A McLean County Board incumbent says he's helped make county government more accessible, but his challengers say the county hasn't done enough.
Democrat Val Laymon and Libertarian Darin George Kaeb are challenging Republican incumbent Jacob Beard in District 7, which covers much of east Bloomington.
District 7 has one of eight contested McLean County Board races on Nov. 3.
Laymon said the pandemic shows the county's video streaming of meetings is vital, pointing on an increase in viewership since public access to the meetings has been limited.
“We need to focus on that continuation of live stream, not only of the general meetings, but also of the committee meetings, because that’s where a lot of the work happens and that’s where a lot of the information is going to be important for our community,” Laymon said.
Kaeb didn’t offer specific recommendations, but said accessibility is important.
“I would say it’s about the minimum but there’s always room for improvement,” Kaeb said.
Beard, who is seeking his second team, said he helped shorten the notice time required for requesting public comment to 24 hours and wants to shorten it further, but he added access can be a challenge when meeting remotely.
“There’s no perfect solution, it is a difficult time but under the circumstances I’m supportive and I think our administration with the leadership of the board has done a good job at making the meetings accessible,” Beard said.
Beard said he also helped push the county board meetings to evenings.
The County Board has approved keeping all meetings remote and accessible via video stream through the end of November, when new board members will be sworn in.
Beard said the county has redone its website since his time on the board. Laymon said the website should be more searchable.
Beard said the County Board and administration are working with the facility to implement recommendations from a blue-ribbon panel to reverse the financial losses at the McLean County Nursing Home in Normal.
The nursing home has lost $5 million since 2017. The facility is intended to be self-sustaining. The county’s enterprise fund that’s tied to nursing home operations shows a balance of $3.8 million as of Dec. 31, 2019, according to McLean County's 2019 financial report.
“We need to continue to try to make this sustainable so that it doesn’t start costing money and that we are not at a point where we are subsidizing it,” Beard said.
Beard serves on the County Board’s property committee, which provides oversight for the facility.
Laymon called the county-run nursing home a "hidden gem." She said more marketing and a rebranding could trim its financial losses.
Laymon said the nursing home needs to fill more than half of its beds to be sustainable.
“Perhaps we can fill more of those beds which is going to lead us to be able to have more revenue and to stop some of the budgetary bleed that we see,” Laymon said.
Kaeb suggested the nursing home could rely more on nursing students to save money.
“Maybe if they can keep structuring it they way they train CNAs and other nursing fields, that could be one way to help out in the cost,” Kaeb said. But he added that would have to be done carefully so that a lack of experience doesn’t compromise quality of care.
The nursing home relies heavily on Medicaid patients. The county recently hired a new administrator, Terri Edens. She said she plans to implement several cost-cutting measures and other reforms, including hiring more of its own medical staff rather than contracting for much of it.
VIDEO: Watch Jacob Beard and Val Laymon during a studio interview.
VIDEO: Watch Darin George Kaeb's studio interview, which was conducted separately due to a WGLT scheduling error.
We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.