BATAVIA – Budget restraints, funding mental health services, helping the burgeoning senior population and a shared interest in preserving open land were among the topics discussed by the panel of Kane County Board primary candidates at the March 8 forum by the League of Women Voters of Central Kane County, which drew an audience of more than 50.
Taking part as uncontested primary candidates for District 11 were Republican incumbent John Martin of Geneva, a recently retired attorney, and Democratic challenger Jody Kanikula of Batavia, a licensed clinical social worker who brought up the issue of serving an aging population. The district includes portions of Geneva and Batavia.
Facing off were the two Republican candidates in the race for District 13, encompassing portions of St. Charles and Geneva. The candidates are challenger Steve Weber of St. Charles, who served in the military and is vice president of sales and marketing for a large wholesale distribution company, and incumbent Philip Lewis of St. Charles, who managed Monsanto’s Fisher Controls for North America and is now an adjunct professor of engineering management, marketing and sales at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
In the primary race for District 15, which includes Campton Hills and neighboring communities, only the Democratic contender, Lucas Strom, took part. Absent were another Democratic candidate, Gerald Palmere, Republican challenger Austin Lawler and the Republican incumbent, Barbara Wojnicki.
Strom said this marks his first run for office. In addition to owning and operating the family’s farm in an unincorporated area just east of Route 47 near Campton Hills, a homestead that dates to the 19th century, he works in the agricultural technology industry.
“I’m running [because] our district needs more leadership and more business acumen,” Strom said. “I’m a very moderate Democrat that can win the general.”
In her Kane County Chronicle candidate questionnaire, Wojnicki stated she is a founder of Campton Township Open Space and has voted for more than six years to keep the Kane County levy flat.
Weber said this is his first foray into politics, mentioning he supports term limits and holding the line on the Kane County levy.
The first question from the audience asked whether the candidates support the county spending money on crisis intervention team training for law enforcement officers, designed to de-escalate encounters with people with mental health issues.
Martin called it an important tool for public safety.
“Our state’s attorney has been diligent in seeking grants to, in fact, do that,” Martin said. “I’m totally supportive of that activity.”
Strom said he wants to ensure that the sheriff’s office and courts have the necessary money and would like to reinstate funding for electronic monitoring ankle bracelets for defendants.
Weber recommends being proactive through furthering CIT training.
Kanikula said that as a social worker she would like to see more of the training.
“That makes them better police officers [and] makes our society safer,” she said. “I would look for sustainable ways to support more police training.”
Lewis called CIT training part of the tool kit of public safety.
“Twenty-four percent of people incarcerated in our jail have mental issues,” Lewis said.
Because public safety personnel are the first to engage them on the street, Lewis said he wants officers to have the CIT background to recognize the severity of the situation they encounter.
The candidates also responded to a question regarding whether they support funding mental health services in jail.
Strom said yes, noting that mental health issues touch many and the problem affects the wider community.
Weber said if inmates received treatment, the jail population would drop drastically and save the county money.
Kanikula said trauma lies at the root of many dealing with mental health issues.
“I would advocate to really home in on trauma,” Kanikula said.
Lewis would like to see inmates who are diagnosed with mental health issues receive medical treatment so they have assistance when they move back into the community.
“It needs to be recognized as a community issue and not just an issue that involves the sheriff’s office or state’s attorney,” Martin said. “It needs to be looked at in a holistic sense, where we face those issues before it becomes a problem and [someone is] incarcerated.”
Candidates also responded about how they feel regarding health care being offered to County Board members. A follow-up question also was asked about whether they agree to do away with it and Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund pension benefits.
Kanikula said a 2017 state law means new members will not receive a pension.
“I would not agree to take away benefits from those sitting,” she said, noting the health care question is not black and white, but she does not consider it a necessity.
Lewis said he took the offered benefits when he joined the board 11 years ago.
“I don’t think we should be collecting it and I don’t,” Martin said.
Strom said he believes the part-time position of board member does not merit health care coverage.
“It’s still a heavy cost per head on the board,” Strom said. “I’m forgoing it.”
Weber said he is not a fan of those benefits, noting that one option would be to use the saved funds as seed money to fund mental health or senior citizen programs.