Election

Robert McQuillan, Kane County Board 2022 Election Questionnaire

Kane County Board candidate Robert McQuillan

Full Name: Robert McQuillan

What office are you seeking? Kane County Board District 2

City: Batavia

Occupation: Retired as a Sales Manager and Sales Executive. Part-Time Substitute Teacher in St. Charles

Education: BS in Food Marketing from St. Joseph’s College, Philadelphia, PA

MBA in Management from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA

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

Everyone wants to decrease property taxes, but the key question is “how do you do it?” Not currently being on the Board, I am not privy to all the ins and outs of the County budget. Much of the budget is mandated by the state of Illinois and handcuffs the Board on what can be done. If the decision is to reduce the budget, there are three primary areas to review: a forensic audit of all spending with recommendations on possible cuts; salaries and benefits and the various reserve funds that the Board controls.

I do not know when a forensic was last done. This process would examine spending line by line, so a determination can be made on each major spending item.

Salaries and benefits are an extremely controversial issue to discuss but it is the responsibility of the board to assure the residents they are getting the best employee for each position. At the same time, salaries and benefits are one of the largest items in the budget. Are employees being compensated fairly and are benefits realistic? I do not know but if elected, I will ask the right questions and expect the right answers.

I have also questioned the amount of reserve funds all taxing body maintain. I understand the need for them but at what level. The state suggests @27% of the operating budget. I have seen some taxing bodies have 42% in reserves. Looking at the County budget, it seems that there are too many different reserve funds throughout the budget. In my opinion, this gives the impression that funds are being stashed away. I would suggest that all reserves are held in one line item with sub funds and balances clearly defined.

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

Through Fiscal 2025 there are 110 projects included in the Transportation Improvement Plan. The transportation department does multiple studies and has local, state, and federal regulations it must follow. The Board should defer to the Transportation Department and the County Transportation Committee for those decisions. If a project goes through the vetting and is submitted for approval, I will vote to approve the project.

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

I do not believe there is a local crime problem. Kane County’s Property Crime and Violent Crime are rated as B+ and Other Crime as a A-. Kane County is rated as one of the safest counties in the country. Different studies have comparable results with Kane ranked in the 84% percentile, which means only 16% of counties in the country are rated safer. The top-rated areas are Campton Hills, Geneva, St. Charles, Batavia, and Gilberts. The County also compares favorably with DuPage and Kendall Counties. As can be expected, Elgin and Aurora are the highest crime areas. Large cities bring their own issues and are covered by their own police forces.

By far, thefts are the #1 problem and while you will never eliminate all theft, regular patrols do control it. Another area that is growing are drug related arrests and problems. The use of opioids has run rampant through the country and while Kane does not have a major issue, educational programs are the best method to control this issue.

How will you work to keep crime low in Kane County?

While the sheriff is an elected official and has complete control of his/her budget, there are ways for the County Board to support his/her efforts. With the new no-cash bail coming to the County, it will be extremely important that there is an honest and open dialogue between the Board and Sheriff. This office should always be staffed on the street. In reviewing spending on salaries there is a lot of overtime being paid. The sheriff should research the causes of overtime and if it is due to being understaffed additional deputies should be hired and put on the street. My assumption is that overtime is tied to court appearances and other non-patrol related responsibilities.

In the past, there has been some conflict with the Board and the Sheriff’s office over budget issues. This is an area where politics should never come into play. The safety of County residents must be at the top of everyone’s list.

Do you support Kane County’s pre- arrest diversion program?

Editor’s note: This question has been updated from a previous version to correct that the Kane County State’s Attorney’s office created the program and the Kane County Sheriff’s office participates in it.

In theory, it is the right approach to reduce repeat offenders, but I am not privy to the hard results. Substance abuse, mental illness and an individual’s lack of necessary resources are the correct things to focus on. As I understand it, the goal of the program is developing self-sufficiency and helping connect participants with correct services in the community to avoid arrests and repeated incarceration. With the cost of incarceration higher than the pre- arrest diversion program, it seems that this is the right way to go. According to the Sheriff’s website, there are eleven outside agencies/organizations that are part of the program which shows that there is a real need for this type of support.

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

The ethics ordinance I found on the County website has twelve principles to be followed. The 12th states that these are only guidelines and not rules meant to be enforced by disciplinary action. That does not make sense. Why have a written document with no means of enforcement? So, the first measure I would support is to make sure the current ordinance can be enforced.

