Updated: County board candidates square off

Updated: County board candidates square off

Tom Kacich and Tim Mitchell covered Wednesday night's Champaign County Board forums involving eight primary candidates.

Follow along on Twitter with Kacich here and The News-Gazette here

Also, you can get Kacich's take on the night's action here

Cowart-West, county board District 11

Brent West, who ran in a Champaign County Board Democratic primary election two years ago and drew only 14 percent in a three-way race, is trying again this spring, running against longtime board member Lorraine Cowart.

And for the second time, West is refraining from attacking Cowart — or even trying to set himself apart from her.

"I'm just really running to provide a fresh, energetic and progressive voice for our community," West, 31, said Wednesday night. "I'm a strong advocate for our neighborhoods and an active volunteer in the community."

His priority issues, he said, are criminal justice reforms, including a county reentry program for ex-offenders; protection of the Mahomet Aquifer; and helping to maintain the county nursing home.

Cowart, 68, a county board member for 30 years and chair of its highway committee, said her priorities are economic development, a reentry program, a diversity study of county hiring and management of the nursing home.

"I've done 30 years on this board and nothing has changed too much," she said. "Some things change but what really needs change has not changed."

She did not elaborate.

Cowart said she opposed doubling the county's public safety sales tax to pay for more criminal justice reforms, an idea advanced briefly last year by board member Pattsi Petrie which got no support.

"The reason why is that when we went to the voters for this money we did it to get the courthouse built and we were going to use it for different things that involved justice," she said. "We changed the criteria that we got the money for and so I could never go to the citizens and ask them to double something that once the county gets it, it's not going to be used for the purpose that we said we would use it for."

West said that "doubling it is too aggressive but I wouldn't rule out some sort of an increase."


Kurtz-Weibel, county board District 7

CHAMPAIGN -- There were no grand fireworks when the former county board chairman debated the current chairman Wednesday night at the Champaign City Building.

Current chair Alan Kurtz is being challenged by past chair C. Pius Weibel in District 7, generally defined as south Champaign.

The two sparred over Kurtz's work to bring more state transportation money to East Central Illinois, in particular the proposed Interstate 57/Interstate 74 interchange reconstruction project, and over how each got elected to head the county board.

"I've been working very hard for the disparity in highway funding that has not come to this district over the last 10 years, prior to my being on the county board," said Kurtz. "My letters have spurred action from IDOT."

Weibel agreed that the interchange "is antiquated in design and needs to be rebuilt."

But, repeating a complaint of some other county board Democrats, Weibel said, "I don't think it helps to pile on (IDOT) to get things done, because how do you build a bridge to get the money here while you're chastising them for not doing things for the project?"

Kurtz boasted that he is "the bipartisan-elected county board chair," a reference to his selection mostly by county board Republicans. The reference brought chuckles from Weibel supporters in the audience.

"Yes, there are some who don't get mad but get even because I became the chair," Kurtz said.

Weibel said county board Republicans also offered to cross over to vote for him for county board chair -- once over Carol Ammons and once over Kurtz -- but that he rejected the overture.

"I declined their votes and I was still elected as chair. I was not going to be their tool when I got elected," he said.

The two agreed that they would continue to support the taxpayer-subsized county nursing home.



Petrie-Fabri, county board District 6

District 6 incumbent Democrat Pattsi Petrie and former county board Democrat Tony Fabri faced off on everything from posting restaurant placards to raising taxes Wednesday night.

Petrie is proud of her work on the county board and wants to build upon that for another term.

"You elected me in 2010 to the county board and elected me again in 2012," she said. "The reason I am running for re-election is to continue the progress we have made in this county. My goal is to find ways to make this the best county in the state.

"As an urban planner, what I bring to the county board is a focus on the nuts and bolts of how a county goes from good to great by having a plan."

Fabri said his friends and family thought he was crazy to return to politics.

"I am not getting back into politics because I think the person next to me, the incumbent county board member, is a terrible person," he said. "But I do think the county board that she serves on is a train wreck.

"I think the leadership's countless decisions that have been made over the last couple years have not reflected the progressive values of the majority of voters who elected the county board, and they haven't reflected the fiscal conservatism that a lot of us think is important for the county board."

Fabri criticized the board for allowing two sets of regulations regarding the posting of health inspection results for restaurants in C-U and those in the county.

