These responses were submitted by Jackie Gunderson, the Democratic 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?
I moved to McLean County 10 years ago to attend Illinois State University, and I fell in love with this community, so I never left. My journey has changed and morphed over the years, but I set my roots here and I consider this community my home. I met my spouse here, over the years we rented properties in several different neighborhoods across McLean County before deciding to purchase a home in southwest Bloomington three years ago. I have had the opportunity to be involved in so many great organizations in this community over the last 10 years that have helped me grow and develop, I consider it my duty to pour my energy back into the community that has blessed me. I consider myself blessed to live in a community that values individuals and the unique light they shine in the world, which has helped me develop a network of compassionate people working to leave this place a little better than we found it. In my past experiences I have had the opportunity to work with individuals on the margins, and my spouse and I have experienced life on the margin as LGBT individuals I have found that there are a lot of places where people on the margins are sometimes forgotten about and sometimes intentionally left out, my focus is reaching out to those people and making sure that they're included and they're celebrated and they're represented. Government should be serving the people it represents, and people should have access to that. The main reason I am running is because I want this community to reflect the amazing individuals that call this home, and celebrate them. I’m running for McLean County Board because I want to bring a fresh perspective of continuous improvement and forward progress.
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?
Our community is facing an unprecedented crisis, and we need government that is focused on helping us recover from it. I do not envy those that have been working tirelessly at the McLean County Health Department, they have been working extremely hard to navigate a crisis while also navigating guidance coming down from the Federal level and the State level, while making decisions on behalf of the largest land mass county in Illinois. In the recent past, we had a lot of cuts in staffing across the county after the State of Illinois 2 year budget impasse, and I think that the Health Department needs resources, manpower, and support from the County Board to respond to this and stay on top of it. I think that the Health Department got overwhelmed, and I would like to see resources reallocated to make sure that they have everything that they need to continue to guide the way for McLean County. We are all looking to them to make it through this, and that is a lot of pressure, it is the least the County Government can do to provide them the necessary resources to be successful. We have an emergency on our hands, maybe we need to consider using our emergency fund to get in front of this, rather than focus on encouraging personal responsibility.
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?
I have a passion for the youth in our community, and I have seen firsthand the effects of improper youth mental health services. The Mental Health Action Plan was introduced in 2015, and the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council has made incredible progress on much needed mental health services in recent years, but we still have a long way to go, and much of that progress was not youth focused. When a youth is in crisis, we have organizations to support their immediate needs, but long-term care and treatment for youth is non-existent in our County currently. At this time, youth are having to travel to surrounding counties for ongoing treatment, and many are placed on long waiting lists, while navigating the effects of improper care. I believe that we are facing a mental health crisis as it is, and youth do not currently have the resources available to weather that crisis effectively. It is my personal opinion that local governments should be the first line of defense when our community faces a crisis, and I plan to support our Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, the Board of Health, the 377 Board in the effort to support McLean County’s mental health needs. Strengthening community based services will require that improved systems be developed and implemented, facilitating interagency communication. Steps must be taken to insure a continuing community dialogue on the topic of community mental health, expanding input by the community and its providers into the behavioral health needs and solutions.
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?
In 2019, the Stevenson Center at Illinois State University conducted research in partnership with the CJCC, and identified areas that the CJCC should focus on moving forward. One interesting suggestion from the research was that “The CJCC would be best served by including the general public in every step of the design process to make sure they are moving in directions that will serve the public. Since the general public is a broad term, defining who exactly falls into this category will help the CJCC know how well their initiatives are serving them.” As we have seen in 2020, the general public is seeking transparency and systemic change from the criminal justice system, and the CJCC has the duty to facilitate that, according to their mission statement. I would love to see more representation from the general public in our CJCC, and I would also like to see the City of Bloomington Citizen Review Board concept applied to all local law enforcement agencies for consistency and transparency.
Do you think the county should continue to operate its own nursing home? Why or why not?
The McLean County nursing home has been an interest of mine since considering to run for a seat on the Board. As someone that started my work experience, in my teen years, in a nursing home, so I have a unique understanding of the challenges our county nursing home is facing from within, while balancing the external factors that set them up for additional challenges. The McLean County Nursing Home dropped to a 1 star rating in late 2019, and I am hopeful that the new administrator hired in June will bring her expertise in helping the nursing home face these challenges head on. Employees in nursing homes already have an incredibly tough job, and to face that job in the middle of a pandemic, while continuing to provide a high level of quality care, is certainly a difficult task. The facility is unique because it continues to be known for the high quality care it has always provided, while providing beds for Medicaid patients, but then is faced with financial and census issues that further complicate the ability to provide that care. In the past rebranding and privatizing the nursing home have been discussed, I am hopeful that the new administrator will help revitalize the nursing home and help it continue to be a unique asset to our county government.
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 the unique opportunity to be married to a small business owner, in addition to being directly connected to the growth and development of our higher education community in my professional role, which directly affects economic growth and development in our community as a whole. My spouse and I are fairly new small business owners, and we have been so uplifted by the community helping us experience success, but that support has come from customers and private investors, not our governing bodies, or representatives. After seeing the way that many small organizations struggled through surviving the COVID-19 pandemic, I would love to see opportunities for small organizations to receive incentives to plant their roots here much like large organizations benefit from. Our community members rallied together to support small organizations in this time of crisis, but support with deeper roots, not in response to a crisis, could potentially encourage other small businesses to develop, grow, and expand here. Small businesses contribute to local economies by bringing growth and innovation to the community in which the business is established. Small businesses also help stimulate economic growth by providing employment opportunities to local people, who live in the community.
What would be your priorities if asked to consider controversial land-use questions, such as those surrounding wind turbines, solar farms, etc.?
There will be economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis, but it may not be truly felt for two to three years, and it will be the responsibility of the County Board to harness the green energy momentum in order to reduce the impact on residents and homeowners. McLean County is already maxed out on the tax rate, and has traditionally shied away from increasing the levy during budget discussions, so focusing on these types of revenue generators and economic drivers is how the County will be able to overcome the financial impacts. Wind farms are currently the single biggest economic driver in our County, but we also have the opportunity to encourage revenue growth from other green energy options like solar farms, and by encouraging cannabis-related businesses to develop, grow, and expand in McLean County. I grew up in rural Livingston County, and my family farm has had wind turbines around the property for as long as they have been developing in Central Illinois. I understand the frustrations of residents that live around those developments when they are being built, but I can also see the economic impact they have had once they are operating and the construction traffic is no longer a concern. I will always be willing to hear both sides of controversial issues, and I believe holding our local government officials and organizations accountable to their constituents and residents first and foremost when we experience instability is what will set our County up to overcome the difficulties we are sure to face in the future.
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?
I grew up in a union household, my parents taught me to work hard for my goals, speak up about injustices, be kind to others, and give back to the community, but we never really talked about our official political affiliation. Through the years, I found myself following the path that seemed to align with Democratic practices and candidates, but it wasn’t until I was in college that I truly found myself interested in learning more about politics. I am actively dedicated to creating a welcoming and inclusive community, where absolutely everyone feels represented. Collaborating with compassionate individuals in our community, to lift up the most vulnerable residents in McLean County, while creating resilient social safety nets to prevent them from falling through the cracks has introduced me to so many people that truly care about the people in our community. I am connected to the McLean County Democrats because of those relationships I have built, and I am running as a Democrat because I believe the Board should reflect our community, including people who historically haven’t had a seat at the table.
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.