McLean County Board District 8 candidates have different approaches to the same issues
The four candidates running to represent the west side of Bloomington on the McLean County Board have different philosophical approaches and different ways to approach the same issues.
There are four candidates, two from each major party, seeking two board seats representing District 8, an urban district and went heavily for both President Biden and Gov. JB Pritzker. There's one incumbent, Democrat Lea Cline, who's an Illinois State University professor. She has been active on several issues on the board during her service. One new issue Cline hopes the board will take up is the lack of affordable housing in the community.
“To help find ways that we can encourage sort of moderately priced housing and apartments, whether that's town homes, apartments, or simply the capacity to purchase smaller properties,” said Cline.
She said too many small homes in the district are being bought up by companies and turned into rentals. Cline said one of the challenges to addressing the housing issue is not having a particularly close working relationship with the city of Bloomington. She wants to improve that.
Republican Gary Stevens has lived in Bloomington for 30 years. Stevens is a nighttime staff member at a home for troubled children in Flanagan in Livingston County, and a pizza delivery driver. Stevens said what made him want to run was a recent crash on Illinois 9 at the Lexington-Leroy blacktop that killed a person. He said 20 years ago, the same thing happened.
“And so I want to try to see if there's some way I can convince the county or the state to change some intersections that especially have accidents, to have safer roads,” said Stevens.
Such decisions on state routes such as Illinois 9 are usually made at the Illinois Department of Transportation level.
The other Republican in the race is Vicki Schultz. She is a self-described wage earner.
“I've worked in all kinds of areas all my life. And right now I have a full-time job,” said Schultz, declining to say precisely what employment she has.
“Well, I want to keep that out of this,” said Schultz, adding there are a lot of unheard voices in the district that she wants to bring forward.
The second Democrat on the ballot is Jeanne Biles, a project manager for a software-as-a-service company. She said she is passionate about the community and meeting its needs.
“One of the things that really drove me is learning more about our social programs and the things that are offered on the county level to our residents, and making sure that they are taken care of and funded,” said Biles.
That includes mental health services.
Schultz said, though, she's not sure money is the issue for behavioral and mental health challenges facing people in the county.
“They've been doing this for a while and people are still having mental health issues. I mean, it's getting worse. And what my concern is, we are still just taking money and throwing it at the problem hoping that it'll go away instead of really addressing the real problems,” said Schultz, adding she'd like to get a seat on the county’s Behavioral Health Coordinating Council.
“This is a new council also. It just started in 2019, I think. And I don't know why it all of a sudden manufactured itself,” she said.
Schultz said she has concerns people are being over medicated. When asked how the county can improve mental health services, she said she needs to become involved with the issue before she can answer the question.
In fact, the county has been working on mental health services since 2014. And Cline said those offerings have improved markedly with a triage center, better inter-agency coordination and referrals. Cline said the new mental health action plan has 54 recommendations.
“Obviously this is not going to be a quick one and done. We're never going to dust our hands off and say we have fixed mental health in McLean County. But it's about taking the posture of service and adaptation and coordination with each other to make sure that we're making good decisions, year over year,” said Cline.
The McLean County Nursing Home has been an issue in recent years, though of late it has receded in importance as finances have stabilized under new management. There is still a philosophical divide among the District 8 candidates.
Stevens said privately-owned facilities can handle the low-income elderly just as well as the county home does. “I would lean towards not having a government-run county home because they’re very expensive,” he said.
Biles disagrees, saying privatizing the facility would shift the home from providing a service to seeking profit — to the detriment of the community.
“I think our goal should be break even. I think it's an important resource for people. I think it should remain public, so that any resident, despite their economic status, has the opportunities and the services that it offers,” said Biles.
Schultz said there needs to be an investigation to find out what the real issues are at the home, but Cline said those issues are known, adding a new administrator has removed the nursing home status as an existential question.
“He has helped to maintain access to the facility for people who are low income and who need that facility, but also diversified the services he's providing with sort of outpatient temporary care that can be billed to Medicare and Medicaid. He has been able to bring in more financial resources. This is also assisted by the fact that the state has increased Medicaid repayment rates,” said Cline.
She said parts of the facility in Normal are outdated and the county should consider modernizing it in stages through capital projects. Cline said fiscal stability at the nursing home is desirable, but even if there are future ups and downs, she is committed to having it remain a community resource.
Wind, solar power
Another issue periodically facing the county board is the siting of new wind towers and solar farm projects. Republican Schultz said the county has a lot of them and has reached a saturation point.
“I don't know how this is really helping everyday people because our energy prices are exploding,” she said.
Schultz said the county is not "bringing in the oil it should to the community." To the Democrats in the race, that is the wrong approach.
“It should be absolutely focusing on solar and renewable energy. Those have provided great funds and resources to our community,” said Biles, adding the county also should not neglect the opportunity to support union labor in building solar and wind power installations
Republican Stevens doesn't think the county has reached a saturation point, but he thinks the county shouldn't be making that determination — landowners should.
Democrat Biles said it's not that simple; decisions on where to put wind and solar facilities are not always easy and discussion needs to be nuanced.
Cline said creating more renewable energy resources is important for society.