Both candidates bring elected experience, focus on changing county culture
In the race for Kane County Board Chairman, both candidates feature a long history in holding elected office. Sue Klinkhamer served eight years as an Alderman in St. Charles, followed by another eight years as St. Charles Mayor. Chris Lauzen has served as an Illinois State Senator in the 25th District since 1992.
Lauzen said he chose to run for the office because he believes it is time to reform how the county functions. He said that escalating property taxes are a significant problem. In addition, he pointed to what he says is the increasing perception of pay-to-play politics within the county, which he feels has damaged the morale of taxpayer and county employee alike.
“… they see the politically connected few benefit while the grassroots many of us stagnate,” he said. “There is a critical mass of people who want and will work for reform.”
He strongly disagrees with Klinkhamer’s view on adding a County Administrator position to the county.
“I am more closely aligned with voters’ desires to freeze the county property tax levy, to end political campaign contribution cronyism, to bring best practices to the county, not hire and delegate county administration to a highly paid, electorally unaccountable administrator,” Lauzen said.
His number-one priority is to freeze the property tax levy.
“It makes no sense that our property values are going down, but our property taxes continue to go up,” Lauzen said. “We are being taxed out of our homes, while the Kane County portion of our tax has gone up 50 percent in the past seven years.”
He would then focus on ending what he calls the “Kane County Culture of Cronyism.” He said that too many political contributions come from people with something specific to gain in return for their financial support.
He would seek to find best practices from both inside and outside of the county to help find ways to reform the way Kane County conducts its business.
He would do this “by intensely listening, providing accurate information, treating all people respectfully, gathering consensus around taxpayers’ priorities of limiting the growth of government, restoring trust in public institutions, and increasing per capita prosperity in Kane County.”
Economically, he believes the county should help coordinate the efforts of existing Chambers of Commerce, as well as changing how county government serves employers. He has a five-step strategic plan to accomplish this:
“ • Streamline the permit process, setting predictable, prompt standards for response.
• Coordinate a framework of incentives countywide to minimize tensions of regional ‘bidding wars.’
• Partner with private industry and educational institutions through quarterly roundtable discussions and employer forums.
• Coordinate planning for infrastructure among federal, state, local agencies, and developers who are willing to invest their capital.
• Establish a Kane County Cooperative Clearinghouse website and portal to exchange and exploit innovative ideas, equipment and services, especially in the areas of access to capital.”
He explained that this type of cooperative clearinghouse could also learn from successful businesses already operating in Kane County.
He said this is all possible by collaborating with the various members of the County Board and county staff.
“The strength of board-style governance is multiple perspectives and contributions (with checks and balances), not personal political aggrandizement,” he said. “Together, we will do more with less.”
Klinkhamer says that her depth of experience will serve her well in the office she categorized as the “legislative leader in the county.”
She points to her 16 years on the City Council of St. Charles—including eight as mayor—in addition to her more-recent stints as the Deputy Director of the City of Chicago’s Washington D.C. Office of Intergovernmental Affairs (2006-08) and time spent as District Director for Congressman Bill Foster (2008-10).
“My experience and background are well suited to this position, particularly my history of being a leader who succeeded by building consensus, a quality that is greatly needed to move the county forward at this time,” Klinkhamer said.
Once taking office, Klinkhamer would turn her attention to making the County Board function more effectively and efficiently. One of her first efforts would be to retain a County Administrator.
“As our neighboring counties have learned, a professional administrator is vital to ensuring that a county is functioning efficiently,” Klinkhamer said. “Reaching this goal will help to ensure that information from all county departments is funneled through to all board members through a single office, which will ensure greater efficiency, eliminate duplication of efforts, and allow for greater transparency.”
She would also change how the County Board functions, changing the group from having multiple committees in favor of a Committee of the Whole structure. This would reduce the influence of the County Board Chairman, who currently has the authority to grant committee chair assignments.
“Adopting this format should also eliminate projects moving forward in such a way that not all County Board members are aware of their details before they come up for a vote, which should in turn assist in relieving some of the tension that has in the past resulted in lawsuits which have proved to be very costly to Kane County taxpayers,” Klinkhamer said.
Klinkhamer said she would also push to cut the County Board Chairman’s pay by 25 percent, as well as eliminate the full-time benefits currently available for County Board members.
“Any time elected officials start talking about cuts, taxpayers should absolutely demand they talk about cutting their own salaries and benefits before they go after services vital to the health and well-being of taxpayers,” Klinkhamer said.
With a refined internal structure, Klinkhamer would focus on transforming tension into a collaboration. She said she would make sure that all team members at the county, including elected officials and hired staff, are respected and recognized for their contributions to serving the public. She would also seek to focus on building consensus “where there has often been contention among these different partners.”
A more-efficient, fully functioning county could then be more effective in working with the various municipalities inside the county.
She said she would “work with the municipalities to coordinate their existing excellent economic development efforts, strengthen our county’s urbanized core, and better our transportation system.”
Yet, to get to that point, Klinkhamer pointed back to the very first things that she said would create a better-functioning foundation for success: Hiring a County Administrator and switching to a Committee of the Whole structure.
“Until this is done, none of the fundamental issues underlying both ethics questions and in-fighting that have plagued the county—and have resulted in lawsuits costly to the taxpayer—are likely to be resolved,” Klinkhamer said.