The election is fast approaching, and the McLean County Board District 5 race to represent part of the town of Normal has three candidates running amid the pandemic: Incumbent Republican John McIntyre, Democrat Rachael Lund, and Libertarian Jo Ann Litwiller.
McIntyre is known as "Coach Mac" or "Mr. Mac" to many Bloomington-Normal residents, after a 41-year teaching career.
He is the Republican incumbent and current county board chair. He said he is proud of the McLean County Board and his record of serving citizens.
“I've always considered it a privilege to work together with so many good people, both Republicans and Democrats, who've become friends and colleagues over the years,” said McIntyre. “The great counties just don't happen by accident. They're built by people who are invested in their success, and I believe that I'm one of these people.”
McIntrye said despite the tough times the pandemic has brought, the county has been recognized statewide and that can be attributed to county government that he said is composed of an excellent, dedicated team of county administrators, able department heads, and dedicated employees.
“These are tough times and sometimes this leads to stress and anxiety,” said McIntyre. “At times, there has been heightened levels of negativity as our board has been working to navigate through these sudden changes, decisions and issues that affect us all.”
McIntyre said he tries to be the voice of reason, adding he thinks county government has a central role in peoples’ lives and that it extends to the law and justice systems, health systems and to the highway systems.
“Our county has had a balanced budget for the last nine years,” said McIntrye. “I'm very proud of that. I believe we communicate in a number of ways and we've been able to follow that type of a system.”
One service provided, and not as robust as desired, is the county nursing home that continues to operate at a substantial deficit.
“So, the question of quality of life and the question of financial operations always comes to a head on how much we have in revenue and how much they have and what we can do to deal with that,” said McIntyre. “We made a number of improvements recently, and the county continues to provide a service for people who can't afford it other places.”
McIntyre said he was involved as chairman of the health committee as an oversight for the nursing home 30 years ago.
“The history of the nursing home has been that they've provided excellent service,” said McIntyre.
For the past four years the home has not been able to break even.
“We're going to look at that and we're going to continue to improve it,” said McIntrye.
One of McIntyre’s goals for the elderly, if re-elected, will be finishing the process of developing the Fairview building that is 100 years old, and making it into affordable senior housing.
McIntyre also played an original role in setting the McLean County Triage Center that is a key part of the county's overall mental health care response.
“We felt like it was a good thing,” said McIntryre. “That's a good example of cooperation that we have in our heritage.”
There are currently more than 300 intergovernmental agreements between the county and local municipalities.
“We're constantly working in cooperation with them,” said McIntyre. “ A good example would be this intergovernmental agreement that we signed five years ago.”
The agreement started when both the Town of Normal and City of Bloomington wanted to raise sales tax by 1%. That was when McIntyre went out and lobbied each member in hopes of promoting and developing the county's mental health plan.
And the cities responded by dedicating one fourth of the revenue from that 1%, helping the county progress on mental health issues, including the triage center.
Along with mental health, the overall health of residents nationwide is pulsing in the back of everyone’s minds. How will the Twin Cities and the county get behind a unified response?
The county is in charge of the emergency management agency, and McIntyre said he has been working to execute an emergency plan as chairman of the executive policy committee. This includes housing in isolation services.
McIntyre said the Regional Office of Education helps provide food for those in isolation. He also said he works with the sheriff's office, state's attorney's office, the county administration and the health department director.
“So there is coordination and communication,” said McIntyre. “At the same time, we also communicate with our municipalities, and I'm in constant communication. I can't tell you how many virtual conferences I've been to these last five months. We are constantly collaborating and making decisions every Wednesday at 3 p.m.”
Lund, a Democrat, was born and raised in Rock Island. She earned two engineering degrees from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida while competing in soccer and tennis.
After grad school, Lund worked for the Department of Defense as a systems engineer, supporting Navy and Marine Corps acquisition programs in Virginia.
Lund thinks she can use her professional expertise to increase efficiency, accountability, and accessibility in county government.
“There needs to be a fundamental change in the mindset of the board before they make decisions that will impact our community for generations to come,” said Lund. “I am the candidate best suited to represent the long-term interests of the people in District 5 in McLean County.”
Lund said she embraces the use of technology to communicate with constituents and make county operations more accessible and accountable to the public. Second, she supportst Black Lives Matter.
“The voices of Black and brown people in our community not only need to be heard, but better represented in county government,” said Lund.
Lund she said she supports bipartisan redistricting after the 2020 census that will shape the political and economic landscape for the county for at least the next 10 years.
The pandemic and the local ordinances put in place have residents concerned with the government’s role in their lives, said Lund, who believes county government needs to be a good steward of taxpayers' dollars. She said her work for the federal government for seven years helped solidify her belief that it is important to make decisions in the best interest of the taxpayers.
