Letter from Lin Warfel, Tolono
Past President CCFB
County Executive Yes
Within every area of concentration of education and business, there are individuals, male and female, who rise to the top of the top leaders. They are individuals who have exceptional intelligence, focus, passion and compassion. They give stature and standing to the labels they wear: the PhD’s who stand out. They are executives who lead companies in exceptional ways, not just in money, but in contributions to mankind.
One of the writers in the Sunday News-Gazette comes to mind: Debra Busey served Champaign County quietly, but with extraordinary skill. In effect, she has been a Ph.D. in working with county government. She and people like her need to be sought out and listened to carefully.
Debra put forth the three choices we have on two voting opportunities that are on our ballot Tuesday. County leadership is the question.
I studied leadership under then president of Parkland College Dr. Zelema Harris. She gained recognition as one of the top community college presidents in America, awarded again and again for her leadership. Through studying her leadership style, I settled on three areas of focus: fiduciary, structure (people and buildings), and creativity. A quick review of our county government in those areas is a good starting point to reflect upon prior to voting.
How has Champaign County done with fiduciary issues? On legal issues, the board has had solid legal advice in the areas they deal with monthly and yearly. I believe the board deserves a passing grade on legal. The other major area of fiduciary is financial. Again, the board has worked hard to manage income and expenses, allocating available funds between many choices that serve us. Property taxes and state funding are major portions of income for the county. Property taxes fit the economic system over a hundred years ago when our state was finding its way to provide for our law enforcement and court system. My great grandfather could stand in the dirt road in front of our farm, and pretty well see wealth in land and buildings. Our economy has undergone considerable changes, to the extent that property is no long the leading indicator of wealth in terms of financial standings, yet we hang on to property taxes as a major source of funding. Continued massaging of our property tax system is not working well in today's world. A rebalancing is long overdue. Shifting priorities of state government are creating a broken system of funding our state government, and that has led to less and less dollars for highways, education, and local units of government.
Creativity and innovation are sorely lacking in managing the changes.
On structure, county buildings are in serious need of repairs. A visit to the buildings in question on the referendum shows dire needs. Do we revert to even higher property taxes, or is some other method of funding more appropriate for today's wealth? The sales tax offers a different, more dynamic method, and it is on the ballot. It's worthy of serious consideration. Property tax or sales tax, the choice is ours.
A structure of government that enables and enhances creativity and innovation does not normally exist. The monthly agenda gets entangled in a plethora of issues, leaving no energy to devote to creative thinking. I think that is a serious problem. Old computer systems, out of date and out of repair buildings do not heal themselves, nor do they lead to time being spent on doing things better and more efficiently, with better service the outcome.
A leading engineering professor at the U of I now teaches a class on creativity and innovation for engineers. There are ways to enable and enhance creativity, and the county board needs to bring folks like him to their table.
There are really three choices to change the structure of our county government. First choice is to do nothing, and continue the current structure that has been mostly ignoring progress on issues like the jail and the nursing home, not to mention economic development (think 'jobs') related to the airport and other transportation methods. Doing nothing I regard as a poor option.
The second choice is to modify the current board structure by making the county board chair elected by the voters, not the county board members. It would retain the county administrator person who tries to be non-partisan and tries to work with board members and committees to do the work of county government. A review of board progress with major issues leaves doubt that much more would be accomplished. Discussion without action is the history and likely to continue.
The third choice is to move to a county wide elected executive who would have expanded authority to study the issues and move to action. He or she would bring ideas into being. I think it's worth a try! After a few years, if it doesn't work, a return to the current system or something else allowable under the law could be done, again with a county wide election. In the process of interviewing persons to replace retiring Debra Busey, individuals surfaced and applied for the job that brought recognition that there are persons trained to be that executive with expanded authority to get things done. They would enable action on things that are needed to be done.
The wealth of education, world envied manufacturing and agriculture, and the capabilities of our county need a different structure in county government. What will it be?
I will vote to try the county wide elected executive structure.