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County Board Candidates Tackle Questions on the Environment, Pensions and More at League Forum

Six of the 10 candidates in Districts 1 and 2 came to Community Bank of Elmhurst Wednesday night to share their views.

About a dozen voters braved the rain Wednesday night to learn a little more about DuPage County Board candidates in Districts 1 and 2. Candidates shared their ideas on such things as the environment, flood control, the DuPage Airport Authority and county consolidation—at least as much as their one-minute-per-question time limit would allow.

The forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Elmhurst, also offered an opportunity for a few subtle jabs between candidates.

Only two out of the six candidates running in DuPage District 1, Republicans Paul Fichtner of Elmhurst (incumbent) and Sam Tornatore of Roselle, attended the forum at Community Bank of Elmhurst. Absent were Republican Donald Puchalski of Elmhurst (incumbent) and Democrats Thomas Castillo and Maria DeAngelis-Vesey of Elmhurst, and Rita Gonzalez of Addison (incumbent).

All four of the candidates in the District 2 race attended: Republicans Elaine Zannis of Oak Brook, Elmhurst Mayor Peter DiCianni and Sean Noonan of Elmhurst, and lone Democrat Liz Chaplin of Downers Grove.

Voters will be asked to choose three candidates in each district.

At one point, Chaplin became defensive after DiCianni twice mentioned the importance of having a college degree in running the county's half-billion-dollar budget. He cited his own degree in business management.

"You want people with credibility to make decisions," he said.

Chaplin fired back when answering another question about candidates' attendance at meetings. After sharing her 90 percent attendance record during her eight years on the DuPage Water Commission, she said, "Bill Gates didn't have a (college education). I don't think having a college degree makes you any more qualified than anyone else."

Chaplin also took the opportunity to tout her role as a whistle-blower on the Commission and to take issue with Fichtner's assertion that water rates are high in DuPage because the city of Chicago is "inefficient" and looking to DuPage to repair its own water system.

"We're paying for (Chicago's) inefficiencies," Fichtner said. "They're coming after their biggest customer."

Chaplin acknowledged Chicago is raising the rates, but she said that is not the only reason rates are going up in DuPage. "The DuPage Water Commission misspent $80 million," she said.

Fichtner said the money was not misspent, but "mis-rebated to municipalities in excess of what it should have been."

It was a misuse of sales tax dollars, Chaplin insisted.

"(The commission was) purchasing water for $1.33 and selling it for $1.25 and using sales tax to subsidize that. I called them out on the fiscal mismanagement that was going on," she said.

On the Environment

When it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, candidates largely agreed on issues such as potentially replacing vehicles with hybrids.

Chaplin also pointed to improving public transportation and requiring green building standards for any new construction that uses public funds. Tornatore said tax credits for businesses will motivate them to watch their energy consumption, and Fichtner said public-private partnerships are key.

"It's dependent not upon the county, but upon the utilities and creative thinking of local businesses," Fichtner said.

The county has programmed traffic signals to be in sync, reducing pollution and saving time for commuters, Fichtner said. Zannis noted that the traffic signal changes have saved $1.5 million so far.

"If we continue those efforts, it would mean a whole lot to all of DuPage," she said.

DiCianni, who repeatedly mentioned his interest and experience in stormwater management, offered a different idea.

"We in DuPage County have a lot of water—streams like Salt Creek that run through our county," he said. "I think we can turn this water into electricity. It's being tested right now at the quarry (in Elmhurst)."

On Stormwater

But water has been more of a problem in DuPage than a resource.

Chaplin is a proponent of green infrastructure, porous pavement, green roofs, street planning and the use of vegetation and soil to manage rainwater. Tornatore said he would like to see new commercial buildings built with underground water retention systems. And Fichtner said the ability to make rain a resource requires public-private partnerships to build solutions and fund regional education programs.

On-site storage is the answer, DiCianni said. Drains in back yards of homes and storing water on properties to take the burden off sewer systems will provide relief.

"I have first-hand knowledge of the problem," he said, referring to the floods of 2010 that severely damaged thousands of homes in Elmhurst. "(It must be solved) both on the private side, by storing more water on one's property and separating clean water from sanitary water, and on the public side, working intergovernmentally, like with the Busse Woods Dam Project."

Zannis also said communities have to work together.

"This is not just a difficulty for DuPage and its unincorporated areas. All municipalities have to work together. We have to have consensus so we all treat wastewater and rainwater effectively," she said.