Lund said she believes the fundamental role of county government should be to spend tax money to provide necessary services to the people in the community, such as public health and safety.
“That is very important right now during a pandemic,” said Lund. “Making sure the county roads are safe and drivable, and conducting free and fair elections among many other services that we should be providing back to the public.”
Lund thinks county government plays an integral role in providing clear, frequent and trustworthy communication to the public about services provided and how the county spends taxpayer money.
“A role that I see the county government playing, that I don't believe that we're doing very well right now, is communication,” said Lund.
Her take on the nursing home is optimistic.
“I've been very encouraged, just listening to the finance committee meeting, that in the month of July, the nursing home brought in more money than in expenses,” said Lund. “That's a trend that I would like to see continue with the new administrator. It sounds like she has a lot of great ideas.”
Lund said she looks forward to working with the administrator and wants those in the community to see the nursing home as a viable, safe, and respectable place for people to bring their loved ones.
She also believes the county should push the state and federal governments for an increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates.
“Those rates have not been raised in a long time for the amount of money that it actually takes to take care of a resident at the nursing home,” said Lund. “I think that will help bring in some more money.”
Lund said the county manages a budget of more than $90 million of taxpayer money. She believes basic knowledge and the understanding of what county government does and what role it plays in everyday lives is the most pressing issue in District 5.
For instance, the county oversees the animal control department. Lund said she has tried to let county residents know they can go to animal control to help feed their pets.
“As people are struggling right now during this pandemic, if they're unemployed with rent, paying their mortgage, not able to feed their pets,” said Lund, "let them know that is a service that the county provides.”
Lund said another service that may fly under the radar is the McLean County Triage Center (MCTC) that is open almost 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. MCTC is an alternative to the hospital emergency department or justice system for the community to utilize as a response to individuals in a behavioral, health-related crisis.
“We're not letting them know what's available,” said Lund.
To Lund, the lack of communication needs to be capitalized on if the county is to move forward and find a unified response to COVID-19.
“Allowing the health department to lead on the decision regarding the pandemic, and we're talking about a communication between the different bodies of government,” said Lund.
As far as the precautions that people need to be taking, Lund said clear, frequent reporting of what the metrics are, what our case numbers are and the testing access are important.
“We have a unique situation here where we have a Twin Cities set-up plus the county,” said Lund. “So I think there needs to be constant, frequent, clear communication between all three of those governmental bodies.”
Jo Ann Litwiller
Litwiller, the Libertarian, works as an office manager at Illinois State University and believes she can offer a unique point of view in service on the county board.
“I feel that we can come to a consensus on how we should run our county, the ways that we should spend our money and the things that we should do in our county,” said Litwiller, adding she thinks county government tends to overtax.
McLean County has one of the highest median property taxes in the United States, and is ranked 149th of the 3,143 counties in order of median property taxes, she said.
To provide context: Illinois has comparatively higher property taxes and comparatively lower income taxes than average among states. The largest portion of local property taxes goes to fund schools, not the county.
Litwiller said she thinks there are other sources the county could turn to to provide necessary services.
“I do believe that the county government should allow us our freedoms and allow us to make our own decisions within what we're doing in our everyday lives,” said Litwiller. “I believe it's extremely important to be as efficient as we can spending the money that we can and using it only for those essential services that we need to.”
Litwiller also agrees that McLean County needs better communication.
“I think the average citizen has a difficult time discerning exactly where to go to get the information,” said Litwiller. “I do look to have the County Board become as transparent as possible.”
Litwiller acknowledged she is new to understanding county government, but said she believes the nursing home can be stabilized. She also said she appreciates the service because the facility cared for her father at one time.
“I do believe that there are some additional measures that we could take in terms of securing funding for that, that may not necessarily be only out of the county coffers,” said Litwiller. “I do believe in the free market and I think that there are some partnerships that we could potentially look into and invest in that may help to keep that particular nursing home alive, because it does, again, provide some services that are necessary for some folks.”
Litwiller said she is not sure what the most pressing issues are in District 5. She said looking at ISU in relation to COVID will be at the forefront of county health committee decisions.
“You're never going to have 100% of people walking away from this happy with the response,” said Litwiller. “A lot of folks have said to me that they just aren't paying attention anymore.”
COVID response may not be up to the government, said Litwiller, but rather for small businesses and individuals to address.
“I do believe that government intervention is not necessarily the answer. I believe that it's up to small businesses, how they run their business,” said Litwiller. “I believe that it's up to the individual, the choices that they make, whether they wish to go to that place of business and spend their money there.”
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