Two Newcomers Vie For McLean County Board District 4 Seat | WGLT

Two Newcomers Vie For McLean County Board District 4 Seat

Sep 17, 2020

The McLean County Board seat in District 4 representing central and northwest Normal is an opportunity for new representation. Longtime County Board member and retired Chief Circuit Judge William Caisley chose not to run again.

Neither Republican Adelita Cruz nor Democratic candidate Ben Webb has held an elected position before, though Webb has previously run for office.

Cruz is originally from Colorado. She said she and her family came to the Twin Cities five years ago. Cruz cites her belief in an obligation to share time and talent to make the community better as the reason she is running.

“If you want to live in a fantastic community, you have to be willing to put in the time,” said Cruz.

Cruz said she manages a contact center for a Fortune 50 company with authority over staffing, budget and long- and short-term strategy. She cites an MBA in leadership and organizational health from the University of Saint Mary.

Webb is a teacher at University High School in Normal in his 11th year as an educator. Webb said he does not want to "sit on the sidelines because the stakes are just too high."

“We are living through a national and local pandemic and with the harsh realities of our health crisis at the forefront of many of the conversations we’re currently having, as we see the national response to the pandemic trickling down to our local communities and our state, I want to see how a Democratic majority can make decisions to make this community a little bit stronger,” said Webb.

Webb cites a master’s degree in education from Illinois State University.

Role of government

Webb said the role of county government is to maintain and further develop community services.

“County government really should be something that improves and grows, such as making sure the nursing home is properly staffed and safe, or at the jail, making sure services are provided well and equitably and dealing with problems not just pushing them off to the next budget year or the next crisis which exacerbates the problem,” said Webb.

Cruz said she believes the role of any government is to make sure roads and bridges are safe, to conduct financial oversight of departments, and to not have a lot of involvement in day-to-day operations.

“What I look is to have less dependence on government and more independence,” said Cruz. “I’ve had the opportunity to live in three different states. I’ve seen in Washington State a government that had individualized privatized government agencies that you would normally see in some other states and I’ve seen how well they can work.”

Nursing home

Neither candidate puts a number on an acceptable level of government subsidy for the McLean County Nursing Home to maintain it as the county’s main resource of extended care of low-income people who qualify for Medicaid, or identified an acceptable timetable to accomplish major financial changes there.

“We’re faced with differences. COVID is playing a big part of this and it is delaying some of our citizens with seeking the long-term care because of the impacts of COVID and the social distancing. So, I think we’re going to be faced with some of those budgetary constraints for this year and next,” said Cruz.

She wants to hear from experts about revenue opportunities and changes to help the facility run at less of a loss.

Webb said the recommendations developed by a blue-ribbon panel two years ago are having an effect. He said money the county has spent is starting to show a return on investment. Webb noted revenue in recent months has begun to exceed costs for the first time in a long while, though only by about $21,000.

“According to the blue-ribbon panel, it was not a space that was marketed well. It’s starting to be marketed as a jewel and a lifeline for patients, for individuals seeking a bed to stay in,” said Webb. “Looking at how  we open up to a dementia unit, for memory beds, which is another thing we can market ourselves as a strong and also really competitive space.”

He also said the private sector will not provide Medicaid beds because they are not profitable.

District issues

In response to a question about issues specific to their district, both candidates took a broad view.

Cruz called for better collaboration across all party lines. She said the county board already has done some of that work on the "social climate."

“I think there are some fantastic things already going on in departments within the county if we just look at the collaborative justice system. We’re working together with behavioral health, health services, the sheriff, the district attorney to address issues from a multiple angle,” said Cruz. “It isn’t just lengthy prison sentences; it is are we getting our citizens the correct care that they need? Are we looking for restorative justice? Are we using what we have available in behavioral health services to address some of those non-emergency issues?”

Cruz also said transportation--safe roads and bridges--is a huge issue that can help the economy strengthen and bounce back.

Webb said the $40 million investment in the county jail is starting to pay dividends, but there’s more on the list of things to do. He cited road repair, seeking efficiencies within county government, and "using the county as a job provider."

“The other thing that people have been mentioning on the campaign trail has been redistricting. We’re coming up on a census where we will need fair and independent maps. I think it’s important that as we have this conversation with the people we are electing, we also make sure that those that are being elected are not choosing their voters, the voters are choosing their representatives,” said Webb.

Coronavirus response

WGLT also asked Cruz and Webb what they would do to improve the county's coordination with other bodies in response to the pandemic.

Cruz noted the board has no control over day-to-day operations.

“What I would do is to make sure they have the money needed to carry out goals to address COVID,” said Cruz, who complimented health department's efforts at citizen outreach and information.

Webb offered overwhelming thanks to county staff who have worked "extremely hard" during the pandemic.

“The big thing we can do is make sure those resources are allocated and making sure we are a little bit forward thinking in terms of making sure that if you need a dozen contact tracers that we’re ahead of that, because we’ve known for some time that students would be coming back to campus,” said Webb. “As a member on the county board, it’s about empowering those individuals and listening to those individuals, but also holding them accountable to say do you need more?” 

Police and racial justice

The candidates said the county already makes some effort to address the national dialogue on race and justice. Webb called for more.

“Part of the role of county government is to stand up to those systematic ways that we ... don’t bring people together” said Webb, adding the county shares responsibility to make sure dialogue happens.

Cruz emphasized collaborative justice programs already in place in the county.

“What I will personally focus on as a county board member is making myself available to my constituents,” said Cruz.

She said she does not want to be a county board member who talks with people just in election years.

The Republican majority on the County Board shrunk from 15-5 to 13-7 after the 2018 election. For Democrats to win control in November, they’d have to protect two currently Democratic seats (Carlo Robustelli's in District 8 and George Gordon’s in District 6) and also win four of five seats now held by Republicans.

Video: Watch WGLT's interviews with Cruz and Webb:

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