DuPage County Board District 6 candidate Robert Larsen answered Shaw Local’s election questionnaire for the DuPage County Board primary election.
Voting ends for the primary election on the evening of June 28.
Full Name: Robert Larsen
What office are you seeking? DuPage County Board District 6
What offices, if any, have you previously held? DuPage County Board, 2010-2020; Chairman of Finance Committee 2018-2020; Chairman, Health and Human Services Committee 2010-2018
DuPage County Board of Health 2012-2020
Milton Township Trustee 2005-2010
Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps Retired 2010
City: Wheaton, IL
Education: University of Notre Dame -- Bachelor of Arts, double major, Government and Economics 1986
Catholic University -- Juris Doctor 1989
Naval Justice School 1990 (Graduated First in Class)
What steps should DuPage County health and sheriff’s departments take to prevent opioid addiction and overdose?
While I was a member of both the Board of Health and the DuPage County Board, DuPage County established the HOPE Taskforce to combat the opioid epidemic, and deal with its consequences in DuPage County. We addressed the issue from both the health/addiction standpoint by increasing available resources for addiction and mental health treatment, and through law enforcement. The Sheriff’s office has been provided with Narcan to help address opioid overdoses when police are often the first responders. Resources have been provided for the Jail to help with addiction counseling and treatment. We have also created, through the Office of the Chief Judge, a Drug Court program to allow non-violent offenders to get the help they need as an alternative to incarceration. The County should continue to fund and support this multi-disciplinary approach to this challenging problem.
What is your opinion of the county board’s actions and initiatives since Democrats assumed control of the board two years ago?
Unfortunately, the Board has become significantly more political since Democrats took control of the Board. For instance, several times Democratic Board Members brought up discussions and issues around their Democratic candidate for County Board Chair for purely political reasons. An effort to at least discuss the wide ranging impact of last year’s State wide implementation of the so called “Safe T Act” was quashed by the Democratic majority on the Board. The majority permanently tabled discussion on the Bill even though it would result in tens of millions of dollars of cost to the County because those members did not want an open and honest discussion of a critically important public safety issue.
Do you support the merger of additional county offices/departments?
To the extent a merger of offices or departments increases efficiency, reduces costs, and favors the taxpayers, I support it. Unfortunately, the merger of the Election Commission into the Clerk’s office has not met those goals to date.
What are your overall thoughts of the sheriff’s department’s job performance?
I think DuPage County is blessed to have the finest Sheriff in Illinois, and perhaps the country. Sheriff Mendrick has poured his heart and soul into not only keeping DuPage County safe, but doing so the right way. Offenders are not mistreated -- there have been no excess force complaints while he has been Sheriff. The Jail has been almost completely free of Covid cases. Available resources deployed thoughtfully and efficiently. There is a reason why criminals avoid DuPage County.
The county sheriff has taken several initiatives to help reform inmates (tattoo removal services, gardening classes, job placement). What other initiatives would you like to see in an effort to reform inmates?
The number one priority, which the Sheriff has already addressed, is job placement. There should also be a continued focus on mental health treatment, which is at the root of much of the crime we see, including drug addiction. Inmates also need to receive the ability to improve their interactions with family and friends, especially for domestic violence offenders, to reduce recidivism.
DuPage County recently provided the DuPage Foundation $10.6 million for a grant program designed to support nonprofit organizations that address food and housing insecurity, mental health and substance use issues. Discuss the county’s role to further tackle these issues.
DuPage County’s Health Department has long been a model for dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues. While I was on the Board of Health we opened a beautiful and comprehensive new facility, the Kurzawa Center, to bring together several of the County’s resources to combat mental health issues, and we did so without raising taxes. The County has long supported various entities such as the Northern Illinois Food Bank and various agencies that combat homelessness, and should continue to do so. The County cannot be all things to all people, but responsible steps to support the efforts of the private sector should continue.
Assess the DuPage County Health Department’s actions to combat COVID-19.
I was on the Board of Health when the COVID-19 crisis first arose. DuPage County’s enormously successful response was partly because of a long history of being proactive on communicable disease issues and pandemic preparedness. We had previously dealt with and studied such issues as avian flu and West Nile, and knew how to monitor, inform the public, treat, identify sources, and react to changing conditions. The County stood up a first of a kind vaccination center that helped thousands of residents get their shots, and helped slow and control the spread of the disease in DuPage County.
What changes, if any, need to be made related to the pandemic?
The DuPage County Board of Health handled the pandemic beautifully. However, we are at a point where we need to lead and provide guidance schools can rely on to allow our County’s children to finally be able to return to a safe but maskless environment. This will improve learning and their long term developmental and mental well being.
What actions can the DuPage County Board take to minimize the tax burden on residents while not sacrificing services?