Noonan pointed to the costly work already done along Salt Creek to keep the banks from overflowing. The county needs to educate municipalities and residents to incorporate rain barrels and rain gardens to keep water from overflowing rivers and creeks. The county is working with School and Community Assistance for Composting and Recycling Education toward this initiative, he said.

On Consolidation

Candidates also spoke to the work begun by DuPage Chairman Dan Cronin to consolidate various boards and commissions. Fichtner suggested consolidating DuPage government campus security with the sheriff's office. DiCianni said he would like to look at combining fire districts that cover unincorporated areas but have no firetrucks or stations.

Zannis said consolidation is "the No. 1 key issue as I walk around talking to people." There are opportunities "everywhere," she said.

"We want to reduce costs, we want to consolidate, but we do not want to compromise our county," she said.

In addition to consolidating the Water Commission and DuPage County Board, Chaplin said she would like to see the Election Commission combined with the DuPage Clerk's Office. She also wants to replace the members on the DuPage Board of Review, which handles property tax appeals, and would be in favor of "cutting their $40,000 salary and benefits to a small stipend."

But she was opposed to the closing of the DuPage Juvenile Detention facility and transferring youth to the Kane County facility, which was done earlier this year.

"You can't put a price on the future of our children," she said. "They are (no longer) receiving the same services that will help them be productive citizens when they leave. DuPage offered them a chance to finish their education, Kane does not. It's a burden on families to visit them and a waste of time and gas for officers to transport them."

On Pensions

All candidates but Chaplin said pensions are reasonable for County Board members as long as the system is not abused with double-dipping and spiking.

"It needs to be controlled," Zannis said.

Noonan said while he would not take a pension because he already will receive one from his job as a police officer in Bloomingdale, "people don't realize how much committed time there is. There is a lot more going on behind the scenes" than attending meetings, he said.

DiCianni said board members are responsible for a budget that is larger than that of some states.

"A lot of us put a lot of work in," he said. "I plan on putting a good work effort in to earn those dollars."

He said most of the work he's done in Elmhurst—bringing Mariano's Fresh Market to Elmhurst and founding the Elmhurst Children's Assistance Foundation—he did without compensation. (His position as mayor comes with a stipend.) But matters of the county with regard to public safety are "really matters of life and death."

Chaplin said the position is a part-time job that should not be rewarded with a pension or health benefits. The pension system in Illinois is already overburdened, she said.

"We're running for office to serve the public," she said. "I do not believe this position warrants a pension and I will work to make sure we eliminate it for County Board members."

Tornatore said comparing the state's pension problems to the county is inaccurate. "The two are like oil and water," he said.

Fichtner said the pension program will likely be eliminated anyway.

"Springfield is moving in that direction and I think it will be gone in the next few years," he said.

As for the fiscal health of DuPage, Fichtner cited the county's Triple-A bond rating, consolidation of services and zero percent property tax increases for the past five years.

