This is the latest in a series of articles outlining competitive races in McHenry County ahead of the Nov. 8 general election. Check out nwherald.com/election in the weeks to come for more election coverage.
While crime in McHenry County has been stable over the past decade, both Republicans running for the McHenry County Board in the district that includes parts of Crystal Lake, Algonquin and Lake in the Hills say they have their concerns.
Three candidates are vying for two spots in the race for the McHenry County Board’s third district, a narrow region that stretches from Ballard Road in the north to the Kane County border in the south. Two of those candidates – Bob Nowak, R-Algonquin, and Carolyn Campbell, D-Crystal Lake, currently are on the board. The third, Eric Hendricks, is an attorney running as a Republican.
As part of the county’s decennial redistricting process, the board’s 24 members across six district were reduced to 18 members across nine districts.
If Hendricks finds himself among the 18 candidates chosen in November, he said wants to work closely with law enforcement, calling it one of his biggest focuses. He thinks it has become “trendy” to criticize police, but said their job is tough and the state of Illinois has made it tougher over the years.
“It’s really a shame,” he said. “They have a really rough job.”
He raised concerns associated with people coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw many stuck in their homes for weeks and months on end. The ramifications of that is something he thinks could lead to problems down the line if officials aren’t proactive.
Nowak said safety at McHenry County is at a good level and considers the county a good place to raise a family. Going forward, though, he said he’s worried about sex trafficking in the area.
He supported the creation of a new branch in the sheriff’s office focused on human trafficking. He said the idea of that problem in McHenry County “scares me” and he supports training law enforcement and focusing on it.
“I think it’s essential that we be aware and alert to that,” he said.
Campbell said she doesn’t see crime as a huge problem in the county and said it’s been falling in recent years. Still, if residents experience crime personally, those incidences need to be addressed, she said.
Crime rates have stayed at a steady level in McHenry County for about the past decade, according to data from the FBI. Since 2010, property crimes locally have declined by more than 70% in the past decade, while violent crimes have stayed relatively the same.
“If somebody has been the victim of a crime, then crime’s a problem for that person,” Campbell said. “We have to address it where it occurs.”
With the size of the McHenry County Board shrinking, Nowak said it may need to rethink how it structures its committees.
Nowak, who had liked the 24-member size, suggested just cutting the committees completely and instead having just the Committee of the Whole. The County Board currently has committee of the whole meetings, but items discussed there are fed through its committees first.
“To have representation across the county [on each committee], it would take nine members,” he said.
To make the process more transparent, Nowak suggested making staff meetings available to the public in the same way the county board meetings are, saying it could be “valuable.”
Campbell proposed recording meetings of commissions, such as the ethics commission or community development housing grant commission. Different from a committee, which is a sub-group made of County Board members, a commission is created by the board for a specific topic and is made up of residents who are appointed.
While some commission meetings are already recorded, such as the ethics commission, others are not.
Campbell also would like to see presentations given to the County Board shown on video. Oftentimes, recordings of meetings do not show the visual presentation, just the person speaking.
Oftentimes members will vote against items without commenting on them, Campbell said. She’d like to see more explanation given by those voting against something.
Hendricks said in past years he’s been a critic, but thinks the county has made strides in its transparency. He thinks improvements could still be made with the county website, which he described as a “labyrinth.”
Social media is something Hendricks would like to see used more as well, with alerts for events or meetings.
“If I am elected to the County Board, I plan on saying what’s happening and how I’ll be voting and an explanation of why I voted that way,” he said.
Developing the area around the Interstate 90 and Route 23 interchange south of Marengo is another priority Nowak wants to emphasize. He said enhancing it with things like electric charging stations is important.
“I think a lot of focus has to be put on that,” he said.
The memory care wing Valley Hi was also among his priorities.
For Campbell, in conjunction with economic growth, it’s important to her to be protecting the county’s natural resources, particularly to help those who own farmland, she said. This includes things like green infrastructure, particularly improvements that help replenish and reserve the county’s groundwater.
Campbell also wants to provide resources for mental health, she said.
With an emphasis on supporting law enforcement and not raising property taxes, Hendricks said he would also like to see broadband upgraded on the western side of the county.
On the board itself, Hendricks said he thinks attending board meetings in-person should be more emphasized.
“You’re a public servant, and McHenry County residents are paying you to be their representative,” he said.