These responses were submitted by Val Laymon, a Democratic candidate for McLean County Board in District 7. See more candidate responses.
Why do you want to represent your district on the McLean County Board?
As a 20-year resident of McLean County, I have been continually disappointed in a lack of options at the ballot box for local elected positions. Not only did no one represent my concerns as a constituent, but there was often just one party to “choose” from. I decided to run to be the change I wanted to see.
If you know me, then you know I love this community and all it has to offer, from downtown Bloomington and its unique small businesses to beautiful Comlara Park (which is county-owned!). I want to increase our collective pride in McLean County. I’m passionate about removing barriers to voter participation in government, coming up with sustainable policies that will benefit generations to come, and making sure there is equity in our public-health and justice systems. I want to listen to and learn from everyone’s perspectives, not just those in my own party, before coming to decisions.
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?
As we have seen on both a national and local level, the response to the Covid-19 crisis has been inadequate. Unfortunately, the current County Board has been more reactive than proactive with this pandemic, especially as the number of cases has recently skyrocketed in McLean County. Several current County Board members have pushed for a stronger response, but have been advised that the County Board and Health Department are doing all they can. I disagree.
In 2021, I would like to see a proactive approach to the pandemic. Health departments across the country have faced reductions in budgets and staff in the past decade, and McLean County is no exception. As a funding authority, the County Board has a vital role to play in making sure the Health Department has the resources it needs for the Covid-19 crisis and other functions. We will need to continue to maintain appropriate levels of contract tracers (right now, there are too few) as well as manage distribution of a potential vaccine.
I believe that it is dangerous to downplay the virus by focusing on the survival rate only. Recent studies have shown that the long-term effects of the virus can be serious even in people who have mild cases and no pre-existing conditions. Many survivors have lung scarring, problems breathing, heart damage, brain lesions, and clotting issues. The County Board has a duty to do what it can to protect people’s health.
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?
Mental healthcare in McLean County continues to be insufficient. Adults struggle with a lack of psychiatric services, and the situation for youths is even worse. At OSF, it can frequently take adult patients up to eight or nine months to get an initial appointment with a psychologist. Families with children and teenagers are often forced to take them to Peoria, Springfield, or Champaign for services--assuming they can even find services at all. While the county is not the only mental-healthcare provider, there is a strong need to expand on its current services.
I believe that the County Board also needs to do a better job of promoting the services that do exist. For example, many residents are not aware of the Mclean County Triage Center for mental-health crises, which is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The triage center is for everyone, including those who do not have insurance.
Finally, the McLean County Health Department should have sufficient budget reserves to meet unforeseen public health needs. This pandemic has demonstrated the need to be prepared for worst-case scenarios.
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?
I want to see the CJCC rethink cash bail for non-violent offenders. Cash bail can have a devastating impact on people who are unable to afford it. They often lose their jobs and housing, and the longer they are detained the more likely it is that they will end up detained again in the future. It’s important to be empathetic and remember that detainees are legally innocent until proven otherwise, and that many other people accused of crimes are free to go about their lives because they could afford bail.
I see a need for greater reentry services and support for those detained in the jail. I want to ensure that the county is committed to helping people turn their lives around. Assisting them with programs to help them find stable work and housing, finish schooling, and manage their finances would help reduce crime and recidivism, and contribute to a safer, more prosperous McLean County.
Do you think the county should continue to operate its own nursing home? Why or why not?
Yes. As I mentioned in my recent WGLT candidate interview, the McLean County nursing home is a hidden gem for several reasons. Too often a family member who needs nursing care goes to an out-of-county facility, but the McLean County Nursing Home helps keep families together. It is also one of the few facilities that accepts Medicaid patients, and was the second highest-rated nursing home in the county in a prior survey.
A blue-ribbon nursing home panel found in 2018 that an average of just ten more Medicare patients a month would prevent the county from losing money on the nursing home and allow the home to break even within a year or two. In an era where many communities are increasingly facing bed shortages in nursing facilities, the McLean County Nursing Home has several empty beds. I believe that the County Board has a duty to make residents aware that beds are available and that the care provided at the county-owned nursing home is some of the highest quality in the area.
Another opportunity to make the McLean County Nursing Home more viable would be to add a memory-care wing with additional security. Over one dozen potential residents were denied access to the nursing home in recent months because they needed specialized memory care that the facility does not presently offer. Meeting people’s needs through expansion of services will help the nursing home stay operable.
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?
For any business being offered a tax abatement, I would ask the following questions. Does the business provide its employees a living wage with benefits? If building a new facility, is it open to utilizing local labor unions? Is the business willing to be an active partner in our community? Is it environmentally sustainable?
When these decisions are made, they must be made fairly, with small and medium-sized businesses also offered incentives like tax breaks. Any business receiving an incentive should also establish concrete goals which, if not met, would result in a clawback similar to that in the Rivian agreement. (Basically, money gained from incentives would be paid back in part if the business failed to hold up its end of the bargain.)
What would be your priorities if asked to consider controversial land-use questions, such as those surrounding wind turbines, solar farms, etc.?
Part of my platform is ensuring that McLean County is a green destination for businesses and families. To that end, I would want to make sure that the land-use being proposed is truly sustainable, environmentally friendly, and beneficial to our county. This means making sure that water, air, and endangered species are protected. I would also consider the long-term impact of projects on farmland and other land, and ask for input from the owners of the land--how do they feel about this project? For projects like solar farms, it is important to ensure that the land is still usable when and if the project comes to an end.
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 am a Democrat because I believe in putting people first and giving them a voice, even if their opinions differ from mine. Too long, the County Board has operated without a lot of notice from the public, making important decisions about taxation, public health, and transportation. I believe that if we make the County Board’s actions more transparent and prioritize citizens’ wellbeing in all our decisions, our county will continue to thrive.
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