Two candidates facing off again in District 11
CHAMPAIGN — Lorraine Cowart is seeking to extend her 30-year run on the Champaign County Board while Brent West is trying for the second time to get on the board.
The two are facing off for the second time in less than 25 months in the Democratic primary in county board District 11, which includes much of north Champaign and Urbana. It runs generally north of University Avenue into rural areas and goes as far east as High Cross Road and as far west as Prospect Avenue.
Cowart has served on the county board for 30 years, including the last 28. She is chair of the board's highway and transportation committee.
In the March 2012 Democratic primary election, Cowart finished first in a three-way race for two seats. She got 470 votes to 387 for Lloyd Carter and 142 for West. The Champaign County Young Democrats have endorsed Cowart for re-election; the county Democratic Party has not taken a position.
Cowart did not respond to a News-Gazette questionnaire although she did participate in a Feb. 19 forum with West at the Champaign City Building. West's responses to the questionnaire are at http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-03-05/qa-brent-west-champaign-county-board- district-11.html.
He voiced strong support for continued operation of the Champaign County Nursing Home, saying that it costs the median homeowner in the county about $13 a year so that "200 of our neighbors can receive safe and affordable care while generating 200 decent jobs. The uncertainty of health care is even more reason to support the nursing home to ensure that some of our most vulnerable residents are not put at further risk."
West also said he favored continued focus on diversion programs to reduce recidivism in jails and prisons, and said that "modest improvements can still be made" to the county's jails "to enhance safety and efficiency, and such improvements should not be delayed." West also endorsed passage of a county building code and proposed 2 percent annual pay raises for the county sheriff, clerk and treasurer.
At the Feb. 19 forum, Cowart said she supported re-entry programs for offenders, plus blamed jail crowding and recidivism on judges and police.
"We need to talk to our judges, we need to talk to our police, we need to talk to our city officials because they are the ones that's overcrowding our jails, the higher bonds that they are imposing on people that can't pay," she said. "I would like to see, instead of just re-entry programs, we need an education program. We need to educate the judges ... on how to sentence."
She also said she wanted a new nursing home management structure "with someone who has a personal investment in it to run the nursing home." The home is currently managed by a private firm from suburban St. Louis, although there also is a public nursing home management board.
Cowart said the county needs to "start giving our low-paid employees a living wage" and also said she wants the county board to undertake an employment diversity program. She charged that the county needs to increase its minority hiring.
"Why is it that maybe 10 percent of the employees that the county employs are Afro-Americans and 90 percent are not?" she said in arguing for the need for a county equal opportunity employment officer.
Yet a report given to the county board in December by County Administrator Deb Busey showed that 78 percent of the county's employees are white, 18 percent are black and 4 percent are "other." That's an improvement from 10 years ago when the county workforce was 85 percent white, 12 percent black and 3 percent other.
Meet the candidates
Home address: 404 E. Park St., Champaign.
Occupation: assistant director for Records and Information Management Services at the University of Illinois.
Political experience: Champaign County Board District 11 candidate, 2012; Neighborhood Services Advisory Board (NSAB) member for the city of Champaign, 2012-present; NSAB representative on the Bristol Park Neighborhood Steering Committee, 2012-present.
Education: B.A. in Economics from UIUC in 2004, M.S. in Management Information Systems from University of Illinois-Springfield in 2013.
Home address: 601 E. Bradley Ave., Champaign.
Occupation: retired building service worker, University of Illinois.
Political experience: 30 years on the county board.