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BATAVIA – The two candidates for chairman of the Kane County Board engaged in a sparring match during an election forum on Thursday.
Democrat Corinne Pierog of Batavia and Republican Dave Rickert of Elgin are seeking to replace Chris Lauzen as the county’s top administrator in the Nov. 3 election.
The event was sponsored by the Batavia Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters of Central Kane County.
The candidates answered questions posed by Barb Laimins of the DuPage League in a mostly empty Batavia City Council chambers. The forum was live streamed on Batavia Access Television.
Rickert, the Kane County Treasurer for the past 21 years, presented himself as the virtual incumbent chairman, while Pierog played the role of challenger to the system and an agent of change.
Pierog is a former member of the St. Charles School Board and continues to serve on the St. Charles Housing Commission. She has a consulting firm designed to serve not-for-profit organizations and emphasized board management skills.
Rickert, a certified public accountant, touted his experience as treasurer and particularly emphasized his work with the county board as well as efforts to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, including service on county task forces designed to hand out $93 million in federal COVID grant money.
“The first task force that he served on was disbanded by the county board and called to task by the state’s attorney because that task force broke the Open Meetings Act for having a secret meeting behind closed doors,” Pierog said. “They wasted three months by having a closed-door meeting.”
Rickert never rose to the bait.
Instead he painted a picture of a smoothly operating county government with a AA+ bond rating and fully funded pensions, but now facing the existential threat presented by the pandemic.
“The county faces a $14.1 million budget deficit,” said Rickert, arguing that his experience as treasurer makes him uniquely qualified to deal with the financial challenge.
Pierog said the county is facing an 18% percent budget cut.
“Kane County has been adverse to looking at other opportunities besides taxes to increase its revenue base,” Pierog said, such as marijuana grow centers.
“We can see that Kane County is cut to the bone right now and has nowhere else to go. Will budget cuts happen? They have to,” Pierog said.
The Kane County Health Department is understaffed and lacks basic resources to do its job, Pierog said.
Pierog said county employees, particularly prosecutors in the State’s Attorney’s office, are grossly underpaid.
Rickert was quick to point out that budgeting is the responsibility of the County Board and that the elected State’s Attorney is responsible for his own staff.
“My priority will be getting the politics out of the Kane County budget,” Pierog said. “For far too long, politics has been used as a weapon to guide the budget, which has led to a budget of austerity.”
The solution is to hire a county manager, Pierog said, applying professional standards to the budgeting process and eliminating political pressures.
Rickert ignored Pierog’s plan to hire a county manager and instead focused on his own financial expertise.
“An overriding issue is the budget. We have to efficiently use the resources we have,” Rickert said. “You need the experience, the leadership and the ability to accomplish that mission. We can’t wait for tomorrow for training or somebody to learn on the job. We need someone who can step in on day one and deal with the global pandemic.
We need someone we knows the budget and somebody that knows all the elected officials and can work with people,” Rickert said.
Pierog said the chairman should act as advocate for the community. “The chair goes out to the community to bring back needs and desires to the board,” Pierog said. “Kane County has done a poor job of reaching out to diverse communities.”