D L October 18, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Imagine DiCianni already justifying his taking of the pension if elected. Wow in today's economic environment with most cities and their residents trying to make ends meet. Not surprising at all.
Anne Blaeske October 18, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Bill Gates and Michael Dell both dropped out of college...
Darlene Heslop October 19, 2012 at 01:29 AM
so dicianni wants to build on little, itty, bitty salt creek a hydro-electric plant...??? and states that "...it's being tested right now at the quarry... ." really...??? he just proved to me that having a college degree does not guarantee that someone has any idea at all about what he's talking about... .
D R October 19, 2012 at 01:39 AM
According to census data, 45% of adults over 25 yrs old in DuPage County have a bachelors degree. I can't think of a better person to represent the 55% of adults in DuPage that don't have a college degree than Liz Chaplin. Back in 1776, as the American colonies were faced with creating new governments, John Adams wrote that the representative assembly "should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them." Score one for the 55 percent of DuPage County without bachelor's degrees and vote for Liz.
Darlene Heslop October 19, 2012 at 03:13 AM
if i could vote for her...i would...i find her to be articulate...well versed in what is important here in du page county...she listens...and she speaks facts...not fiction... .
Julie LaCross October 19, 2012 at 03:47 AM
Does anyone know if Linda Painter has a son? I know she has 2 daughters but someone told me she has a son. If she does, why is he never in any of her family photos that she uses in her campaign litature? Thanks for the clarification.
Stewart Levine October 19, 2012 at 12:59 PM
this is the key sentence of the entire article... "The DuPage Water Commission misspent $80 million," misspent --- how can you misspend $80 billion dollars without people being arrested and threatened with massive amounts of federal prison time? I urge citizens to start contacting federal prosecutors to investigate this for official misconduct, mail fraud, wire fraud, and political corruption, misuse of funds.
Ann Kerbs October 19, 2012 at 01:05 PM
Is DiCianni the candidate that said he will keep his job as mayor of Elmhurst if elected to the county board? Seems like a huge potential for conflict of interest to me.
Karen Chadra (Editor) October 19, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Hi Ann, Originally, he did say he wanted both jobs, but he has since said he will step down as mayor of Elmhurst if elected to the County Board. Here's the story: http://elmhurst.patch.com/articles/mayor-dicianni-announces-he-will-step-down-as-mayor-if-elected-to-county-board This issue was hot topic in Elmhurst for quite awhile.
Lisle Watchdog October 19, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Exactly correct. I believe the cover-up was an "accounting snafu." "In the case of the water commission, the agency accidentally spent its $69 million reserve fund through poor accounting practices and lackadaisical financial oversight. The Crowe Horwath consultants said the commission in 2007 decided to approve a $40 million rebate to its charter customers and a water rate reduction based on staff reports that overstated the amount of unrestricted cash available. While the water commission fired its financial administrator and forced the agency's longtime general manager to resign after the scandal, legislation that Cronin pushed for as a state lawmaker required the resignation of all 13 members of the panel that oversees the agency. That state law also ends the quarter-cent sales tax that goes to the commission on June 1, 2016." http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20120314/news/703149712
Ann Kerbs October 19, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Thanks for the info and the link. I have to say that I'm still not too impressed by DiCianni. I tend toward Libertarian vs. Republican. DiCianni and some other current Republican candidates ;-) don't inspire me to vote their way. http://www.garyjohnson2012.com/ Live Free!
Jane October 19, 2012 at 03:02 PM
http://downersgrovechronicle.wordpress.com/2010/03/22/dupage-water-commission-whats-next/
D L October 19, 2012 at 05:15 PM
How quickly The Mayor of Elmhurst can "abandon" his city for a salary and a pension with The County speaks volumes. It just proves how MOST ( not all ) politicians are in it for the rewards of money and power. Obviously, being Mayor was on his short list of things to do. Hopefully WE have the power to NOT VOTE them in any office !!
Darlene Heslop October 19, 2012 at 06:37 PM
peggy, from above..."we in dupage county have a lot of water - streams like salt creek run through our county," he said. "I think we can turn this water into electricity. It's being tested right now in the quarry... ." unless pete dicianni has the "midas touch"...and can go against the laws of physics and engineering...the only way to turn water into electricity would be to harness the energy created by the turblence of a fast running stream of water...and he admits that salt creek is a "stream"...not a fast running river...so mr. "i have a degree and you don't..." explain this...please... :)... . and i think you are right on the "money"... :)... .
Edward Castellan October 20, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Ed C It was very evident that Zannis answered all the questions thoughtfully. After leaving the event that night I feel she would be the best choice for District 2 County Board. I also found Liz Chaplin to be charming. Having said that I just can’t afford her liberal vision of what government should do. Also her defense of Democratic controlled City of Chicago raising water rates over 80% should be a warning to all that Du Page County Taxes would almost certainly be increased to fuel her liberal agenda.
Stewart Levine October 22, 2012 at 11:38 AM
alot of trash has floated east to west over the past 10 years. We need good moral upstanding people running our county government, not back room dealers, and mobsters, or insiders, or career politicians. the real unemployment numbers are probably somewhere in the 18% range, we know uncle same cooks the books, it is a disgrace that we have revolving door politicians that think they can go from one job to the next
Stewart Levine October 22, 2012 at 11:39 AM
If the federal government wants to make some real money they would look into these issues
Janie October 23, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Check out the Elmnhurst Patch August 17, 2012: FBI Investigates DuPage Forest Preserve Contracts http://elmhurst.patch.com/articles/fbi-investigates-dupage-forest-preserve-contracts-a19cbfe2 I'm disgusted with the whole lot of them! Poor stewards of our money.
I Love ALL My Children October 24, 2012 at 05:46 AM
Does anyone know if Linda Painter has a son? I know she has 2 daughters but someone told me she has a son. If she does, why is he never in any of her family photos that she uses in her campaign litature? Thanks for the clarification.

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