C Scott Campbell, DeKalb County Board 2022 Primary Election Questionnaire

Election 2024

Full Name: C Scott Campbell

What office are you seeking? DeKalb County Board Member, District 7

What offices, if any, have you previously held? DeKalb County Board Member, District 7

Member: District 428 Facilities and Finance Committee

City: DeKalb, Illinois

Occupation: Classroom Teacher

Education: BS, Aerospace Engineering MBA, Organizational Development

Post-baccalaureate degree, Science Teacher Certification MA in Chemistry Education, Candidate for Ed.D. in Educational Leadership

The DeKalb County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a public facility owned by DeKalb County government, is under financial distress, according to county officials. Budget constraints brought to light in 2021 made it difficult for the center to maintain its financial independence. The county board last year dissolved the center’s operating board, and hired a consultant to help determine the future of the facility: Whether to sell it (current county leadership says that is not the preference), or how to maintain its financial autonomy. If elected, what would you want to see become of the county nursing home?

Ideally, we would retain management of it, but this time with a competent management company running the day-to-day operations and oversight by the County Board rather than an appointed subordinate board. Having a County Rehab and Nursing Center available for our older citizens and citizens in need of post-hospital transition support, and a facility that serves all levels of income, makes DeKalb County pretty special and I’d like to see us continue to offer that public service.

However, the taxpayers cannot be asked to pay exorbitant amounts of money to provide that service, so my ideal solution may not be viable.

How would you address financial constraints at the nursing home as a county board member?

Again, I would ideally like to see a competent management company, one with turn-around experience with nursing homes, be brought in to right-size the facility and its budget. I would hope that we could return to profitability with significant reorganization and possibly clever partnerships with Northwestern Medicine and other providers in the area.

Certainly, a new audit needs to be done if we’re going to retain the home, and structural oversight deficiencies addressed as well so we don’t end up in this circumstance again.

If the facility can’t be brought to a break-even budget or perhaps a small taxpayer burden (since there is significant overall value to the community in having the facility), then it should be sold to a bidder who can help us extricate ourselves from the expense (including bonds on the expansion) while still agreeing to operate it as a nursing home for our residents.

What are the three biggest challenges facing the DeKalb County Board?

1) Turning around or selling the DKRNC is top priority, since the financial outlay by taxpayers is very high and very unexpected at this time.

2) Bringing down property taxes, at least by holding the line on them until property values catch up to them. As a democrat, I understand well that taxes are the price of a civilized society, and I think it’s government’s role to provide certain services for those in need in our society. However, DeKalb County has the second or third (depending on the source) property tax as a percentage of property value in the State, and Illinois is one of the highest property tax states in the nation. This makes us uncompetitive for both residential and business growth opportunities, relative to our neighboring counties and the collar counties. We’re stifled in our growth by our high property taxes, and growth is how you sustain a healthy county.

3) While people don’t generally recognize it, the main job of the County Board is to keep the County running. We decide what roads get paved, how many police officers we can afford, what zoning variances are approved, and how to bring in new business and provide amenities that residents want. It’s mundane, but it’s also incredibly important work. Certainly at the top of any priority list for a public body should be a focus on doing the core job as well as possible.

Please provide specific ideas for how you would address these issues if elected, or solutions you would offer?

I’ve explained how I want to see things go with the DCRNC in previous questions, so I won’t be redundant.

Property taxes are a true challenge. While I would like to commit to voting to cut them, that also means cutting services and I’m unwilling to commit to that without knowing specifics. I can commit to opposing property tax levy expansion (on a rate basis) for my entire term, pushing for a hold of property tax levy on an actual dollar basis whenever possible, and commit to being actively engaged in reviewing the budget and looking for opportunities to reduce expenditures.

The day to day operations are, literally, where we as County Board members live day to day. Every question, consideration, resolution and decision is nuanced and unique. It’s hard to say what ideas I have before seeing the question at hand. But I can commit to always doing my homework on every issue, listening to all viewpoints, and casting votes that I believe will be in the best interest of my neighbors, even if they are unpopular with the rest of the board, with County staff, or with any special interest.

What makes you specifically qualified to run for DeKalb County Board? What would you bring to the table, and how would it benefit the board? Please provide specific examples.

As an incumbent for the last almost four years, I think I have a handle on how the County government operates, how to influence agendas, and how to do oversight. Those are skills that are learned in this job, and are a distinct advantage that incumbency brings to the table.

