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U of I Extension informs McLean County Board of local leadership change

McLean County Board
Eric Stock
The McLean County Board met Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022 at the Government Center in Bloomington.

The University of Illinois Extension has announced a change in its McLean County leadership. Extension officials say the move is unrelated to concerns raised about high turnover among volunteers and staff.

The Extension provides agriculture and consumer education and runs the annual 4-H fair at the McLean County Fair.

Janice McCoy, assistant director for the University of Illinois Extension Region 2 that includes McLean County, told the McLean County Board during its monthly meeting Thursday the director of the Extension office in McLean, Livingston and Woodford counties has been reassigned and an interim director appointed.

The move comes after the county board significantly reduced its funding to Extension amid concerns raised by several board members that the agency was using too much of the county’s allotment to build cash reserves. Several former Extension employees and volunteers also had accused the Extension office of mismanagement.

In late July, the Extension council agreed to seek a $30,000 levy from McLean County after the county members balked at a request for a $300,000 levy.

McCoy told the board on Thursday that former director Bobbie Lewis-Sibley has been reassigned to an interim position overseeing special projects at the University of Illinois Extension office. McCoy described it as a lateral move for Lewis-Sibley and said the assignment was unrelated to those complaints or county funding cuts, but was instead part of Extension’s strategic planning statewide.

“We have looked at the needs that our organization has currently. The timing might look that way to people, but that certainly isn’t the case,” McCoy said after the meeting.

Katie Buckley, a 4-H youth educator since 2020 and 16-year educator, will fill the interim county director role. “I think my biggest goal is to continue to educate the public about what programming Extension has to offer and then just continue to build relationships with the community," Buckley said.

McCoy stressed the move was unrelated to the county funding cut, but said Buckley will take the feedback the county has provided in hopes the county will restore previous funding levels.

“She’s working really hard in her acting role to address some of the concerns that were brought before you earlier in the year and to propel our local extension unit forward,” McCoy told the board.

Extension officials said previously no programs would be eliminated or reduced in 2023 despite the county’s funding cut, but said cuts were possible in future years.

Other business

The county board also approved a number of mostly routine items during its 15-minute meeting, including:

  • A request for Green Gables Restaurant to add an outdoor beer garden as part of its plans to reopen following a fire that destroyed the building in May
  • An expansion of Rader Family Farms as an agriculture tourism facility.
  • $2 million in county highway funds to replace Hoffman Bridge outside Colfax.
  • An engineering services agreement for reconstruction of Hudson Road (County Highway 12) from west of Interstate 39 to County Highway 39. The state has approved $500,000 in motor fuel tax funds for the project.
  • A five-year contract with North Carolina-based Caliber Public Safety to implement a new records management system for law enforcement. The system will cost the county $620,000 and annual costs starting at $271,100 in the first year, according to staff documents presented to the board. It’s part of a larger overhaul of the county’s electronic justice system.
Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.