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WGLT's reporting on the November 2020 election cycle.

Candidate Questionnaire: Susan Schafer

Susan Schafer
Susan Schafer

These responses were submitted by Susan Schafer, a Republican candidate for McLean County Board in District 9. See more candidate responses.

Why do you want to represent your district on the McLean County Board?

The pandemic is shining a light on how mental health services are crucial to everyone not only in District 9 but the entire county. Mental health affects everyone regardless of age, race, gender identity, ethnic background, religious affiliation, political party, socio-economic status, citizenship, and more.

Uncertain times demand proven leadership. Systemic change demands proven leadership.

I'm running for re-election to continue being the champion for systemic change to the behavioral health services in McLean County. I have the proven leadership skills needed by working and collaborating with others in the creation and implementation of the 2015 McLean County Mental Health Action Plan -- not only for the progress that has been made, but with the vision and passion to continue moving forward with new and innovative initiatives.

What are your expectations for the McLean County Health Department in 2021 as they relate to the pandemic? What would you do as a County Board to help the department meet those expectations?

According to state statue, while the Health Department is part of the county organization, the Board of Health has full operational control of the Health Department. The County Board has the duty to levy taxes for operation of the Health Department.

As the county board representative to Board of Health, I am first focused on maintaining a good relationship between the boards. Next, even in the wake of a pandemic, my expectation is to continue statutory requirements such as food inspections and safety, provide services such as WIC and other programming that has an impact on community health. Working collaboratively and as a complement to the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council is another expectation, especially with respect to youth building on the BOH Embedded Schools Project. Mass vaccination preparedness will be important in 2021.

Aside from the pandemic, what are the most pressing public health concerns in McLean County, and what would you do as a County Board member to help address them?

In 2016, the first in the state joint Community Health Needs Assessment was done in partnership with the McLean County Health Department, BroMenn, OSF, and United Way, identified Behavioral Health (Mental Health and Substance Abuse) as the top community concern. Again in 2019, a joint CHNA was done with MCHD, BroMenn, OSF, and Chestnut Health Systems (FQHC) as partners and Behavioral Health was the top concern. The results were Community Health Improvement Plan 2017-2019 and the CHIP 2020-2022. The current overarching CHIP goal for Behavioral Health is: Advance a systemic community approach to enhance behavioral health and well-being by 2023.

In 2013, the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) report was critical of the community services for behavioral health. Providers were siloed and not working in a collaborative manner to improve the mental health of residents. Based on this report, I became one of the leaders in creating and implementing the 2015 Mental Health Action Plan that addressed systemic change to the way services are provided in the county. I am a member of the CHIP Behavioral Health Priority Action Team.

I am committed to continuing to advance services and supports for youth and adults with behavioral health needs and to eliminate the stigma for those grappling with mental health issues as well as being a trauma informed county. Because of the work we have done over the last 5-6 years, McLean County has emerged as one of the most progressive jurisdictions in the country addressing the needs of those with behavioral health problems both inside and outside of the judicial system.

For years, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has addressed jail overcrowding and mental health. What additional issues would you like to see the CJCC focus on next?

The county board has no operational control over CJCC. CJCC is run by the judiciary, chaired by the Chief Judge whose executive committee determines their focus. That being said, in order to ensure compliance with court mandates the 25 year-old IT infrastructure, continued collaboration with the ISU Stevenson Center reviewing juvenile crime -- specifically juvenile gun crime, potential restorative justice programs, women’s justice are just a few of the issues that are currently being discussed by CJCC.

Do you think the county should continue to operate its own nursing home? Why or why not?

Absolutely. The nursing home is a hidden gem in the community. Not only does it employ about 80 people, it provides another option for skilled nursing care. The Blue Ribbon Panel is continues to work on providing guidance on improving the overall financial and operational performance and potential additional services such as a dementia unit. I am committed to moving forward with their recommendations.

How would you evaluate whether to support offering economic incentives, such as tax breaks, to businesses to get them to expand or locate in McLean County?

I have evaluated each incentive on their own individual merits. How does it aid in diversifying our base, the impact on all taxing jurisdictions, performance based metrics, the length of time, and the amount of the incentive are some of the items that I have used for Rivian, Brandt, Bridgestone, and others.

What would be your priorities if asked to consider controversial land-use questions, such as those surrounding wind turbines, solar farms, etc.?

Balancing land owner rights, protecting the world’s richest farmland, evaluating the economics (jobs, revenue, etc.), and the overall long-term impact of the project.

The County Board is unusual among local governments in that it’s partisan, with political parties attached to members’ names. Why are you a Republican, a Democrat, or a Libertarian?

First, I wouldn’t call it unusual. Counties are creatures of the state. As such, county boards, along with township supervisors, township assessors, some township trustees, and regional superintendents are elected with a political party attached to them.

Second, until a few years ago, there had never been a party line vote on the county board. One could go back prior to that and would be hard pressed to identify what party a member was attached to based on their votes on any issue.

And third, using common sense, I look at each issue individually, looking at the facts, doing research if needed, and then utilizing that information to base decisions on doing the right thing for McLean County.

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