PRIMARY 2018 QUESTIONNAIRES: Champaign County Board District 10 Democrats

PRIMARY 2018 QUESTIONNAIRES: Champaign County Board District 10 Democrats

Champaign County Board District 10 covers the eastern half of Urbana and extends southeastward into unincorporated parts of the county, stretching from the University Avenue exit on Interstate 74 on the north to Old Church Road on the south, and from Race Street on the west to County Road 1800 E on the east. A map from the Champaign County Clerk's Office is below:

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Tanisha King-Taylor, Briarcliff Drive

1. What do you believe is your primary responsibility as a county board member?

My primary responsibility as a county board member is to listen to the constituents' concerns and use their voices in my position to create positive change in the community.

2. Why do you believe you would be a better county board member than your opponent?

I believe that I have professional and volunteering community experiences that guide my philosophy of being "a pulse for humanity." I would bring a social-work perspective to the board by having vulnerable and marginalized groups in mind when making decisions that will impact their day-to-day lives, well-being and livelihood. I also believe that my perspective as a woman of color is integral and necessary. Furthermore, I have a wealth of teaching experience, specifically social-work courses on the undergraduate and graduate level as well as social-issues courses. Finally, I have research experience as a Ph.D. student that could prove very beneficial to the board.

3. What are your thoughts about the upcoming election of the first county executive and how the county board will work with that person?

While the new executive will be in charge of running administrative services for the county, I see the executive as a voice for the ideals of the residents, but the day-to-day functions of running administrative duties should be done by an administrator who will be subordinate to the executive. The task of administrator is one that should be entrusted with a trained professional, not a politician. I also oppose setting the salary for this position at $117,000 a year. While the county is currently considering layoffs, it is irresponsible for the county board to be creating a new six-figure salary. With that being said, it will be important for the person assuming that role to respect the board members and not diminish our role, allowing us to make decisions that we believe our best for our community, not vetoing our power.

4. Are there services that you believe the county needs to expand, reduce or eliminate?

I believe that we need to expand our mental-health services so that people with mental illnesses are given appropriate care and treatment as opposed to being jailed.

5. Do you think the county should close the downtown jail and add on to the satellite jail in east Urbana, or do you favor another concept?

I oppose expansion of the county jail as closing one jail does not necessarily mean needing to replace the jail beds lost. We have seen decreases in the jail population, so I think it's important that the county board avoid funding jail expansion and should instead invest in vital programs that reduce recidivism and improve the lives of some of our most vulnerable residents.

6. What are the recommendations from the recent Racial Justice Task Force report that you would like to see implemented quickly?

Four recommendations that I would like to see implemented quickly are:

A) Local law-enforcement agencies should substantially increase officer and staff requirements for multicultural awareness and implicit-bias training for new hires as well as for current officers.

B) Develop and implement a comprehensive plan to integrate restorative practices in both the criminal-justice and juvenile-justice systems, as well as in community responses to crime, delinquency and conflict in Champaign County.

C) Shift to a community-defender office with a holistic-representation model focused on social work and restorative-justice services along with legal representation, which could significantly reduce the school-to-prison pipeline and reduce detention numbers.

D) The Housing Authority of Champaign County should change its eligibility policies to provide fair-housing rights to all applicants with criminal-conviction records except when U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rules require a public housing authority to reject an applicant due to criminal record.

7. Do you think it is imperative that the county operate a nursing home, even if it loses money and threatens the county general fund?

I oppose the sale of the county nursing home. Privatizing nursing homes to for-profit companies is harmful and conflicts with the progressive values of our community, and our nursing home is a haven for some of society's most vulnerable residents. My colleague has said it costs 40 cents a month per county resident to subsidize the nursing home. I believe that if we can continue to support the fund that we can find a way to dig out of the loss. We need to prioritize and not just wipe our hands clean, which is the easy way out. We have already seen some progress and I believe that over time, we will continue to see gains by keeping the home in the community. Selling the nursing home could have deleterious impact on not only the residents who depend on Medicaid, but also on the over 200 employees whose families depend on the income the nursing home provides.

8. Do you think that closing the nursing home would benefit the rest of county government, including possibly funding new criminal-justice initiatives?

I think that any closing of a facility would allow for reallocation of funds to other integral services in the community, but that doesn't make it the best or right choice. Taking a closer look at our budget options, there are other areas that are not as vital as the nursing home that we can use to support our residents. Again, we must prioritize and be able and willing to see these situations from a different perspective. We all understand the nature of the debt, but it isn't clear to me that we understand the nature of those impacted by our decision. We so often come from a place of privilege that we are unwilling to put ourselves in others' shoes. There are alternate solutions to closing the nursing home; it may mean pausing some other initiatives, but if we make it our priority, then it can be done. For instance, shutting down the downtown jail or re-examining the Brookens building are some alternatives.

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Chris Stohr (incumbent), East High Street

1. What do you believe is your primary responsibility as a county board member?

A county board member serves the interests of the whole county and the district from which they were elected. The board members should engage in solving problems facing the county beginning with the most difficult and time-sensitive. Members should be fiscally responsible and maintain and update facilities to verify that programs are operating effectively.

