These responses were submitted by Libertarian McLean County Board candidate Steve Suess, who faces Republican Cheryl Froelich and Democrat Shayna Watchinski. 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.
As Chairman of the McLean County Libertarian Party, I have worked with the Clerk’s office in many different capacities concerning local elections, leading to a deep understanding of the local election process. I have been personally interested in both the ballot access and voter registration processes regarding our local elections. In my professional life, I have been a nonpartisan campus advocate for voter registration at Illinois State University, working alongside organizations like the American Democracy Project to get students registered to vote in elections and encouraging political participation and civic engagement.
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?
McLean County should focus its budget on essential services provided by the county, including roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. That being said, our roads are currently in better than average condition, and several less-traveled county highways are maintained with high-grade materials. The county should consider looking at some of the less-traveled asphalt roads and converting them to cheaper surfaces (BST, gravel) the next time they are due for maintenance. McLean County also needs to reexamine the frequency at which rural highways are maintained. Frequently, highways receive maintenance before the roads absolutely need it. Infrastructure should be prioritized, but the County should also avoid spending more than what’s absolutely necessary on infrastructure as well.
What would be your approach to evaluating economic incentives to help bring (or expand) businesses in McLean County?
Economic development in McLean County should begin with property tax breaks for everyone – both businesses and individuals. Low property taxes across the board will encourage both new businesses to come to our community and current businesses to expand their enterprise. Additionally, low property taxes may attract people who want to live in McLean County but work in neighboring counties, which would increase demand for service jobs and other industries. Additionally, both county and municipal government should consider reform in zoning and licensing, which frequently put up road blocks for new businesses starting or current businesses trying new ideas.
I am entirely against providing businesses special economic deals that do not apply to the citizens of our county, including TIFF Districts and tax abatements. Too often, our local leaders will use these corporate welfare tactics to attract businesses to our area. Corporate welfare rarely works in favor of the communities that offer it, and the practice of providing businesses these breaks is incredibly unfair to individuals paying property taxes, most notably the poor. Even with safeguards in place such as job creation benchmarks, these deals often create a commuter workforce that may work in our county but live in surrounding counties with cheaper property taxes. Corporate welfare also often favors new development over businesses that have been in our community for years. Our local officials should not be choosing winners and losers in the local marketplace.
Do you think McLean County should establish a countywide election commission? Why or why not?
I have no preference as to whether the clerk or an independent commission runs elections in McLean County, but the current system utilizing two election authorities is inefficient and confusing for voters and candidates. I see both positives and negatives involving both the clerk and an independent commission running elections. The clerk is directly responsible to voters, since it is an elected position. I do, however, see the conflict of interest in allowing a partisan elected official administer elections and handle voter registration, although I do not believe our current clerk or her opponent would ever abuse those powers. I question whether an independent commission can really be “non-partisan.” The current Bloomington Election Commission claims to be non-partisan; however, there is not representation of all major political parties on the board. I would not support a county-wide independent commission unless the clerk’s budget was adjusted accordingly; the clerk’s budget should be reduced by the amount budgeted for the independent commission.
Regardless of which unified system is used, both are incredibly better than our current system of running two separate election authorities.
Do you support changing County Board meeting times — from the morning to afternoons or evenings?
Yes, and committee meetings should all be after work hours as well. I would support meetings at literally any other time of day, including late nights, early mornings, weekends, and holidays. It is the responsibility of the board to ensure that the public has as much access as possible to meetings. Transparency in government needs to be protected, and the best way to ensure transparency is to ensure the public can attend meetings.
How do you think McLean County government can help to provide more affordable housing in the area?
A recent Regional Housing Study by the McLean County Regional Planning Commission claimed most of the rental units in McLean County are affordable to most people, but there are still around 8,000 households with incomes low enough that the household would need to pay 30% of their income for rent on an average market-rate unit. The study used that statistic to suggest that McLean County has issues with affordable housing. The problem with the methodology of this claim is that it compares low income households with average market-rate units, not specifically low-income housing. 30% of a $25,000 income is $625/month. A quick online search for available apartments will show plenty of units under $600, and around 40 unites listed for under $500.
If county government would like to ensure housing stays affordable, lowering property taxes would help lessen the burden on homeowners and renters, who feel the effects of high property taxes as landlords increase rent to compensate. For too long, our local governments have been giving tax breaks to large companies while giving average citizens nothing but tax increases. Additionally, municipal governments in Bloomington and Normal could either re-zone or eliminate zoning laws all together, allowing for more multi-family living spaces in the county.
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?
It’s important for the McLean County Board to have advisory groups of volunteer experts in certain fields, including mental health. Many of the initiatives suggested in the 2015 Mental Health Action Plan are worthy of pursuing, including better marketing current services, seeking additional federal funding for mental health, and the establishment of the advisory committee. However, that 2015 Action Plan also suggested that our community expand the community dialogue about mental health solutions, and I believe that objective has not been met. The conversation regarding mental health solutions start and end with government-administered programs, and rarely includes solutions that are not administered by government. I believe government is an inefficient way to administer mental health services, and both the County Board and advisory committees should look to other means of administering those services, including nonprofits, charities, and religious organizations. In many instances, these organization can better help those in need of mental health help, because they are not burdened by the bureaucracy of government. I also see the Action Plan ineffectively discussing law enforcement’s role in mental health. While the report mentions law enforcement and services at the jail, neither one is part of the short term or long term objectives in the plan. Too often, people who need mental health services are taken to jail, and frequently these people end up back in jail because they aren’t getting the help they need.
What would be your approach to evaluating land-use requests involving renewable energy like wind and solar?
I reject the very premise of land-use requests. Government should not be able to dictate how individuals or companies use the land that they have purchased. Zoning, permits, and other hurdles to new construction – for energy use or otherwise – put up road blocks to progress. Particularly with wind and solar, the development of this land could lead to lower energy costs for families in McLean County, as well as providing jobs.