Candidate Questionnaire: Chuck Erickson
These responses were submitted by Republican McLean County Board member Chuck Erickson, who faces Libertarian Kevin Woodard. The questionnaire was prepared by GLT in partnership with the League of Women Voters of McLean County. See more candidate responses.
Explain any experience you have working or serving with McLean County government.
I have been on the McLean County Board since June of 2011. I ran in a contested Republican primary in 2012 and a contested general election in 2012. I won those elections with the most votes in both cycles. I currently serve on the executive committee, finance committee, rules subcommittee, which I am the Vice Chairman and I am the Chairman of the Land Use Committee. I have never been shy about working with Democrats when I thought we had common ground. The examples are numerous. Member Erik Rankin and I worked well with each other to move animal control out of the health department and under the jurisdiction of the finance committee. We both wanted more humane ways to deal with our animal population in McLean County. Member Carlo Robustelli and I worked together to support moving the meeting time to 7:00 pm on Tuesday. In fact, I was one of the original signatories to the letter requesting such. Member George Gordon and I have worked closely together, when he was the Chairman of the Land Use Committee and I was the Vice Chairman. I have that same type of relationship with Member Wollrab. While we may not always agree, although we agree more than we disagree, as Chairman of the Land Use Committee, I have always asked for Vice Chairwoman Wollrab's opinions and included her on leadership decisions.
I remember one particular example of when Member Gordon and I worked well together on the Land Use Committee. We wanted to allow small rural businesses in an agricultural zoned district. We were able to accomplish this through a special use permit process. This allows farmers to use the land as they wish, promotes our rural heritage, and helps the small businessperson pursue their dreams. This was one accomplishment which I am very proud. The promotion and protection of the small entrepreneur is near and dear to my heart. Finally, I am proud of my record of constituent services. No matter the problem, large or small, no constituent problem is too trivial to me. I have helped one constituent with problems with animal control and a fee payment. I have helped another constituent get questions answered about fee requirements at Comlara Park. And as I stated above, the individual who wanted a special use permit for a rural business, I literally became her county board go to person to help her pass her request for a special use permit and meet the requirements of it afterwards
I am proud of these accomplishments, which may seem trivial to some, are certainly not trivial to the constituent with such issues.
Last fall, the county had to close a $1.5 million budget gap — a deficit that led to an early retirement program and other cuts. What would you prioritize in future budgets if revenues remain tight?
I supported fully what we did to close the budget gap and I still do. Priority always goes to public safety and because only the government can really keep the citizens safe. I support our core services approach to government, that is, there are certain services government must provide and only government can provide. There are services that the private sector can do a much better job at providing than the government. We should partner with the private sector where prudent. I do not support making government all things to all people and all special interests all the time. Ronald Reagan said this well when he said, "Government should do all that is necessary, but only that which is necessary." 1984 Republican National Convention Speech. "Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it's not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work -- work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it." 1981 Inaugural Address.
What would be your approach to evaluating economic incentives to help bring (or expand) businesses in McLean County?
I am skeptical but pragmatic. Listen, the school districts are now being squeezed to provide services while waiting for the return on investment that these incentives promise to deliver in the future. We have to educate our children. I am tired of giving incentives to the rich and connected to locate businesses here in McLean County. But I am pragmatic enough to know that most businesses would not locate to this less than friendly business climate we call Illinois without such incentives.
We have to create opportunity for all citizens of McLean County and jobs in this county will do this. People want jobs. Taxpayers want to keep their hard earned money without tax increases to pay for these incentives. I am afraid to say some county board members rarely see the immediate impact of these incentives, that is, government foregoes income in the immediate term for this so called benefit in the future. Taxpayers are not this bottomless pit of money from which we can continue to ask them to sacrifice from their budget because we cannot balance our budget. Every incentive we give should come after tough and I mean that tough negotiations to extract all we can from the business we want to locate here. We should be relentless in demanding benchmarks be met for the continuation of the incentives. For example, when needed to certify if Rivian was meeting certain benchmarks, I was called to see if I could go along with the assistant county administrators to verify such benchmarks. I was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict but I insisted and I mean insisted leave no stone unturned in making sure of compliance. We should not be lenient in this phase but require strict compliance.