2. Why do you believe you would be a better county board member than your opponent?

Our family has resided in Champaign County for more than 30 years. During that time, I have volunteered at several charitable and civic groups, including the men's emergency winter shelter, C-U Special Recreation (Volunteer of the Month), Empty Tomb, Catholic Worker House, Daily Bread, mentor at Urbana Middle School, Champaign County Household Hazardous Waste Leadership Team, Junior Academy of Science (Earth Science Category Chair), Boy Scout Merit Badge Counselor (Geology) and other groups.

I have served on the Urbana mayor's neighborhood task force and Urbana Plan Commission and was a founding member of the Historic East Urbana Neighborhood Association, which lobbied to rebuild Victory Park, displacing drug dealers and a slumlord, and which advocated for downzoning to protect owner-occupied homes and neighborhood from "wear down, tear down" apartment developers. As a life-long supporter for community mental health, I helped initiate weekly peer counseling at the Champaign County Jail.

These experiences gave me the opportunity to work with diverse groups to help the most vulnerable in our county and collaborate with local agencies and organizations of all kinds and government officials at all levels to improve life in our community.

3. What are your thoughts about the upcoming election of the first county executive and how the county board will work with that person?

The county-executive form of governance will be a change for Champaign County. Being new to the county board, I have worked with the existing structure but look forward to working with the new executive. The inaugural executive will set the tone of relations with the county board, staff, offices and county departments.

The board should work collaboratively with the executive to set policies on the many issues that we are facing (criminal-justice reform, opioid addiction, community mental health and others). I think that the board should advise and support the executive to efficiently implement the short- and long-term goals and programs that benefit our county.

4. Are there services that you believe the county needs to expand, reduce or eliminate?

Champaign County departments and staff using only modest resources and limited funds for support and training provide a broad range of needed services for residents. I would like to see additional access to and effectiveness of mental- and behavioral-health services in order to reduce drug and alcohol abuse, crime and entry into the criminal-justice system. This would reduce the burden on taxpayers for court services, law enforcement, jail and social services.

5. Do you think the county should close the downtown jail and add on to the satellite jail in east Urbana, or do you favor another concept?

A consultant to the county recommended closing the downtown jail and sheriff's office less than 40 years after construction of the troubled, poorly maintained facility. Although jail census is reduced, services at both facilities are currently needed. Consequently, closure of the downtown jail in the near term will necessitate construction of some lost rooms and services at the satellite jail. When changes to the satellite jail are designed, consideration should be given to additional facilities for library, education and counseling that are currently lacking. There is bipartisan interest in reducing the jail population overall without diminishing public safety.

6. What are the recommendations from the recent Racial Justice Task Force report that you would like to see implemented quickly?

There are two reports that address issues regarding criminal-justice needs in Champaign County: the Racial Justice Task Force and the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program. The RJTF made 31 recommendations to reduce racial disparity in incarceration among minority adults and juveniles by prevention and diversion. These will be discussed by the county board in coming meetings and action should be taken to implement them.

Some specific steps for pretrial confinement and bail reform are currently being implemented. Among the highest-priority recommendations are to increase the use of the Youth Assessment Center and starting a Restorative and Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (training meeting scheduled in February) to reduce delinquency, conflict and incarceration of adults and juveniles. Although implementing these and other recommendations can be done with existing funds by increasing use of home confinement, working with cities to change ordinances, and other strategies, some of these will require funding from new sources.

Re-entry programs can provide an effective diversion from incarceration. Housing and jobs are the most difficult problems for released inmates, especially those who have felony convictions. Without jobs and housing, those who served sentences for criminal acts have few options to support themselves and their families. Resolving this paradox is crucial to interrupting the return-to-prison cycle. I wholeheartedly support interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline through early intervention by social work and mental-/behavioral-health services.

Finally, this is a community problem that begs for "buy in" by the whole county including citizen service on the to-be-established Community Engagement Oversight Commission. The CEOC will monitor and report on progress of all of the new and continuing programs of mental and behavioral health, alcohol and drug abuse, poverty alleviation and counseling to reduce adult and juvenile entrance into the criminal-justice system.

7. Do you think it is imperative that the county operate a nursing home, even if it loses money and threatens the county general fund?

The county nursing home is supported by revenues, taxes and loans with supplemental support from the general revenue funds of about $1 million. The general revenue fund supplement amounts to 40 cents per person per month, which is not too much of a burden to continue a noble, 153-year tradition of providing dignity and care for the elderly in our county, particularly at the end of life.

8. Do you think that closing the nursing home would benefit the rest of county government, including possibly funding new criminal-justice initiatives?

No, new and expanded services should be funded with new revenue for this intended purpose. If the nursing home is closed, the general funds should be used for the deferred maintenance of facilities, for the county-executive staff and to transition the decades-old proprietary accounting software that runs on a mainframe computer to a modern system that will enable analyses to identify how county monies are spent and improve future budgeting.