Lauzen, Klinkhamer differ on taxes, administrator, for Kane chairman
By Matt Hanley firstname.lastname@example.org October 23, 2012 3:00PM
Debate between Chris Lauzen and Sue Klinkhamer, two candidates for Kane County Board Chairman in St Charles on Thursday, Oct. 04, 2012. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
Hometown: St. Charles
Previous elected office: Former mayor of St. Charles
Previous elected office: State senator since 1992
Updated: November 27, 2012 10:27AM
The Kane County Board chairman rarely votes on issues and can’t approve a budget.
And although more than 500,000 people live in Kane County, most live in a city that takes care their streets, their police and their garbage. In fact, on a typical tax bill, county government represents about 5 percent of the total.
For most residents, their only interaction with the county is on property assessments, visits to the forest preserve and Election Day.
But for decades, the chairman of the Kane County Board has been an influential party leader and significant political voice. Even without a vote on the board, he or she can influence hiring of more than 1,000 employees, has input on the day-to-day business of the county, and sets the public agenda for spending the county’s $250 million budget.
So when Karen McConnaughay announced she was stepping down as County Board chairman to run for the state Senate, it was no surprise several experienced candidates stepped forward. After two heated primaries, Republican state Sen. Chris Lauzen of Aurora and Democrat Sue Klinkhamer, a former St. Charles mayor, have emphasized the differences in their visions for the structure and cost of county government.
Lauzen, a lifelong Aurora resident, has been the state senator in the 25th District since 1992. When the tax accountant was in Springfield, he was known for his unwavering adherence to his core beliefs. He admits it was also sometimes a weakness that cost him politically.
Lauzen says he’s ready to move from instigator to administrator, and his campaign has constantly critiqued McConnaughay’s tenure.
“The new normal (if he wins) will be: You don’t have to satisfy the political machine. You just have to be the most qualified bidder at the lowest price,” Lauzen said. “I think the county needs improvement. I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think the county needed improvement and I could help.”
Klinkhamer was mayor of St. Charles from 1997 through 2005. She then worked with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley as the city’s liaison to Washington, D.C. From there, she worked as the district director for former U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, until he lost a re-election bid. Since then, she’s been enjoying her life as a grandmother and candidate.
“I look at it as a job I’m qualified for. I miss being part of a team,” she said. “I always think of people working with me rather than for me. I manage by mentoring, where I think he (Lauzen) manages by intimidation.”
The candidates have clashed on the county’s tax rate and whether to hire a county administrator.
Lauzen promises to freeze the county’s tax levy, which he says unfairly outpaced the county’s growth and cost-of-living increases.
“It makes no sense to me that our property values are going down but our taxes are going up,” he said. “We’re being taxed out of our homes.”
Lauzen has not targeted any specific items in the county budget that he would trim but pledged to see what best practices are working in other counties. Lauzen said he would look for overlapping taxing districts that could be eliminated or township work that could be more efficiently handled by the county.
However, Lauzen has also promised to lift the pay freeze in the state’s attorney’s office, where several experienced prosecutors have left for smaller counties offering higher salaries.
“People will be treated fairly — both the public employees and the taxpayers,” he said.
Klinkhamer says she’ll be a careful steward of public money, but she says the property tax freeze is an unrealistic political gimmick that could hamstring the county in an emergency or limit vital services, without much savings to taxpayers.
“All tax freezes come with a price,” she said. “Why do you want to box yourself in?”
The candidates also have significant differences on their plans for hiring a county administrator: Lauzen opposes it, and Klinkhamer is in favor.
St. Charles had an administrator when she was mayor, and she feels it kept politics out of municipal decisions. Klinkhamer said a non-political administrator would eliminate some of the fights with county officials that have plagued Kane in recent years and cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“If you don’t have an administrator, then all you have is a political machine,” she said. “The professional staff does not look at things in a political way. They look at things factually.”
Klinkhamer said she would work to cut the County Board from 24 to 18 members and reduce the chairman’s salary by $25,000 to pay for the new position.
“An administrator is competent, and I respect that,” Lauzen countered. “But I want that work. I don’t want to delegate that to another high paid, unelected (administrator).”
Lauzen feels his experience running an accounting firm gives him the necessary background to run the county’s administrative arm.
“I totally disagree with her on that,” he said. “I’m actually trying to do a little less on the ceremonial side and a whole lot more on the administrative side.”
The candidates have run vastly different campaigns for a job that paid $101,765 in 2011.
Lauzen has his usual well-organized race, backing a slate of candidates for countywide positions.
He has pledged repeatedly to drain the county of cronyism and promised not to take contributions from anyone doing significant business with the county. He has raised more than $50,000 for the race, accepting donations from dozens of loyal community members, but also from larger corporations such as Caesar’s Casino in Las Vegas, Wal-Mart and the Union Pacific Railroad.
Lauzen said it was “ludicrous” to think that anyone who donated to his campaign could expect favors from his administration.
“I’m kind of the Goldilocks candidate of this race: not too hot, not too cold. I’m looking for just right,” he said. “I’m trying to be in that middle. It does cost money to run campaigns.”
While not naming Lauzen specifically, Klinkhamer said the rush to raise donations is eroding the political system. Klinkhamer called her primary campaign — where she raised no money — a political experiment. Voters say they hate negative ads, campaign signs and robocalls, and she wanted to find out whether that’s really true. She initially hedged her bets on running the same campaign in a general election and, after a decisive primary win, she decided to double down.
Klinkhamer says she has turned down all campaign donations she’s been offered, asking potential donors to instead give the money to one of the Kane County social service agencies that have been cut. Her total campaign memorabilia consists of 10 magnets on the cars of a few family and friends.
Lauzen said this non-campaign is another example of Klinkhamer running for a position she doesn’t really want. He has been critical of a candidate who wants to hire an administrator and doesn’t want to campaign.
Klinkhamer bristles at the idea that fundraising and desire are equivalent. She points out that she’s attended all the candidate forums and made specific proposals about county issues. People say they want less money in political campaigns and she’s offering them that alternative.
“All you’ve got to do is vote,” she said. “I’m qualified for the job. I can do it. I want the job.”