One of the principles of Chairman Cronin's ACT Initiative, of which I have been a champion, is to increase the transparency of County government to members of the public. Through the ACT Initiative, I have worked with the County Board to increase the accessibility of public documents, financial and capital plans, and the annual budget proposals. I will continue to search for ways to increase transparency and involve the public in our DuPage County government. For example, I will commit to holding public townhall meetings in my district on a regular basis throughout my four year term.
While it was difficult, I am proud my fellow Board Members and I were able to pass a balanced FY18 budget that achieved significant cost reductions without raising property taxes. I am working with my colleagues to build a FY19 budget that also keeps the property tax levy flat. However, it is clear we must begin viewing cost cutting not necessarily as an achievement, but as a requirement for doing business. As we look to the future, I support exploring opportunities to further model county operations after those in the private sector. As a management consultant, I regularly see businesses opting to leverage efficiencies within shared services such as payroll, IT, human resources, and other back office functions. We should explore opportunities to apply this method to departments financed by the County's General Fund, where a combination of implementing planned attrition, exploring organizational redesign opportunities, deploying cloud-based technology services.
No, I do not accept benefits currently and will not in the future. I also support the elimination of benefits to County Board Members in general. I firmly believe that those who choose to run for elected office should do so for the right reason - which is a genuine desire to do good for the community. DuPage County Board members earn roughly 21% more on average than their counterparts in Will, Lake, McHenry, and Kane counties. It is my view that the high salary provided to Board Members makes it more likely that candidates will seek the office for financial gain as opposed to a genuine desire to serve their fellow citizens.
I believe mental health is a critical issue in our community. The County Board takes the issue of mental health seriously and has been a leader in expanding the quality and availability of services. Personally, in my role as Health & Human Services (HHS) Committee Chairman, I oversaw the successful organizational redesign of DuPage County’s Psychiatric Services division into the County Health Department - which resulted in enhanced and expanded mental health services while generating over $1,000,000 in cost savings at the same time. I will continue to work with the Health Department and DuPage's Community Services department staff to provide services for those most in need and further prioritize the mental well-being of our community.
DuPage County, like much of the rest of America, is in the midst of an opioid epidemic that is robbing too many young people of their futures. This unprecedented public health crisis must be addressed head-on by elected officials across DuPage County. I took on an expanded leadership role in DuPage County’s response to the opioid epidemic. In order to succeed in reducing opioid deaths, we must find successful solutions through bipartisan consensus. I reached across the aisle to partner with Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi to identify opportunities for DuPage County to coordinate with the federal government to expand naloxone availability, eradicate supply, expand treatment and education programs, and establish innovative rehabilitation and workforce development support. The County should continue to pursue these efforts. We must also continue to coordinate with federal, state, and local authorities through the County's HOPE Taskforce.
To become transparent, the Board should prohibit political donors from engaging in the contract procurement process or accepting no bid contracts. Patronage remains a problem in DuPage County and those concerns will continue as long as political contributors are awarded contracts. Term limits would also increase both transparency and accessibility.
For accessibility, committee (political appointment) openings should be publicized and diversity of selection (party, gender, occupation, etc.) should be required. Moreover, a variety of times, including evenings, for meeting would be welcome. Seeing as though local government plays a part in our everyday transactions, town halls or other events that promote an exchange of ideas and eliciting community needs from residents would greatly improve accessibility.
Above all, a County Board makeup that reflects the county (instead of 17/18 in one party) would greatly improve transparency and accessibility.
DuPage County taxpayers pay some of the highest property taxes in the country and we owe a fiduciary duty to spend wisely and to fight against increased tax burden. I would cut the waste that DuPage government spends on itself, for itself, to ensure that hard-earned taxpayer dollars are maximized and respected-that residents get the benefit of those dollars back in improved and maintained infrastructure and services.
I would slash the almost $300,000 spent annually lobbying annually, vet contracts for cost savings, cut Board members benefits and consolidate duplicative county departments and committees. Around $500,000 a year is spent on political appointee pay and benefits; serving the County should be an honor, these perks should be eliminated and this money should be spent on County services that have been rolled back in recent years- like Meals on Wheels and other programs that serve our residents. Examine township expenses and consider further consolidation.
Unfortunately, for too long, our County has been run more as a private corporation that offers executive benefits to elected officials, instead of a public entity run by and for the benefit of its residents. As a pro bono attorney and non-profit Board member, I bring experience as to how to get more work done for more people when resources are limited-which is much needed given the strained County budget. I would advocate that the Board prohibit all part time elected officials from participating in the already stressed pension system and eliminate health insurance benefits and car allowances where they apply. So, no, I would absolutely not accept nor support these exercises in bureaucratic waste.
