What is the key to luring more jobs to DuPage County?
It was one of the questions Republicans seeking a position on DuPage County Board District 5 fielded at Wednesday evening.
All seven Republican candidates were in attendance: Richard Furstenau, Patricia Gustin, James Healy, Tonia Khouri, Paul Santucci, John Zediker, and Ed Young.
The Republican candidate forum was sponsored by the . Lisle Chamber President and CEO Tom Althoff said Democratic candidate Tony Michelassi was not invited to the forum because he is running uncontested in the primary.
District 5 includes portions of Aurora, Lisle, Naperville, and Warrenville. The primary is March 20.
Candidates also discussed economic devopment, how they would choose to consolidate layers of government, and their thoughts on compensation for the position.
There was a consensus among most of the candidates that a county-controlled effort to draw business as a region, and not town by town, was the surest way to continue economic development.
Many of the candidates, particularly County Board incumbents Healy and Zediker, touted the successes of Choose DuPage in attracting corporations to the area, including Navistar and SunCoke, which are both in Lisle.
“It’s an entity that works with partners in all villages across DuPage to bring jobs and corporations to DuPage," Healy explained.
Zediker said DuPage County funds approximately $500,000, or half, of the group’s annual budget. The other portion is donated by the private sector. He said this gives the County Board has ‘some oversight’ over the group, including appointing the director of the Choose DuPage’s board. Choose DuPage board members pay to serve in that position, he said.
Tonia Khouri, who runs her own business, said she supports the collaboration between public and private sector, and believes that partnership is essential for successful development.
Furstenau, a former councilman, commended Choose DuPage’s efforts, but said those efforts are still in competition with similar groups in individual towns. He’d like to see the efforts streamlined.
Lisle trustee Ed Young said he’d like to see tighter County control over Choose DuPage, and draw in the cooperation of educational institutions, municipalities, and labor sources in each community.
“My concern of Choose DuPage is it’s not going to have enough moneys to do the jobs it’s going to do,” said Young.
Santucci, who said he brings experience in both the private sector and with municipalities, added he’d like to see more efforts focused toward the small business owner, such as job fairs.
Gustin, who has served as a planning and zoning commissioner in both Lisle and Naperville, agreed that there should be a focus on corporations and small business.
“Small businesses are still struggling, and we need to reach out.”
In addition to conducting focused efforts for economic growth, candidates offered their suggestions for making the County attractive to potential businesses.
Healy supported increased attention to the county’s transportation network. “Without a good, dependable support network where we’re able to move people and goods, we will not be able to sell ourselves as an economic giant.”
Zediker and Healy both emphasized the need for the County to present itself as a low tax, pro-business environment. Young feels it is important to present a stable environment to business owners.
The candidates agreed for a need to streamline government, and find ways for municipalities to work together.
Other Questions Asked of Candidates:
Oftentimes relationships are strained, even uncertain, between municipalities. What would you do to improve relationships what would bridge that gap?
Khouri: “Communication is key in anything. In business, we always look for win-win situations because that is what is successful so municipalities need to communicate, work together.” Openness, not competition, is better for the county.
Zediker: He said he would work to create relationships among officials and constituents that are “necessary for economic development.” Sometimes, he said, “It means discussing the undiscussable.”
Young: He said he would encourage members of all municipalities to open communications with each other.
Furstenau: “Those are nice platituedes… it’s not all that simple. You can talk about cooperation and getting along, but if you’re going to have a spear point development in DuPage County, there’s going to be a lot of questions asked by the folks at these different locations, these different communities. They’re going to quite frankly have some issues with how the money’s spent, where it’s coming from, where it’s going to.”
Healy: Important to continue communications. Said Choose DuPage is doing well because municipalities are supporting it.
Gustin: “In this economy, we need to build bridges with other communities.” Already has established connections with Naperville and Lisle business communities.
Santucci: “We need to promote cooperation like Choose Dupage is doing.”
What is your financial background? What is your civic experience?
Zediker: Seventeen years public and private sector experience. He said he has overseen a $10 million budget as director of transportation, engineering, and development. Serves as COO of Ruettiger, Tonelli & Associates, Inc. He has served DeKalb County, and a number of community organizations.
