ELECTION 2018 QUESTIONNAIRES: Champaign County Executive

ELECTION 2018 QUESTIONNAIRES: Champaign County Executive

Gordy Hulten, Republican

1. Why do you want to become the county's first elected executive, and why do you think you'd be a better executive than your opponent?

I've served as County Clerk for eight years, and I have experience expanding services while cutting costs, using technology to improve access and efficiency, and working with the County Board members in bipartisan coalitions to make tough decisions to improve our County.

Prior to serving as County Clerk, I served on the Champaign City Council and worked in the private sector in business development, as well as being a small business owner. I also have experience working with state and federal officials in a variety of roles.

I believe the experiences and relationships that I have, and the leadership in our community that I've demonstrated, will enable me to serve as County Executive, effectively leading the administration of the day-to-day operations of County government and representing the interests of our County.

2. What are the top three things you'd like to accomplish in your first term as executive?

My first priority is to improve the County's financial management, using technology upgrades to improve our operations, transparency for the public, and provide services more efficiently and allow County government to recover from the financial damage done to the organization by years of mismanagement and financial hemorrhaging at the County Nursing Home.

My second priority is to engage in economic development, and to use the County Executive position as a regional cheerleader for our areas unrealized economic assets. We have incredible agriculture, unmatched human resources, fantastic infrastructure, first-class health care organizations and one of the finest public research universities in the world, and as County Executive I would promote those assets proactively to grow our local economy to create diverse opportunities for our citizens.

My third priority is independent redistricting. For too long, Champaign County Board districts have been drawn by politicians of one party to benefit only the interests of their party. As County Executive, I will use an independent redistricting commission to redistrict the County Board after the next census, so that we can allow voters to pick their Board members instead of Board members picking their voters.

3. When you look at other county executives around the country, is there anyone or any county you want to emulate? Why?

I think an excellent model for Champaign County would be the City of Champaign, whose government is slightly different in form but non-partisan, professional, and very effective. In particular, Mayor Deb Feinen and City Manager Dorothy David do an excellent job in their respective roles of engaging the community, leading the organization, setting priorities, and building coalitions to continue their strong record of stewardship of the City.

4. How do you view your relationship with the county board? Will it be cooperative or confrontational?

As County Executive, I look forward to a collaborative relationship with the County Board, building upon the eight years I've served as County Clerk, working with members of both parties to improve voters' access to early voting, voting by mail, and voter registration, and using the resources provided by the Board to invest in technology that allows us to have the finest County Clerk's office in Illinois while reducing expenses borne by taxpayers.

5. What do you believe is the biggest problem in the county that you face as county executive?

The biggest challenge facing the County Executive is finding resources to invest in the County's infrastructure - both facilities and technology - so that we can improve services and efficiencies to provide better services more effectively and at a reduced cost. The County has avoiding such investments for so long that our buildings and software are in danger of obsolescence.

6. What do you believe is the biggest opportunity in the county that you face as county executive?

The biggest opportunity available to the County Executive is to break the culture of excessive partisanship that has infected County government and the County Board for decades. As County Clerk, I've worked to earn bipartisan praise for our office's services, and for improvements we've made to voter registration, early voting, and voting by mail.

Local government should operate efficiently based on best practices and provide necessary service efficiently. Partisanship too often gets in the way.

Additionally, the pending sale of the Champaign County Nursing Home creates the opportunity to finally stabilize the County's finances and begin to invest in the facilities and technologies that have been so long neglected.

7. Surely by now you know what it will take for you to carry out your job. How large a support staff do you anticipate you will need and what kind of a budget will you require? Will it be more than the current county administrative staff? Do you anticipate holding over any current staff?

As County Executive, I will inherit the staff that currently reports to the County Administrator and County Board. Any reorganization will be done by working collaboratively with the County Board, and by utilizing the experience and expertise of the current employees, Department Heads and independent elected officials. As we invest in technology, we can more closely examine our organizational structure and implement cost savings where appropriate.

* * * * *

Darlene Kloeppel, Democrat

1. Why do you think you want to become the county's first elected executive, and why do you think you'd be a better executive than your opponent?

I've always liked to solve puzzles, and my passion is figuring out how to make ideas work for people. When the referendum passed for a County Executive, I started to see many possibilities for the Executive to broker some critical deals that will make the county a better place to live and work, such as developing paths to local living wage jobs and expanding mental health services available to residents. I'd really love to have the opportunity to lead the county in making some of those ideas happen.

My education and experience are a good match to manage the county's $130 million budget, facilities and multidisciplinary staff. I managed a similar sized staff of 45 and about 10% of the county's budget as the Director of Community Services for the Regional Planning Commission. My formal education that incudes Masters Degrees in Social Work (University of Iowa), Architecture and City Planning (Georgia Institute of Technology) underpins a resume of cutting edge business experience in both public and corporate environments, which will help the county address its current financial and facilities issues.

