© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

County workforce, green energy and public safety are key issues in McLean County Board's District 7 in Bloomington

Democrat Val Laymon, Republican Geoffrey Tompkins, Republican Don Crop, and Democrat Ben Webb
Courtesy / WGLT
McLean County Board District 7 candidates, clockwise from top left, Democrat Val Laymon, Republican Geoffrey Tompkins, Republican Don Crop, and Democrat Ben Webb.

The candidates running to represent central and near-east Bloomington on the McLean County Board have different top priorities – from bolstering the county’s HR practices to green energy to supporting law enforcement. But they share a pragmatic view of bipartisan governing.

There are four candidates – two Democrats, two Republicans – running for two seats in District 7. That includes the Veterans Parkway corridor between College Avenue south to Oakland Avenue.

Democrat Val Laymon

The only incumbent on the ballot is Democrat Val Laymon, who has served on the County Board since 2020. Laymon works as a senior manager in corporate learning and development/talent management in the restaurant industry.

Laymon said one of her top priorities if re-elected is tackling the county’s workforce challenges. The county has almost 900 employees but no HR department, Laymon said. That’s one reason why the county hasn’t kept pace with competitive pay, Laymon said, making it hard to staff certain positions – from entry-level to more specialized jobs.

The County Board earlier this year voted to hire a Florida firm to conduct a salary study of county employees. Creating an HR department could help, Laymon said.

“We’ve kicked that can down the road for quite some time. Our county employees are amazing and resilient and hard-working. However, in many positions, (they are) rather underpaid. And not paid at the level that’s commensurate with other professionals in like industries in the area and other governments,” Laymon said.

The current County Board will consider a budget Nov. 10 that would boost the county payroll by $2.4 million after the study revealed many employees were paid up to 10% below the market rate.

Laymon, who serves on the Property Committee, said the county has also kicked the can on facility maintenance spending. She points to the McLean County Museum of History, which she said did some dome and clock maintenance about 20 years ago. But it wasn’t until last year that a roof replacement was done, Laymon said, with years of leaks creating other issues in the intervening years. (The county's Public Building Commission owns the building.)

It should have been dealt with earlier, Laymon said.

“We gotta be more responsible. We gotta be more respectful of our taxpayer dollars today and our taxpayer dollars for generations to come, and make sure we’re not handing them really large issues and bills to take care of,” Laymon said.

A map of the McLean County Board's District 7
A map of the McLean County Board's District 7, which includes parts of Bloomington.

Republican Geoff Tompkins

Also running in District 7 is Republican Geoffrey Tompkins. He works at State Farm.

Tompkins said one of the main reasons he’s running is to “back the blue,” or to support law enforcement and their work on public safety. He said he previously served as a constable – a type of local law enforcement – when he lived in Arkansas.

Hiring and retention have been challenges in the McLean County sheriff’s department. Deputies got a new contract this year that pushed the minimum base salary above $60,000. It also enhances the pay scale for new hires who bring experience from other departments.

“Crime, in my opinion, is the No. 1 issue facing McLean County at this time,” Tompkins said. “It’s not an issue that’s affected McLean County quite as hard as some of the northern communities in our state. But we’re a short train ride away, and a 2-hour drive on the highway, and it can get here fast. And I think our (sheriff’s) deputies need a little more in the way of pay equity, and benefits and training, so we can keep and retain these deputies.”

Tompkins has run in Twin City politics and government circles for years. He was the treasurer for Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe’s 2021 campaign. He’s also worked for Republican Dan Brady and previously served as a Bloomington liquor commissioner under then-Mayor Tari Renner and alongside former Mayor Rich Buchanan, who died last year.

Tompkins said he believes in low taxes, low interference from government, and smaller government.

“Unfortunately, in our area, we have pick one or the other. And as much as I respect an ‘I’ (for Independent), it’s just not electable in 2022,” Tompkins said. “I’m kind of in the middle. I’m an R, but I’m not a person who dismissed the ideas of other opposing viewpoints simply by the virtue of their party affiliation. I can work with any Democrat. I can work with any Republican.”

Democrat Ben Webb

Democrat Ben Webb is running in District 7. He’s not an incumbent, per se, but close to it.

Webb, a high school English teacher, was elected in District 4 in 2020 but had to resign last spring after moving to District 7. Now he’s running to get back on the County Board.

Webb said his familiarity with county government operations would be an asset. County Board members have to be a “community builder that can connect the dots between, this is what local government does, and these are the people who can really make it happen,” Webb said.

Webb said he’d like to help position McLean County on the forefront of renewable energy.

“I see a wonderful opportunity with the solar farms that have been approved, and the wind farms that have been approved – you’re seeing everything go green. And being such a large county, those would be two wonderful places to look at the (county’s) fleet and the vehicles and say, ‘How can we start saving energy? How can we go sustainable?’ And with Rivian in our backyard, that seems like a great community partnership,” Webb said.

Webb said he’d aspire to be a problem-solver who can put partisanship aside. National politics are not county politics, he said, and fierce debates don’t have to fracture personal relationships.

“How can we make this mutual, so it’s not an issue? How do we turn it from an issue – which could be hyperpartisan – into something that’s not an issue anymore? Because we’re trying to do both the right thing but also not the partisan thing. It shouldn’t be about the ‘gotcha’ moment. And especially with mental health, that’s something that cannot be a ‘gotcha’ moment,” Webb said, referring to the county’s recent mental and behavioral health initiatives.

Republican Don Crop

The other Republican in the race, Don Crop, did not respond to multiple WGLT requests for an interview. Crop responded to a questionnaire from the McLean County Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee, where he said his top priorities would be “public safety, accountability, (and) economic growth.”

Election Day is Nov. 8. Early voting is underway.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.