DANVILLE — A Republican newcomer is challenging three incumbent Democrats for the three Vermilion County Board seats open in District 5 in November's election.
Bill Wright, a marketing executive from rural Danville, has not previously run for elected office but said he's been walking most of District 5, which covers all of Tilton and portions of Belgium and Westville, meeting residents in his bid to unseat one of his three Democrat opponents. They are long-time board member Orick "Corky" Nightlinger, and two newer members, Terry Wilkus, who's finishing his first term on the board, and John Criswell, an Army veteran who's in his second year on the board.
Here is a map of the district.
Nightlinger, who's seeking his fifth term as a county board member, said he wants to be re-elected because he cares about people and issues throughout the county. He said he has a good attendance record and researches the issues and votes for the best solutions rather than voting along party lines.
"My constituents vote for me to help solve problems, not create them," he said.
Wilkus said he too makes almost all the committee and regular meetings, and the committees he serves on — finance, transportation, health and education — are responsible for most of the county's budget. He said he also works well with both parties.
Wright said he's sought out voters' concerns walking District 5, and now knows more about what the people want than any of his opponents even though they are all incumbents, and with his experience running a business and managing people, he is "ready to go to work" and bring fresh, new ideas and "an energetic youthful style" to the county board.
"The next few years or more are going to take a lot of energy to tackle demanding issues in tough times. It will take innovative solutions to tough problems," he said.
The newly elected board will quickly face one of the county's toughest issues, determining the future of the county-owned Vermilion Manor Nursing Home. A referendum on Nov. 6 will ask voters to give the county the authority to sell the facility on Catlin-Tilton Road.
And while the four candidates agree that the county should not increase taxes in the next four years, their opinions differ on the future of the nursing home.
Criswell said he wants everything to stay the same with the nursing home while Nightlinger, who's been a long-time supporter of the nursing home and a member of the county board's nursing home committee, said he does not have a problem with a county-owned nursing home and really does not want to sell it, but wants the nursing home to continue operating under whatever authority will keep it open.
Wilkus said if voters grant the county the authority to sell, the county won't be required to sell it, but will be able to negotiate ways to keep it open. He said the county needs the authority, because it can't continue to take financial losses to keep the facility operating. If voters don't grant authority to sell, Wilkus said, the county should keep the nursing home open as long as possible, but "eventually, it will just fade away as we run out of money."
Wright said whether the resolution passes or fails, the will of the people will be determined, and if it does pass, he would like to see a private investor or group of private investors from the area buy and operate the nursing home with little disruption to its workforce. But, if voters don't grant authority to sell it, Wright said, he has a plan to operate the nursing home without affecting other departments financially, because he does not want the nursing home to become a financial drain on the county that could affect public safety and other services the county is statutorily required to provide.
The candidates' opinions also vary on a proposal to merge the city and county animal control services and turn over a combined shelter to a non-profit organization.
Wilkus said he supports the proposal and believes it makes sense financially and from an animal care perspective, and Criswell believes it will be helpful to both the city and the county, but Nightlinger said he does not like the idea based on what he's heard so far.
Wright said he does support a private not-for-profit organization running the housing, care, adoption of animals and other services such as micro-chipping for all animals surrendered or retrieved in Vermilion County. But he does not want any tax dollars going to the operation, does not support new construction or additions for a combined shelter and does not support the city and county appointing board members to the non-profit organization's board. All three of those are part of the current merger proposal the city and county are discussing.
Wright said the non-profit board positions should not be patronage appointments but rather people who have exhibited a sincere desire to see to it that animals are treated well, and there is plenty of available space so no new construction or additions should be required but rather an existing facility could be retrofitted properly to house the entire operation.
"Just throwing money at a problem is never a good option in a cash-strapped economy," he said.