It's not often that a new county office is formed, and I have many start-ups under my belt, such as several hospices in Arizona and Georgia, and the Youth Assessment Center and Emergency Family Shelter here in Champaign County. I have developed partnerships among local businesses, nonprofit organizations, municipal and county officials to address workforce development and housing issues and have established relationships with state and federal government departments through my grant-writing and participation in state associations, which have brought over $120 million into the county for services. I will bring these connections to the Office of the Executive to work on regional economic development, infrastructure projects and bringing grant revenue into the county.

I see my constituency as all county residents, not only some specific segments of the population. I am committed to giving persons that are affected by county decisions a seat at the decision-making table and to working toward consensus, rather than simply working for a deciding vote on major issues facing the county.

2. What are the top three things you'd like to accomplish in your first term as executive?

A) A 6-year strategic plan that ties internal county administration (opportunities and threats for county revenues, department structure, salary administration, staff recruitment & retention, facilities, information technology) to county services, has widespread support and is actually used to develop future annual budgets

B) An update to the county's 20-year-old land use plan and inadequate zoning regulations to standards that will promote safer neighborhoods and sustainable development

C) Implementation of a safer jail and reforms to improve recidivism rates

3. When you look at other county executives around the country, is there anyone or any county you want to emulate? Why?

Keeping an open mind about how this form of government can work, I have researched structure and procedures in other locations more than looking at specific people who have held the office. I discussed with Larry Walsh, Will County Executive, procedures that have encouraged budget-making with both Democratic and Republican majorities on his county board here in Illinois. I am interested in the way the CEO-type Executive in Brown County, WI, and the Indianapolis/Marion County UniGov mayor-board developed ways to encourage regional economic development by re-aligning their administrative services.

4. How do you view your relationship with the county board? Will it be cooperative or confrontational?

Through my work at the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, I've had 15 years of regular and cooperative interaction with county board members. In addition to serving as CCRPC Commissioners, over those years several county board members served on other boards for which I was responsible (Community Action Board, Workforce Development Board). I acted as spokesperson to make the recommendations to the board on behalf of the Community Justice Task Force and continue to informally communicate with board members about community issues and programs.

That said, any form of government with checks and balances specifically sets up points of potential conflict. It is unlikely that every board member will agree with me or each other on every issue. I have already reached out to current county board members and new candidates on both sides of the aisle, as well as administrative department heads, to start open communication as we go forward. I will strive for more than cooperation and work for collaboration. I am not invested in winning an argument; I will fight hard for seeking workable solutions that are fair for residents and affordable for the county, which is what I've heard voters all around the county say they want to see happen.

5. What do you believe is the biggest problem in the county that you face as county executive?

As the person responsible for preparing the county's budget, continuing to provide the quality of county services that residents deserve and expect in the face of almost overwhelming financial and facility challenges. In addition to the recent nursing home deficits, the state is now skimming a percentage of the county's sales taxes to help its own deficit. Federal and state continue to push costs down to local government by providing a smaller share of funding for mandated services, such as probation. Tax caps are not keeping up with rising costs doing business. County facilities are deteriorating without adequate maintenance. Staff positions have been not filled or cut in the last few years. We are behind in our use of technology to improve access and convenience for the public. Positioning the county for a rosy future will take creativity and flexibility that generally runs counter to the lengthy deliberation of government structure and will be the highest priority of my administration. We need to tie all of these elements together into a single strategic plan, and we need to be thinking not about doing more for less, but doing things differently altogether.

6. What do you believe is the biggest opportunity in the county that you face as county executive?

Champaign County is a great place to live and work, but there is a growing disconnect between available jobs and available qualified workers that is adversely affecting the wellbeing of both businesses and workers. Intergovernmental agreements and public-private partnerships, as well as legislative advocacy at the state and federal levels, present some exciting opportunities to keep our county a thriving community with living wage jobs and career paths that keep young people in our community after graduation, offer a second chance to returning offenders and move families out of poverty.

7. Surely by now you know what it takes for you to carry out your job. How large a support staff do you anticipate you will need and what kind of a budget will you require? Will it be more than the current county administrative staff? Do you anticipate holding over any current staff?

In addition to preparing the budget for all county services, the County Executive will be directly responsible for a $1.5 million operating budget and 45 staff who provide internal county administrative support (payroll, contract management, risk management, IT, facilities, and budgeting) and county services that are not under another county official (highways, animal control, planning & zoning, board of review and the staff of the county assessor). I anticipate keeping current staff, and will need an attorney on retainer for issues that may present a conflict of interest for the state's attorney's office. Consistent with other elected county offices, the board has already indicated support for a deputy-level position, which I will need. When recruiting for this position, I will look for expertise in human resource management and/or grant management, which are skills needed to enhance our county's administrative resources.

Sections (2):News, Local
-