In my observations while attending board meetings, the County seems to have a problem with employees following written policy. I would focus on this area as far as ethics is concerned. If employees see managers or other employees not following policy, they also tend to ignore policy. County policies and the expectation to adhere to them should be clear. No grey area, and they need to be followed up with disciplinary action.

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

Local municipalities and their economic development departments are responsible for attracting and maintaining the local businesses in their areas. I see the role of the County as one of supporting the local government, their Chamber of Commerce and any convention events or visitor sites. Financially, the County should focus on finding and training the workforce. The County does have its own Jobs Committee that collaborates with the Workforce Development Board which is shared with Kane, Kendall, and DeKalb Counties.

Why do you think the county has had some positions open for a while and a number of employees have left the county in recent times. Why do you think county employees are leaving?

If you look at the employment opportunities on the County website, as of April 7th, there are thirty open positions. Based on the number of employees the County has, I do not think that number is high, unless there are openings that are not posted. There are two openings in the Sheriff office, two in the Emergency Management Department, five in Community Reinvestment, six in the Health Department, four in Transportation, two in Court Services & two in Building Management. Thirteen of the thirty openings were posted after the first of the year. Some date back to mid-2021 but those positions call for specific requirements/experience.

While some board members think there is a problem, I do not see the situation as something to be very concerned about. I was at a recent Board meeting where the Director of Human Resources gave a presentation on the number of openings. She said that they have started an exit interview process where the reason for leaving is discussed. The Board asked a report to be sent to them monthly and her response was that there aren’t enough employees leaving to recap monthly. What does that tell you?

There could be many reasons for an employee to leave and salary is not always number one. Reasons might include: moving out of the area, long commute; accepting a job with more responsibility; leaving the workforce entirely; changing careers or possible conflict immediate supervisor that is revealed in the exit interview.

How can the county seek to retain employees?

In my opinion, the most important thing is to create a good working environment. For many people, to enjoy going to work is important.

The easy answer is to say provide the highest salary and best benefits of any surrounding counties. That is unrealistic when you work in the public sector. I do believe employees should be paid fairly. However, at the same time the County Board has a responsibility to both the employees and property owners. The property owners pay their salaries, not the County Board. County Board members must be good stewards of the revenue received. In theory, if the County provides the best possible service at the lowest possible price, employees can be paid well.

Health benefits have been rising at an alarming rate over the last ten years. I do believe employees receive an excellent health care package at the present time.

Do you support adding either a 0.25% or 0.50% retail tax to non-essential purchases (excluding groceries and gas)? Why or why not?

Increasing any taxes at the present time is unacceptable. The County cannot operate in a bubble and ignore what is happening around them. While I am not an expert on the American Rescue Plan funds the County received, I believe those funds should be spent before even thinking about a tax increase.

If there were an increase in retail tax revenue, what would you use the additional funds for?

Not applicable

Do you support a county gas tax hike? Why or why not?

No. It is the same reason for not approving a retail tax. The price of gas has increased drastically over the last two months and asking for more tax money is out of the question. Just the other day Illinois froze its gas tax. If the state can do it, certainly the County can.

If there were an increase in the county gas tax revenue, how would you propose using the new money?

Not applicable

Do you support more warehouse and industrial development in Kane County? Why/why not?

If the question is on Kane County owned land, I am not aware of large parcels of land that the County owns. If it is private owned land, it would fall under the authority of the local municipality.

If the question is whether I favor more warehouse and industrial development on any land, my answer would be yes, and it is going to happen. Kane County’s location to Chicago and the highway and rail systems makes the County attractive to this type of development.

It is up to the local government to make sure the zoning is right, and the property is suitable for the construction. Recently this type of development has been met with opposition from Geneva residents. While the concerns of residents are extremely important so are the rights of a property owner to build on his land. If the zoning allows for warehousing or industrial, residents can find that out before they purchase their home.

How can municipalities best deal with the increase in semi-truck traffic?

The first way is to meet with the developer/tenant and create a plan on when truck traffic is allowed and when it is not. To the best of their ability, the municipality should consult with residents to satisfy their concerns.

If there is an increase in truck traffic it is probably due to industrial or warehouse development. That means municipalities are receiving increased property taxes. Road maintenance should be included in their budgets to cover the additional traffic.

Should county & municipal officials be required to disclose to the public the identity of a business, such as Amazon, that seeks to locate in the county?