A recent DuPage County study shows that behavioral health is an area that needs improvement, but we need only to look at the number of suicides and opioid related deaths to know that people are struggling, and many of them are our adolescents and young adults. More work at the County level can save lives.
Our Health Department should be a more proactive and visible mental health resource and community handshake to help families at crucial times. A database of care providers-public and private- should be compiled and shared with schools and the community at large. Mental health screenings in schools could early identify adolescents struggling. Equipping our Sheriff’s department with tools on how to handle situations where mental health and not criminal intent is the issue is important and then getting these individuals into treatment is key. Bottom line, we need to do better with mental health services and screenings and get families the help they need as soon as possible.
Opioid addiction is endangering too many in our community but in 2018 the County only budgeted $100,000 to help. That is not sufficient where the leading cause of death in people under 50 is drug overdose. Working with officials, law enforcement and private clinicians, the Health Department must strengthen prevention, treatment and recovery options. Education in schools and of doctors is paramount to prevention. A strong referral arm from the county connecting those families needing services with appropriate providers could be a lifeline that currently does not exist.
On the treatment side, the health department should consider all solutions including proposing Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) where substitutes like methadone are used to moderate and eliminate opioid use are included in recovery. MAT clinics have proven to reduce opioid deaths. DuPage County must continue to expand the use and availability of Naloxone with first responders to revive in the case of overdose.
Transparency and accessibility are critical, yet residents sometimes say they are uncertain of what the County does. To be sure, DuPage has made great strides in making its business open and available to all residents. But as a mayor, I have learned that local government need go the extra mile and take key information to its constituents. It is incumbent upon local government to provide the means by which constituents can digest the raw information about the function of their county government and elected officials to see what they do and hold them accountable for acting responsibly. One way to empower the electorate’s understanding is through a series of “short form” format videos that highlight key aspects of government functionality. We should also create more opportunities for citizens to actively participate in county government by creating committees of appointed volunteers who could serve as sounding boards and advisory bodies on matters such as senior services, to name one.
Now, more than ever, local governments must within their means. Taxpayers cannot endlessly fund a growing list of wants. All reasonable efforts to reduce costs should be exhausted before considering new revenue. In my municipal experience, we have succeeded at reducing costs and headcount by leveraging lean practices, innovation, technology, collaboration and consolidation, and employing public-private partnerships. And this can be done without sacrificing key public services and maintaining public health and safety. Yes, my experience shows that more can be done with less – if you know how. Further, revenues can be enhanced through growing the tax base -- not the tax rate -- by pursuing a robust economic development program. Keeping our County highly attractive to new businesses and commerce, as well as retaining what we already have, should continue to be a top priority. This is why economic development experience and know-how are critically important to have on the County Board.
I firmly believe that holding elected office should be about public service, not securing a career path. I have never received a government pension or health insurance and I have no desire for them now. If they were ever offered, I would decline any public pension or health insurance. Furthermore, if elected, I commit to serve no more than two terms on the DuPage County Board.
In my experience as a local mayor, I have learned that there are often too many agencies and organizations competing for a limited pool of resources to provide critical services to well deserving constituents. The first step should be to identify and better understand what government agencies, not-for-profits, and private entities are currently providing what types of mental health services to residents of DuPage County. The next step is to develop a system for better cooperation and collaboration among them in order to maximize benefits and services to those who need them the most. By employing technology and strategies for more efficient collaboration, we can increase the scope and effectiveness of mental health services to all our resident population, including adolescence. Of course, this coordination and collaboration includes working more closely with public and private schools two more quickly identify at risk youths.
Sadly, there is no silver bullet solution. It must be attacked on several levels through a well-coordinated, multi-prong, multi-agency approach. Leadership experienced with intergovernmental cooperation and collaboration is key. Parents and schools need the informational and educational tools to discourage opioid use and identify warning signs. Law enforcement needs to be equipped with the training and tools to save lives. Developing new addiction treatments and overdose-reversal tools should be pursued at the federal level. State and local efforts should continue to hold accountable and modify the behavior of those who may profit from over prescription.It has been said that a great tragedy of the opioid crisis is that so many effective tools already exist but are not being deployed effectively in communities that need them. Fortunately, the DuPage County Health Department, Sheriff’s office, and Coroner’s office have all taken a leadership role and should be futher supported.