Pictured here at the Elmhurst League of Voters Can-didate’s Forum are the Candidates for County Board in District #1 (from left) Zahra Suratwala (D), Sam Tornatore (R), Ashley J. Selmon (D) and Dino Gavanes (R). Voters can select two. Tornatore and Gavanes are incumbents.

By Dee Longfellow

For The Independent

 

The League of Women Voters posed five questions to the candidates for County Board in Districts #1 and #2. The Independent presents the replies to three of those questions. Some replies have been edited for length.

 

Q-1. According to Forbes Magazine (7/25/17 issue), DuPage County had more than 200 employees earning in excess of $100,000 annually. One top staffer reportedly makes an annual salary of $201,750. Do you have a plan to reduce personnel costs?

 

Ashley Selmon (D) replied:

“I support a 10-year salary freeze for County Board members – DuPage County Board members are the highest compensated in the state for part time work. A pay freeze would allow for these positions to continue being paid, which is important to ensuring that anyone can serve regardless of personal finances, while allowing the excessive salaries to normalize over time.

“I support eliminating health care benefits for part-time elected officials. Many board members [hold] jobs, or own their own companies. Taxpayers should not pay for health care for officials, who have other alternative ways to obtain care through their private employment.”

 

Zahra Suratwala (D) replied:

“DuPage County Board members are paid almost twice the salary of other Counties and just voted to give themselves a raise — we need to institute a 10-year salary freeze.

“We need to stop providing benefits to Board members without a demonstrated need. If they have careers or businesses from which they already derive benefits, this is a waste of taxpayer money.

“DuPage County outsources its lobbying to outside firms at a cost of $282,000 in 2018 alone, which should be reduced or discontinued. Other counties spend zero on lobbying because they do it themselves.

“Several DuPage officials receive a car allowance of $450 per month, which needs to stop immediately.”

 

Sam Tornatore (R) replied:

“County personnel costs are market driven. A substantial number of the jobs indicated are public safety jobs and professionals, such as engineers, IT specialists, etc. I have always subscribed to the belief that we should hire the best and brightest to protect and serve the County taxpayer. Additionally, many of the employees earning these salaries are union employees wherein the County is bound by collective bargaining agreements.

“The highest paid salary is our County Administrator, whose salary is less than similar posts in adjacent counties and certainly less than some Village administrators and school district administrators.”

 

Dino Gavanes (R) did not reply to the League of Women Voters questions.

 

Q-2. County activities are often opaque to the average citizen and most do not even know what district they are in. What is your vision for better communication to show more accountability and transparency to your constituents?

 

Ashley Selmon (D) replied:

“Transparency in board practices and decision making and access to local officials are currently lacking. Meetings are held during the workday on Tuesdays, when many District 1 residents cannot attend. Decisions about spending taxpayer funds are made with little public oversight, with little explanation offered. I will fight for easily accessible publication of recordings of committee meetings and adjusted meeting schedules so more can attend.

“Furthermore, I will solicit the advice of residents and explain my votes. I admire the example of Liz Chaplin, who often posts topics and helpful information on her website. I will attend community events and will meet with constituents year round, not just during election years.”

 

Zahra Suratwala (D) replied:

“DuPage residents need direct access to their elected officials. From the middle-of-the-workday timing of the meetings (10 a.m. on Tuesdays) to the way decisions are made with little input from residents, the system is currently exclusive, rather than inclusive.

“I plan to follow Liz Chaplin’s example of posting an account of every Board meeting on my website, so that residents can learn what goes on in meetings and what decisions are being made. My constituents will know how to reach me and will be confident of receiving a reply. Events will be attended year round, not only during an election cycle. I am easily reached online and reply back in a timely fashion.”

 

Sam Tornatore (R) replied:

“The fact that members of the general public do not know their CB District may be an indication that we are doing our job. People in general only come out when they have a complaint or to speak on a sensitive issue. The County Board meetings are open to the public, streamed live and always provide for public comment. I also spend many evenings and hours with seniors, Rotary clubs, Chambers of Commerce and attend Board meetings of the seven Villages and Cities in my district. I will continue to be available to the residents in my District.”

 

Q-3. As part of the strategic plan the county must foster the continued growth of its economy. Ensure DuPage County residents have competitive job skills. Foster economic growth and development. Champion DuPage County as a desirable place in which to live and work. What are your suggestions for fulfilling this plan?

 

Ashley Selmon (D) replied:

“Working with towns to draw green jobs and tech-friendly industries, like data storage facilities, will grow our tax base while expanding job opportunities. In District 1, development related to the O’Hare expansion can be a significant source of revenue; the County Board must be a leader in this project to ensure that economic benefits are felt in DuPage County, not just Cook. To support local businesses, the Board should end no-bid contracts and open up the contract bid process. Bringing new businesses to DuPage and encouraging growth of businesses should remain a top priority.”

 

Zahra Suratwala (D) replied:

“Economic growth can be accomplished through green jobs, especially solar energy. Most consumers would like to reduce their carbon footprint, and the County can present options, encourage businesses to bring green solutions to the consumer, and generate jobs in the process.

“We need to end no-bid contracts for County projects to stimulate and encourage companies to bid so they have a chance to thrive. Infrastructure projects can provide jobs as well as promote safety, convenience, and interconnectedness.

“DuPage County is already a desirable place to live and to work, but with some new leadership and fresh perspective, we can reach our unmet potential.”

 

Sam Tornatore (R) replied:

“The County has developed work net DuPage and the DuPage initiative, whereby start-up companies and new entrepreneurs can learn business skills from seasoned professionals, through business incubators and with an agreement with College of DuPage.

“Our cooperation with the business community and Choose DuPage has resulted in more new growth, the lowest unemployment rate in the state and a AAA Bond rating, causing lower interest rates on bonds.

All of this, with a balanced budget and flat tax levy for the past ten years, continues to make DuPage County a great place for business.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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