Khouri: Said she’s built her business from the ground up eight years ago, and currently controls a $6 million budget with more than 100 employees. She is active in parent groups at , the Naperville Rotary, Naperville Women’s Club, , and other organizations.
Santucci: Experience running various small businesses, and works in real estate. He attained a master’s degree in recreation administration and has worked in various park districts throughout the county.
Healy: Partner in law firm with a staff of 75. He said he has always served on finance committees, and helped .
Young: Certified CPA. He is a member of the in addition to his position on the Lisle board of trustees. He was also a founding member of CRADL.
Gustin: Gustin is the owner of her own real estate business, and has experience working in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the criminal division. She served on the planning and zoning commissions in Lisle and Naperville, in addition to her positions on several community boards.
Furstenau: Has owned his own businesses since 1981, and currently rents apartment and condo properties. He also runs a construction business, Furst Homes, with his son.
Would you support the consolidation of many layers of government to save money? If so, which ones would you propose specifically?
Healy: Supports consolidation of government. He said small organizations, like lighting and mosquito districts, are often difficult to attract committee members, and could be shifted to other areas of government.
Young: Supports consolidation give that “services are allocated to the appropriate level of government.” Suggested County resources which could also be utilized by municipalities, such as bookkeeping software.
Furstenau: “I would be more than happy to help be part of streamlining government. It’s one reason quite frankly I’m running for this office.”
Gustin: Believes consolidation is positive, calling to the recent merge of the DuPage and Kane county juvenile detention facilities. “We need to have those discussions, we need to talk about it because there is a way to streamline.”
Zediker: Supports an overall decrease in the size of government. “When we go towards a push for consolidation, we need to decide where services are best delivered.”
Khouri: Supports shared services, and said a cost-benefit analysis is how she got her own business through the recession.
Santucci: There are too many layers, and too much overlap. “We need someone with courage to fight the political fights. It’s going to be a fight to get some of these agencies to give up some of their power and control.”
How do you feel about the pay for county board officials?
Furstenau: “I think the pay is about right. I think the thing about pensions is not correct. I don’t think you need additional benefits for that pay. To say this is a part-time job is not correct. It’s a big time job.”
Khouri: “If a member shows up to meetings and contributed and does the job they’re elected to do… I believe the pay is fair.”
Santucci: Did not support pensions for County Board members, and said he would work to remove that privilege.
Young: While he acknowledged elected officials often put in more time than is minimally required, “providing pensions for part-time employees here to serve is inappropriate.”
Healy: Mentioned he receives docked benefits at his law practice when ins’t putting in enough hours. Said the current Board removed stipends, like mileage, during his term. “I believe the salary is commensurate for the amount of work necessary, and the amount of intelligence and experience necessary to hold the job.”
Zediker: Agreed the pay was commensurate, and said he voted to reduce pension for County Board members. He said he, like Healy, has a full-time job that bills by the hour. “I make less money because of my job on the board… but ti’s about public service and I don’t mind it.”
Do you feel the Forest Preserve District [board] is a fairly paid for part-time job?
Young: Said Forest Preserve representatives put in less time than County Board members. He believes Forest Preserve positions are paid an excessive amount for the work they complete.
Healy: Served as a Forest Preserve commissioner. “I don’t know how they’ve restructured themselves [since],” he said. “You’d have to look at the hours they’re putting in and make a determination from there.”
Zediker: “It’s difficult to say without waking first in their shoes.”
Khouri: Khouri deferred her response, saying she would need more information to make a decision.
Santucci: While the Forest Preserve works with a smaller budget, they also work with a smaller board. “It’s ahrd to say whether they’re doing more work or not.”
Furstenau: Said he didn’t know exactly how much work Forest Preserve board members put in, but he did support a system where attendance was a factor in compensation.
Gustin: “If someone is running for the salary, don’t vote them in.”
Do you support home rule for county government?
Santucci: No. “Home rule would be too much of a matter of trust.”
Young: No. “Home rule would give counties additional taxing authority without going ot the residents.”
Furstenau: No. “To give [the County] an out… I just don’t feel that’s the right thing to do. We’re taking enough money as it is. We need to live within the budget…,” he said.
Zediker: No. “Home rule essentially gives too much power into the hands of the elected officials.”