Beyond that, I have a unique blend of education and experience that lends itself well to County governance. I have an engineering degree that helps me understand the nuances of infrastructure expenditures and priorities, zoning, and generally how to use data to make decisions. My MBA and a 15 year first career as a banking executive give me the skills necessary to understand complex financial documents, budgets and proposals. As a teacher, I see the public good in providing public services that help everyone have equal access to opportunities and resources.

In a more general sense, I have demonstrated a willingness to buck my party when it comes to decisions (such as opposing a gas tax because it is regressive), an ability to push for needed programs such as the property tax grace period extension during the first year of COVID, and I have consistently done my homework on matters facing the board regardless of the time commitment, because that’s what I was elected to do. Public service is important to me, and my neighbors are my family.

In 2021, the DeKalb County Board took up votes for several solar energy farms of significant size. The projects, which were approved amid some lengthy debate, spawned a significant amount of community feedback, some negative, some positive, some related to county board regulations for future farms. Where do you stand on the topic of solar energy, and what role do you believe the county board should play in that?

In general, I favor expansion of solar energy. It is clean, increasingly affordable, and it provides an opportunity for our farm owners to earn a more passive and lucrative revenue stream than farming might at times.

However, my first duty is to the commitments we’ve made, formally or implied, to those who have already invested in our community. This is why I voted against certain solar developments when it would reduce a resident’s property values or negatively impact the quality of their lives.

I will continue to look at every project as a unique opportunity, and make the best decision based on the peculiar circumstances of each solar development proposal.

The DeKalb County Board’s budget was passed for Fiscal Year 2022 at $96 million. Would you advocate to change it or make cuts? If so, where? Why or why not?

I would always look for and advocate for cuts in expenses that don’t impact services. However, those are few and far between.

I would generally ask that each year the department heads are asked to provide impact analyses of a 5% or 10% cut during the budget cycle, so that I can know what services might be curtailed if we do decide in any given year to shrink the budget. But I’d reserve the right to make those decisions on a case-by-case basis.

I have already committed to, barring extraordinary circumstances (like a pandemic or a crisis at the nursing home for example), holding the line on the total tax levy (and thus the budget) on a rate basis, and whenever possible on a pure dollar basis.

Inflation across the nation has greatly impacted the price of gasoline, food and supplies. Recent rent hikes also are affecting local communities, forcing relocation for those reliant on subsidized housing in DeKalb County, according to a recent Daily Chronicle report and the DeKalb County Housing Authority, which is a branch of county government. What can the DeKalb County Board do to address relief of everyday expenses, and reduce the tax burden on local residents?

I have addressed this somewhat. I advocate for holding the line on the tax levy rate, and when possible the tax levy dollar amount (which effectively reduces the tax rate). We were able to do this in 2021. But that doesn’t have an immediate benefit to renters, which is why I also believe in funding senior living programs with rent subsidies and supporting the DeKalb County Housing Authority.

In terms of other expenses, I have rejected the request by the Board to allow the County to impose its own gas tax rate, because this tax is highly regressive. I would reject any future such proposals on gas, food, housing or other staples. We shouldn’t be taxing those living on the margins, who are the ones most impacted by inflation.

According to the 2020 U.S. Census, DeKalb County’s population dropped by about 4,000 people over the past decade, mostly concentrated in the DeKalb area. Population sizes can directly impact revenue streams for municipal budgets such as local sales tax and motor fuel use, and economic development. How would you rank economic development as a priority within your campaign, and what, if elected, would you do to ensure DeKalb County progresses into the next decade?

Economic development comes from both business and residential growth. We’ve done a really good job, in partnership with the city governments, in growing business in the last few years. I would try to continue that trend by supporting the Chambers of Commerce and the Economic Development commissions, and have advocated for helping to fund them at the County level (I lost that fight).

Growth in residential is a little harder, especially as population in the County declines and NIU shrinks. I believe holding taxes level and allowing property values to rise without rising taxes with them helps make the community more attractive to residential growth, but it’s a slow process.

I also think we need to work more with NIU on becoming a center for research and development in the State and in the Midwest. Growing as a R&D center will bring in high paying jobs, encourage new housing development, and attract more business.

Assess the DeKalb County Health Department’s actions to combat COVID-19? What changes, if any, need to be made related to the pandemic?

I think Mrs. Gonzalez and her team did a good job at pandemic response. Every public health official had a learning curve...the COVID pandemic came on fast and in a way that nobody had experience to handle at the outset. I trust the health department to follow State and national guidance on mitigation measures, and hope they won’t go off on their own, either more or less restrictive than expert guidance, at any time in the future.

How would you encourage economic and employment growth within DeKalb County?

I feel I addressed this in a prior question.

Do you think there is a local crime problem? If so, what needs to be done about it?