"The county board dropped the ball by not keeping the system for outside Champaign-Urbana," Fabri said. "I don't think that serves the public at all."

Petrie said many county board members wanted the posting of public health placards in restaurants throughout the county, but others were concerned they'd negatively affect rural restaurants.

"I tried to find a way so we could figure out a compromise," she said.


Langenheim-Harrison, county board District 9

The race for the Champaign County Board in District 9 has become a generational clash between a political veteran and a relative newcomer to county elections.

But both candidates share a love for the county and their hopes to make Champaign County the best place it can be.

Democratic incumbent Ralph L. Langenheim and challenger Shana Jo Harrison offered their views on a variety of issues during a forum Tuesday sponsored by the NAACP, League of Women Voters and The News-Gazette.

Langenheim spoke with pride of his service in the U.S. Navy and how his background as a geology professor has allowed him to make contributions to county policy.

"I hope to return for another term," Langenheim said. "My work on the environment and land use committee draws on my experience as a geology professor, researcher and consultant. My work on the highway committee draws on my engineering experience as a U.S. Naval engineering officer."

Harrison smiled as she talked about growing up in central Illinois in a union household and being the first one in the family to go to college.

"When I was picking a college I wanted to go to, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was the only choice for me," she said.

Harrison said she wants to build upon her experience with the UI College Democrats and helping with the March of Dimes to bring her enthusiasm for the area to the county board.

"I learned how big people's hearts are here by working with the March of Dimes." she said. "I fell in love with this community. This is the community that has captivated my heart. I love it here and look forward to making a wonderful future here,"

Langenheim said his top three priorities for another term would be preserving the Mahomet Aquifer, supporting the county nursing home and maintaining good highways in the county.

Harrison said her top three priorities, should she be elected, are ensuring food inspection standards for the county, providing support for the nursing home and supporting a restorative justice system for the county.

Langenheim said he supports doubling the county's public safety sales tax.

"I think I do support it, but I think I want to hear more about it," he said.

While Harrison said public safety is a top concern for Champaign County, she said it is time to look at options other than increasing taxes to improve safety.

Harrison said she supports a single set of regulations regarding the posting of health inspection results for restaurants in the county.

She said it is critical for consumers to make a knowledgeable decision about whether the food they eat is healthy in order to be free from illness.

Langenheim blamed Republicans for the inability to have a single set of standards on the posting of health inspection results.

"The Democrats have been trying to get a common public health system, but we have been unable to do so because of the other party," he said.



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wayward wrote on February 19, 2014 at 9:02 pm

"I declined their votes and I was still elected as chair. I was not going to be their tool when I got elected."

Funny, lots of people seem to think Kurtz is a tool.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 20, 2014 at 9:02 am

How many candidates would there be if the County Board members were unpaid with only travel being reimbursed?  Would enough people come forward as civic volunteers? ;)    


wayward wrote on February 20, 2014 at 11:02 am

Oh, you'd still get some -- the politiclally ambitious, if nobody else.  AFAIK, the County Board doesn't really pay hugely and most of the people on it don't really need the money.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 20, 2014 at 11:02 am

For those that really don't need the money; it may be to their advantage to announce that they would donate their salaries to things like the Crisis Nursery, Special Olympics, or some other cause.

I was at a large social affair last summer when a nearby C-U village board member stated that he received $4,000 a year for serving on his village board ( $333 per meeting ).  I asked if that was his motivation for serving on his village board.  He replied that the money came in handy; but his motivation was using his position to move up in politics. 

Your right about the "politically ambitious".  Maybe, a law needs to be passed to protect the citizens from the "politically ambitious".  Sort of like getting the state legislature to pass a law on term limits, and automatic pay raises. ;)  

pattsi wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Just the facts madam--CB members receive a $60 per diem per obligated meeting plus gas allowance per IRS rate. (Some board members forego the gas allowance.) When a raise for the these individuals was discussed by CB members, one member pointed out that the low amount of per diem does not encourage low income, single parent, low income parent to even consider running for an elected office that takes a lot of time to be properly prepared to make decisions for county citizens. Of the elected bodies in the county that receive pay, the CB members are the lowest paid by a wide margin. The three individuals who serve on the UCSD board receive $5000/year, the maximum allowed by statute. This is the top pay for this type of elected official. Then there are elected board members that receive no renumeration, such as the BOE.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Wayward; seems that you are right about the "politically ambitious". ;)