Healy: “Hell no.” He did not support a previous attempt to allow the County home rule power. “The idea is repugnant to me.”
Do you think an elected official should take any legal action against their community?
Gustin: It’s a difficult question because different variables come into play with lawsuits. She encouraged action if an individual feels his or her civil rights are violated, but agreed that mediation would be a ….
Furstenau: Supports action in the event of a civil rights violation. “When you become an elected official, you don’t check your rights at the door.”
Healy: “There are too many variables in a question like that,” he said. However, he added elected officials are “absolutely required under oath of office to actually go to either sue yourself or bring it to the authorities.”
Young: Young, who was involved in a suit against the Village of Lisle, said everybody has an obligation to do what’s best for the community.
Khouri: “Yes. There are two sides to every story…. What people want to do after a lawsuit is up to them.”
Santucci: While he supported an elected official’s ability to take legal action, he encouraged arbitration as a first measure. “I think any official who chooses to go that route just has to pay the price of backlash from citizens.”
Zediker: “Suing the very people you might represent presents an opportunity for conflict,” he said. He supports the protection of civil rights given that elected officials acknowledge potential conflicts of interest.
What are your political aspirations beyond a term on the DuPage County board?
Healy: Healy said he made a decision roughly five years ago not to run for another office. “It really frees up your tongue and your ability to address things in a much more forthright and direct manner,” he said. “You don’t have to do those extra things, those niceties. You can be very direct and say exactly where you think the County is going wrong.”
Gustin: Has not contemplated advancing further at this time. “My process is to serve our community, which is what I’ve been doing for years, but in a different capacity.”
Young: He said he would be open to serving up to two terms on the County Board, but no aspirations beyond that position.
Zediker: While he said he supports what state legislators are doing, he has a young family and believes he can best serve the County Board.
Santucci: While he said he would like to serve DuPage County specifically, he would not ignore any future suggestions to run for a downstate office, if his constituents thought he would be an asset.
Khouri: She believes people should serve in the position they would make the “biggest, most positive impact,” and feels the County Board is where she can do so.
Furstenau: He has “no aspirations of going anywhere else.” He said if he felt progress was being made in his first term, he would consider running for a second.
What is your position on term limits?
Gustin: “Term limits are interesting because voters have the right to vote,” she said. “If a voter doesn’t like the job which an elected official is doing, they can vote that elected officla out.”
Young: Would support. “. I think that we keep on doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same results and scratch our head and ask, ‘Why is that?’ It’s because we keep electing the same people,” he said, particularly at the Congressional level.
Santucci: Believes incumbents are at an advantage due to name recognition and record. While he supported term limits at a state level, he said he wasn’t sure if there would be an advantage to County Board term limits.
Khouri: Would support. “The amount or length, is the question,” she said, adding, “I believe we should only be there as long as we’re making the best positive impact.”
Furstenau: Furstenau described Naperville residents’ decision to impose term limits on their City Council. “I never thought that I needed to stop doing thie work, because I love the work…. I’m not in favor of term limits, but the thing that limits you is what keeps you wanting to do this [job] year after year.”
Healy: believes citizens should make the decision whether their elected officials should impose term limits. He said it should not be a County Board decision.
Zediker: He supported term limits, particularly at a leadership level.
What do you feel are the top two pressing issues in county government?
Young: In addition to a stronger County hold on promoting economic development, Young also said allocation of scare resources is a priority. “We’re looking through difficult economic times, it should be getting tigehter for governments as well.”
Zediker: Focusing on keeping a tight budget and promoting economic development.
Furstenau: Furstenau said he helped lead the Naperville city government through the recession without voting to raise income tax. “The County’s got the same kind of problem coming up. It’s need to have and want to have. Do you really need it? That’s what’s got to be decided.” He also supported streamlining government.
Gustin: Keeping the budget in line by merging services, and building bridges between community entities that can share services.
Khouri: Consolidation and streamlining of government, and adapting to the growing diversity of DuPage residents.
Santucci: Santucci said he believes low taxes and an efficient budget go in tandem. He also said he’d audit for corruption the departments that fall under the umbrella of the county.
Healy: echoed his support of a low tax base and economic development, which includes proper transportation infrastructure. He said he wants to look for “ways to move traffic without increasing the amount of concrete that’s out there.”