The real question is do businesses have the same rights as an individual when they purchase property. If an individual buys a residential home the ownership is not disclosed until the property’s sale is recorded. In many real estate transactions, it is imperative that the identity of the purchaser is kept confidential so that another party does not enter and drive the price up.

While it might not be popular to say, it is up to the developer or tenant to disclosure who they are. In today’s world, most major businesses rent their space, or they build and sell to a management company. This adds another layer to the disclosure issue. That said, it is the responsibility of the local government to zone property for the proper use with minimal disruption to other property owners.

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

If used properly, it is a fantastic tool for the public. In a perfect world a FOIA would not be needed because government should be transparent. The government’s definition of transparency is certainly different than mine. Too many times information is withheld through loopholes in the law. Just recently, the County refused to comply with several FOIA requests for questionable reasons. There should be very few reasons why the public does not have access to information. Government is considered a public entity for a reason.

Please state your plan to maintain government transparency.

Communication is the key, and it needs to include employees, department heads, board members and residents. I feel strongly that people can handle and deal with the truth.

How communication is delivered has become a major issue. In the past, the local newspaper or television news had been the way residents were informed. That has been replaced with social media and various forms of electronic means. This leads to slanted news becoming the norm.

Most County business is done through various committee meetings and full board meetings. Who has time to watch and listen to hours of meetings each week? My plan would be to post everything on a dedicated County website in a clear and concise manner. The old story that people are not interested unless it directly affects them is very true of local government. It is also true that local government decisions have the largest effect on your life. It is the resident’s responsibility to be informed on what is being proposed before the Board votes. Since County meetings are held during the day, I would like to see a town hall meeting held once a month in the evening. The public would have the opportunity for their questions to be answered during the meeting. It is very frustrating to attend a meeting, speak during public comment time and not receive a response from any Board member. How do you get an answer to a question presented to the County Board? Every board treats it as their business meeting and while the public is invited, the board does not engage and answer questions.

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

No, except as said earlier, for real estate transactions.

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

Against. How can you be transparent if you sign a non-disclosure agreement?

How can the county best support municipalities that are seeking to promote restaurants, nightlife, tourism (St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia)?

Work with the Chambers of Commerce to help develop a message that will highlight the three cities as a regional draw for fantastic restaurants, shopping, nightlife and overnight get-a-ways. Financially the municipalities are responsible for promoting their own areas.

How long should the county support the Kane Vax Center in Batavia?

The vaccine is now available at a variety of drugstores and retailers at no cost. It is time for the Vax Center in Batavia to close. The center’s goal was to provide vaccine to has many people as possible. I believe that need has been met. I live next to the Center, and it is rarely open and is not being used by many residents.

If there is a new surge, I would consider reopening the Vax Center.

The County Board used more of the revenue it received from the American Rescue Plan to fund mental health services than it gave to social safety net services such as homeless shelters and food pantries. How can the county make funding for nonprofits impacted by the pandemic more equitable?

I sat at a committee meeting where all the members believed the top two priorities were to fill any shortcomings in the County budget and to take care of County employees. I disagree. I am not sure if anyone understands all aspects of the plan, but I do not think the County should keep the vast majority of the $101 million it received. The second payment is expected in May and to my knowledge, there is not a firm plan on how to spend the money.

Let us be honest, everyone was negatively affected by the pandemic. Non-profits and other social services were especially hit hard. My thought is that the County should invite all eligible entities to present their pre-pandemic revenues and expenses and create a pool of funds to support their shortfall. A percentage should be set by the County and each eligible and approved entity should receive the same percentage of their shortfall from the American Rescue Plan. For example, if a food pantry had a loss of revenue of $40,000 and the County index was 50%, the food pantry would receive $20,000 (50% of $40,000.) This would be an equitable way of helping rescue the non-profits.

Do you support giving a larger chunk of the $103 million in funding the county received to social services?

Yes. For the reason outlined in the previous question.

Do you agree with the county paying the college tuition of a public employee? Please explain.

Yes, if the class is related to their current job and the tuition reimbursement program is followed. I do not agree with paying $58,000 in tuition for a single employee and not knowing what classes were taken, if a degree was attained or how the classes related to the current job. As unbelievable as this sounds, this occurred recently. No one has answered the question of why this was done. It certainly was not allowed under the reimbursement plan in place at the time and charging this amount to training is ridiculous. If this was not misuse of public funds it was questionable to the point where a public hearing should have been conducted. Then, if appropriate, discipline up to and including termination should have happened.