Why shouldn't we be this way? This money belongs to the taxpayers and we should protect their investment. Certainly, we have in McLean County a transportation system second to none with the intersections of Interstates 39, 55 and 74. We have a great regional airport with CIRA. We have first class educational institutions in Heartland Community College, Illinois Wesleyan University and Illinois State University. We have some of the best agricultural land in the United States. There are many pluses about McLean County. We should be proud of this and emphasize these pluses to no end. I supported the Rivian, Brandt and Wirtz Beverage incentives. Brandt and Wirtz are creating jobs in McLean County. Rivian is working to get there in my view. I supported working with Firestone to create jobs in McLean County. I have gone to the floor of the McLean County Board so to speak to advocate for the creation of more blue collar jobs in McLean County. My work with Democrat Member Paul Segobiano for more emphasis on creating blue collar jobs in McLean County is well known if properly reviewed and researched.
Another example where I have worked with Democrats when I thought we had common ground. I want to say this in closing the answer to this question. Is there a better and more efficient way? Yes, deregulation, low taxation and a business friendly environment. We do not have that in Illinois right now. We may never get there but in a more perfect world, we would. I would add I have been an advocate on the county board for a review of our ordinances and rules to see where we can make McLean County more business friendly. Is this my idea and my idea only? I wish I could say that. While I do not support nor did a majority of McLean County Board members support all aspects of the BN Advantage proposal, one aspect I have supported without reservation or hesitation is found on page 60, Recommendations for # 4: Build a strong entrepreneurial culture and ecosystem. It states we need to "Empanel a task force of entrepreneurs and municipal/county officials to review permitting and licensing processes and requirements to ensure a greater sense of starting up a business in the Town of Normal, City of Bloomington and McLean County." Please join me in pushing for this with McLean County Board Chairman John McIntyre. I will not stop pushing. But I need the help of the citizens to put more pressure on the Economic Development Council, McLean County Chamber of Commerce and Chairman John McIntyre.
Do you think McLean County should establish a countywide election commission? Why or why not?
No, I do not believe McLean County should create a countywide election commission. I do believe we should create one election commission in the McLean County Clerk's Office. Listen, every citizen of McLean County should support this as well. Let me explain. First, it will save money. The money can be better used than using it to duplicate services. Everyone agrees on this. Let there be no mistake. Everyone agrees it will save money. Second, I believe you leave it in the hands of someone directly accountable to the voters and taxpayers. An independent commission fails in this regard. It places it in the hands of appointed people who will be appointed by partisans and then insulated in their decisions by appointment. No one truly believes anymore that the Bloomington City Council and Town of Normal Council are truly non-partisan. Their appointments would be based on partisan considerations. No, they would not. Yes, they would.
We should stop kidding ourselves anymore. In this highly politically charged environment in which we live, partisan politics plays a role. I believe we should keep it with the McLean County Clerk's Office. The clerk would be directly accountable to the citizens and taxpayers for the decisions made. There are sufficient laws on the books that protect voters that the clerk is legally required to follow. It is not like the clerk can be this loose cannon and law unto himself or herself, as the case may be.
Do you support changing County Board meeting times — from the morning to afternoons or evenings?
Yes, I did and still do. I joined in the letter authored my Member Carlo Robustelli to have county board meetings at 7:00 pm. To be clear, this proposal would never have seen the light of day but for my vote on the rules subcommittee to advance it to the executive committee. My vote broke the tie. On the executive committee, I voted to send it to the full county board. My record of support speaks for itself. I do want to say however that people have to stop looking at the county board like they do our city councils. The county board has twenty members and we do most of the work in our committees and not on the full board. This is unlike our city councils that operate more like a committee of the whole and have less than half that many members. If one really wants to influence policy on the board, one should follow the policy in which he or she is concerned with the committee to which it is assigned. This means first attend the committee meeting. This is not to say that all committees are able to pass their recommendations when they get to the full county board. The full county board is the last resort if one wants to influence policy on the board, not the first.
