen. It's not what everybody makes it out to be; it's not all nonstop fighting amongst each other about larger, Democrat or Republican issues.

Able: I think it was really unfortunate how hostile some of the other board members were, and continue to be, toward me. A lot of the things the county board actually has control over are not things that we really need to be fighting about. They're national issues — they're not things that we're voting on here in McLean County. My voice is one out of 20.

I work with people of all different political backgrounds throughout the entire state of Illinois for my job with the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans — I go all the way north, past Chicago, and I travel all the way down to Vienna, so I know that I have the skills and ability to talk to people from all different backgrounds.

Are there areas of concern specific to your district you plan to address if elected?

Able: In District 4, we actually have a really high amount of apartments — there's student housing, residential housing, apartments all over. A lot of people have been telling me they're not able to afford their house anymore; there were apartments in District 4 where the rent was raised over $400 a month. Over the summer, I heard that people couldn't even come to town and get hotel rooms because all of our Rivian employees were living in hotels. We really need to start getting ahead of what's going on with housing and making sure that we're doing what we can to have enough housing and we're making sure that our residents can afford to live here.

Rogal: There are things that I think can directly impact District 4, but also the county as a whole. We have the nursing home, and the Fairview building, which some people have tried to put senior housing in. An expansion of ... more affordable housing in District 4 would be great. But the green energy work that is being done in this county, whether it's Rivian, whether it's wind farms, or solar farms — all of that helps District 4, maybe not as directly as far as jobs or income, but revenue and the tax base for the county.

Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.