When I left as Chairman of the Finance Committee we had a balanced budget, with tax rates lower than when I first took office. Unfortunately, in just the last 16 months huge expenditures have been undertaken with one time Federal money that will burden the taxpayers for years to come. I was also the only Board Member to vote against increasing the Motor Fuel Tax in 2020. We must return to the notion that County government plays an important, but limited, role in the lives of DuPage County taxpayers. We cannot just keep coming up with new ways to spend tax money and claim we are doing taxpayers a favor. I also refused to take the pension or health benefits while I was on the Board, and voted against continuing pension benefits for other members. I also consistently voted to reduce or eliminate salary increases for Board Members and other elected officials. We are paid more than adequately as it is.
How would you encourage economic and employment growth within DuPage County?
Businesses coming to DuPage know we have a welleducated work force. They want to know their employees will be safe, and will be able to enjoy DuPage County’s beautiful open spaces. We need to continue to commit ourselves to protecting open spaces, and to showing why we are a public safety model. We have also been working on programs to train workers for small to medium sized manufacturing jobs. Such manufacturers are huge job creators, but they need the right people to fit their needs. Finally, we need to show businesses DuPage County is not hostile to them, and they won’t be nickled and dimed with fees and taxes to the point they would struggle to be profitable.
Do you think there is a local crime problem? If so, what needs to be done about it?
Any crime, particularly violent crime, cannot just be accepted. Our Sheriff and State’s Attorney have done a fabulous job in protecting our streets, and sending the message to criminals who would cross over from Cook County, where enforcement is so lacking, that they won’t be so lucky if they come here. We need to continue to send the message that crime is still illegal in DuPage County. Everyone is welcome here, as long as you are not coming here intent upon committing crime. We need to continue to give the Sheriff and the State’s Attorney the resources they need to do their jobs, as we always did when I was on the Board.
What local road and bridge projects should be a priority to get done in the county?
As the County and State move forward towards Western Access for O’Hare Airport, we need to make sure the infrastructure is in place in communities such as Hanover Park, Carol Stream and Bartlett to handle increased traffic flow. We need to address railroad crossings in West Chicago and Winfield, where they frequently cause huge traffic headaches.
Do you support decreasing local property taxes? If so, how would the county make up the difference?
While I was on the Board we always held the line on property taxes. By preventing increases, we were able to slowly but steadily reduce the actual tax burden as more properties were built in DuPage. Government is expensive, but it is more expensive when politicians make more and more promises about what they can do for people, while refusing to acknowledge they are spending someone else’s money. To the extent we can offset real estate taxes with sales tax, that is a more efficient system since a large portion of people paying the sales tax are not actually from Wheaton. The cost of government services should also be borne, where possible, by the people who use those services most, not just whoever owns a house.
Do you support stronger county government ethics laws? What measures do you support?
DuPage County already has a model ethics code. I think enforcement of the existing code is more important than simply writing new rules. Politicians need to know there are actual consequences for violations of ethics laws and ordinances, not just a firm finger wag.
What are your thoughts on the Illinois Freedom of Information Act?
It has been said a million times that “sunshine is the best disinfectant.” The Illinois FOIA helps the public find out what their government is doing. When used properly, FOIA requests can generate information that helps bring to light questionable government practices, or simply shed light on what a particular unit of government is doing. Unfortunately, there are some people who abuse the system to try to create political attack material on their opponents. This can cause a great deal of expense and wasted time by County employees. It is a mixed bag.
Please state your plan to maintain government transparency.
DuPage County televises all of its meetings. While I was Finance Chair, we also provided links to all of our meetings on YouTube. Our County “checkbook” is reviewable on line. Our meetings are all available to the public. We have always complied with the Open Meetings Act. As a board member and Finance Committee Chair, I encouraged and promoted open dialogue amongst both my Republican and Democratic colleagues on how we were doing our business, rather than cutting deals behind closed doors. I would continue to promote that type of transparency in the future.
What would you push for as a member of county government to boost local businesses?
For the most part, local businesses want us to just leave them alone to thrive. However, during the pandemic, many small business were put in dire straits when they could not open their doors. As such, we created a Small Business Grant Program that allowed many small businesses to survive. I would also continue to encourage the efforts of Choose DuPage, which has worked very successfully to bring businesses and events in to DuPage County. We need to make sure the potential workforce for these businesses feels safe and welcome, and that DuPage remains a great place to live, work and raise a family.
Should government employees and officials be allowed to sign nondisclosure agreements with private businesses?
This depends upon the specific situation. Certain business transactions require disclosure of proprietary information that cannot just be published on a public website. However, if this refers to the terms of a contract with the County, that must be disclosed. If a private business violates the law, or abuses an employee, that should not be hidden from the public. And, of course, government employees doing their own business on their own time are free to enter into agreements with private businesses. A government employee should not lose his or her basic rights simply because they go to work for the government.
Would you push for or against government officials and employees being allowed to sign non-disclosure agreements with private businesses?
As noted, it would depend upon the situation. I would not support a blanket ban on any and every government employee or official signing such agreements. But if the agreement impacts the business of DuPage County it should be disclosed.