To summarize, because it is the last resort, I do support moving the meeting time to 7:00 p.m. I would not support moving the time when the committees meet. It would be too burdensome to staff to have us meet at night, say 7:00 p.m. for each, for the executive committee, finance committee, property committee, justice committee, transportation committee, land use committee, health committee. We all should think about that. Staff having to remain at 7:00 p.m. and on for seven committee meetings and then one additional meeting, the full county board meeting. Staff would be working eight nights a month. I do not impugn the motives of those that want to keep the full county board at the present time. I believe them to be sincere individuals with legitimate concerns about moving the time. I only respectfully disagree with them on the issue.
How do you think McLean County government can help to provide more affordable housing in the area?
First of all, I think the question makes an assumption which is not true. The question assumes that government has unlimited resources to spend in any and every matter. It does not. In question two, you ask about priorities on government spending to balance the budget. Your question would be better asked as from which part of the budget would you take to provide for affordable housing? After reviewing the budget, I would ask what McLean County is legally required to provide. We provide the jail, the court system, sheriff's department and highway department. We provide a treasurer's office which collects taxes, a clerk's office which keeps vital records such as deeds, marriage certificates and birth certificates. We provide the coroner's office. I could go on but which of these services would you cut to provide more affordable housing.
The county is being squeezed by state government. McLean County has essentially had to take on the issues of the mental health on its own. Treatment and proper jail facilities to help those that are mentally ill while not described as housing, certainly provide assistance and housing. I have so far supported this. We need to protect our citizens from harm while giving a helping hand and guidance to those who need assistance. Secondly, McLean County subsidizes the nursing home, which is affordable housing. I have supported this as well but I would add, the nursing home needs to figure out how to get back to even or making money. The county is working on a roadmap to get there. I hope with all my heart it works. I am not without a heart. I would suggest where we can work with the private sector to reduce regulatory hurdles and zoning restrictions which create barriers to affordable housing, we should do so. After serving in county government for more than seven years, I have learned the question is not what to do with unlimited resources, the question is what to do with the resources with which we have and priorities with which we are legally required to maintain. What is the best way to allocate scarce resources? Your question completely ignores that issue.
How would you describe the relationship between the County Board, the Board of Health and the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council? What role the County Board play in guiding health policy, governance?
The county board should play as large as a role as allowed by existing law. I am not a big fan of appointed boards. They are insulated to some extent from the voter and taxpayer and in most cases, to insulated for comfort for me. I would support our health committee doing all it can to exercise as much control as it legally can over all appointed boards.
What would be your approach to evaluating land-use requests involving renewable energy like wind and solar?
I support a land owner's right to use his property as he sees fit, so long as the use does not injure one’s neighbors. See also answer to above question number one regarding small rural businesses in an agricultural zoned district. This is the legal standard, that is, does it injure your neighbor's enjoyment and use of his land? What is injurious to one's neighbor is the million dollar question. I do not see how solar farms injure someone's neighbors. I have supported them. As Chairman of the Land Use Committee, I have supported will written decommissioning standards that protect the taxpayers. The only goal of these is to protect the taxpayer. We are presently trying to add such language to our zoning ordinance.
As for wind farms, these new farms place wind turbines on land which are larger than the ones presently existing in McLean County. I support placing more distance between these and one's neighbors. The zoning board of appeals did this for some land owners and not for others, which I could not find a clear rationale for such. In addition, I did not find the presentation by the wind farm companies persuasive as to the larger turbines. I have asked Members Cavallini and Metsker to present a proposal to me to modify our ordinance with which I will place before the land use committee for consideration. I have yet to receive it from them. I believe we need to find the right balance. We need sufficient space between the turbines and neighbors. I support more space between the two.