Candidate Questionnaire: Elizabeth Johnston | WGLT

Candidate Questionnaire: Elizabeth Johnston

Oct 1, 2018

These responses were submitted by Democrat Elizabeth Johnston, who faces Republican McLean County Board member David Selzer. 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.

This is my first opportunity to serve the community at the County Government Level.

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?

In the case of future budget gaps, I plan to continue to prioritize cost-saving programs put in place by county departments; cut the budget where we can defer expenses on equipment, paper, or non-essential office perks; and work with the state to fulfill its financial commitments for mandated services. The county has many programs that reduce future expenditures. Some of those programs exist to save larger incarceration costs to the county through court diversion programs, more intense focus from public defenders to resolve cases quickly, probation services, and the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council preemptively safeguarding the highest users of community departments. I believe strongly in protecting the tax-payers while maintaining quality services that ensure safety and functionality across the county.

What would be your approach to evaluating economic incentives to help bring (or expand) businesses in McLean County?

I would like to see McLean County develop a sustainable future through more coordinated Regional planning efforts. The county is in a unique position to facilitate comprehensive planning among County and municipal governments while bringing everyone together to set strong guidelines for negotiating and recruiting businesses. The current Memorandum of Understanding between the County, Town of Normal and City of Bloomington for recruitment expires in 2019 and when re-written can establish new negotiation options. I want to use the BN Advantage strategy to promote our communities and our marketplace strengths to businesses looking to thrive in Central Illinois. I would like to see us bringing in new industries that utilize our central location as a goods transportation hub, since we are at a crossroads of major interstates and a railway system. I would also like to see a business incubator set up to reduce barriers in business development and to keep the innovators and entrepreneurs in our community. We must carefully weigh the costs and benefits of any offer for financial support to businesses and should put more emphasis on securing quality jobs, as well as voter awareness and support for such agreements. I want to see our county build middle class job opportunities, increase affordable housing, and support local economy so we can continue to thrive as a destination for Central Illinois. I believe that plans for the future should be directed by the will of the voters, and that ultimately rests with electing officials who are tuned in and connected to voters.

Do you think McLean County should establish a countywide election commission? Why or why not?

I am in favor of establishing a countywide election commission. The Clerk’s position is about much more than voting, and I would prefer to have a commission solely focused on the protection and efficiency of our elections. I am interested to see how the voters of Bloomington will decide on this issue. I also realize that the unique law established for Peoria to dissolve their city commission and establish a countywide one simultaneously, may be within our reach by the 2020 census. If the outcome this November is to dissolve the BEC, I would advocate for establishing a countywide election commission. However, if the BEC remains in place, then I would hope to pursue the simultaneous change following the next census, providing McLean county reaches the minimum threshold of 175,000 residents.

Do you support changing County Board meeting times — from the morning to afternoons or evenings?

Yes, I support moving board meetings to the evenings. I believe local government should be more accountable to voters. This begins with increasing voter access: access to pending decisions, access to meetings at times that don’t require a voter to miss work to make his or her voice heard, and access to a representative who believes that input from voters matters beyond a vote cast on November the 6th. I have spent time as a candidate working to increase that access through social media and email newsletters to voters with regular updates on County business before votes take place, so voters can understand what is happening and make their voices heard before the vote. As a board member, I will continue to push for accessibility by changing meeting times and to reconfigure the website for easier navigation and awareness.

How do you think McLean County government can help to provide more affordable housing in the area?

As a county we are facing economic times where approximately 19,000 households cannot afford fair market housing costs. Our economic development and regional planning should include significant attention on the production of affordable housing units. This will mean working on innovative designs and supporting projects that may not meet traditional housing options. One example is the Laborer’s Home Development Project where there will be mixed units for fair market price and income adjusted rates. This project is an exciting design and shows much potential for development. However, to address the growing problem of unaffordable housing, the housing crisis will need to become a priority.

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?

I have witnessed a positive working relationship between the appointed county board representatives, the Board of Health and the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council. I have enjoyed watching the collaboration and efforts put forth by the members to ensure that services are delivered to people in crisis in a way that will save the county money. A few years ago, the statistics showed that homelessness costs local governments an average of $40,000 a year per person. The county board has brought together service providers and community stakeholders to make sure their plans, procedures and goals are all in line to be an efficient and effective use of tax dollars since successful outcomes make huge reductions in future expenses.

What would be your approach to evaluating land-use requests involving renewable energy like wind and solar?

I have watched the application process for renewable energy “farms,” and I have learned a great deal regarding the regulations of renewable energy. When new commercial development plans are submitted for application, I will rely on testimony and evidence presented by the McLean County residents, the Farm Bureau, the Zoning Board of Appeals and the state statutes regarding current safety and long term soil preservation of our quality farm land. If applications provide for the necessary protections, I will support the rights of our farmers and landowners to profit off their land as they see fit, to provide for their families and preserve their farms. I support the efforts in the community to develop Renewable Energy. Wind and Solar farms bring in much needed revenue for the County and landowners; contribute to our region’s energy independence; and provide good employment for the construction and maintenance of those facilities. I will encourage companies looking to develop here, to use local labor for the development and management of projects. As I have attended county meetings and spoken to residents, I understand there are concerns and believe those concerns should be heard and addressed when necessary. It is important to keep in mind, that as our state has moved through this process, we have seen more safeguards put in place to protect the land and residents. Ultimately I believe it is an industry that provides an excellent opportunity for landowners to increase revenues without damaging or contaminating the land. Every dollar brought in by these industries offsets the revenue needed from property taxes.