Crime is by definition a problem, and it’s generally local, so yes there’s a local crime problem. I don’t mean to be flippant about this response, but I’m not someone who can ever say there is “acceptable levels” of local crime. I do not think DeKalb County has more of a problem than other similar Counties, nor do I think my district (within the City of DeKalb) has a crime problem greater than any other similar community. The sheriff’s office and the City of DeKalb police department do a good job overall (though I would advocate for tightening up policies on profiling and handling stops without bias), and are funded appropriately.

What local road and bridge projects should be a priority to get done in the county?

We have an amazing County engineer and engineering department. When you serve on the Board, you see just how much data and deliberation they put into spending their budget. It’s a multi-year strategic process, with literally every road and bridge slated for attention when it needs it, not before (which costs taxpayers money) and generally not after it needs it (with some exceptions for budget constraints).

As a County Board member, it’s my role to review these priorities and expenditures at a high level, listen to constituent concerns on specific roads and bridges and advocate for those projects with the County Engineer, and even drive around and look at our infrastructure personally. But I would caution any voter to consider the competency and credibility of a candidate who runs on repairing a specific road or bridge. The job is bigger than that, and the role of a County Board member needs to consider projects across the County and not just in their own neighborhood.

Do you support decreasing local property taxes? If so, how would the county make up the difference?

I have addressed this in several questions and have nothing else to add without being redundant.

Do you support stronger county government ethics laws? What measures do you support?

We have pretty good ethics laws. I do think it’s time to review them, not to address any specific concern but just because it’s good practice to review this critical area of government oversight.

What are your thoughts on the Illinois Freedom of Information Act?

It preserves our democracy.

Was that dramatic? Good. FOIA is one of the most important provisions of our free society, second perhaps only to the right to vote itself.

I encourage watchdogs and just concerned citizens to FOIA anything from my body of work as a public servant, at any time, and hold my fellow board members to the same open invitation.

Please state your plan to maintain government transparency.

I think I hold the distinction of being the only Board member to ever vote against paying monthly bills, because I wasn’t getting an answer from a department head on an expenditure I questioned. I think I’m also the only one to every vote against a meeting agenda because I didn’t think the executive session items were consistent with open discourse and the County Code. I’ve stood on streets with signs to oppose officials trying to marginalize clerks who were asking too many questions. Transparency is the only way we know we’re still a democracy.

At the County, we do a good job of being transparent. The current County Administrator prides himself on it, particularly in the budget process. And he is. I want to encourage him, as the gatekeeper of our policies, procedures, records and monies, to go with that practice at all times, even if it leads to undesired scrutiny at times. That’s a Board member’s role as someone who oversees government, but doesn’t directly operate the departments may or may not be transparent.

However, when a specific issue of transparency comes in front of the Board, or I have a personal choice whether to be transparent or not (see the examples I gave in the first paragraph of this response), I will step up no matter the extra work it may be for me or the criticisms I may face. I promise that. I also promise that if any ordinances or policies come in front of the Board, either from the County or State level, that I feel reduce public access to records and public participation in governance, I will, as I have done in the past, protest those anti-transparency initiatives by the strongest possible means.

What would you push for as a member of county government to boost local businesses?

I feel I have addressed this in previous questions, particularly as it relates to supporting those in our government and non-profit structure that are good at the specialized skill of growing business in our community. But I will also add that it is incumbent on the County Board to be as friendly as possible to businesses in terms of zoning, which is our primary way of accommodating business expansion (or killing it at times). We can’t put residents at risk or hurt their property values in the process, but we should also not impose extraordinary bureaucracy or hang on tradition when it comes to business investment.

I also believe that when tax abatements are necessary to be competitive with neighboring counties or otherwise secure business investment, we should do what we can to support that. That includes developing and maintaining economic development zones in the County. I realize that’s not a popular thing for someone to say, that we’ll try to provide a tax advantage to a corporation or small business that we don’t provide to a resident. Especially from my party. But I’m going to say it anyway. Economic growth creates new jobs. And jobs help people. We can’t lose out to our neighboring counties.

Should government employees and officials be allowed to sign non- disclosure agreements with private businesses?

Absolutely not. Especially not in the course of making zoning or public fund investment choices. This just invites corruption.

The only exception I’d want to allow is for research and development by board members who own or work directly for local businesses where their employment requires them to hold secret patents or other intellectual property. A County Board member is a part time gig, and we definitely want very smart and inventive people choosing to serve. But in these cases, the Board member MUST recuse themselves from any matters in front of the Board that involve those entities.

Would you push for or against government officials and employees being allowed to sign non-disclosure agreements with private businesses?

I think this is addressed in the previous question.