In my 40 years as a Champaign County resident, I have never been contacted by my CB members related to any issue coming before the board. Nor have my representatives ever held a district meeting, sent out a survey, set up a listserv, or set up any other means of contact with constituents.
The At Large members of the Champaign City Council have set a new precedent of offering the opportunity for residents to meet with them on a monthly basis at the Champaign Public Library. This is a good example that I will try as a first means of creating an environment for conversations about county issues or anything else. Depending on how well this is used, other means of communication may be developed to stay in touch with constituents.
Economic sustainability—support fiscal efficiency, economic development, stabilization of county taxes.
Champaign County, not unlike cities, states, and the federal government, is experiencing a decline in revenues. A first approach is how can spending be cut and through what means. This is short term and maybe short sighted. Other potential approaches could be how to save money by improving sustainability throughout all of the county buildings and grounds. Sustainability and energy efficiency means spending less money. Developing a master plan for each building and grounds would be an excellent approach. The county has taken advantage of a SEDAC environmental evaluation. There is a request for $50,000 for a more detailed evaluation. I have had a conversation with the SEDAC director questioning the need for addition studies and expenditures. The answer is "no." Hire a student to come to the buildings to count the light bulbs. The reason given to me for the more detailed study is that this is need to apply for grant funding. This is not the case for the Green Environment Program in the Secretary of Treasury Office. This a low interest loan program for governmental entities. Further, there is need for a master plan for the grounds that the county maintains. There are sufficient studies showing how much money can be saved by using sustainable design for such grounds. Here is an example of this through a presentation made by Jim Patchett at a Greenways Conference http://mcplan.org/c_p/greenways.shtml There are four presentations. Jim's is Sustainable Greenway Design. Well worth taking the time to look at the ppt presentation. As someone said, "this is a keeper."
Economic development is important for the county and how it is approached and accomplished even more so. I regularly suggestion a book written by Greg Leroy titled, The Great American Jobs Scam. http://www.greatamericanjobsscam.com/ Greg is an economist and started the organization, Good Jobs First. http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/
The following is a proposal that I sent to the Champaign County Nursing Home director, board, and chair of the CB with a plan to use the grounds surrounding the nursing home as farm land to grow food for not only the nursing home, but also the jail, the juvenile detention facility, and any extra sell at the Farmers Market.
4 August 2008 resent 2 September 2008
I am resending this message to the Champaign County Nursing Home Board since I never received an acknowledgement of receipt by the nursing home board. So I can assume 1) that the board never received the message, 2) the board received the message, but did not deem it necessary to respond to a county taxpayer, or 3) the board received the message and decided that Pius Wiebel's response was sufficient, even though he was only a cc: and the message was directed to the board. I do hope that it is #1. If the situation is that the message was never received by the board, it is good I am resending it so the board might question whether the board is given all communications. If it is #2, then I view this as just one more example from those in elected and appointed positions that the general public is not important and a major reason there is so little community involvement. At a minimum, the board secretary could acknowledge receipt.
Each time that I go to the CCNH, I look at all of the open surrounding land that is not being used productively nor planted in a sustainable manner. I thoroughly understand that the present focus of the nursing home board is inside the nursing home; nonetheless, there are opportunities on the outside, which could potentially help with costs.
Environment sustainability—preserve and conserve farm land, highest and best use of non-farm land, water quality and quantity, trails for hiking and biking, energy resources.
The preserving and conserving of farm land in Champaign County is an important endeavor since this area along with the Ukraine and Argentina have the best agricultural land globally. So the question becomes how can this be accomplished as both an environmental and economic development approach. For over a decade, I have been arguing that wind farms are the best way to do this. First, this provides income for the farmer on whose land the turbines are placed by a seven fold amount compared to what would be earned from a crop return. Next, each turbine provides a property tax available to the taxing bodies within the area, providing, especially, to schools additional income. The siting of the turbines provides one time income to the county because of an associated fee to site. And last, this give a 20-25 year window of time, the life time of a present-day turbine, of providing other means to continue to preserve the farm land. And of course, this is providing clean alternative energy for the country. Further as the local developers state, there is no need for sprawl and using up good farm land because there is right now enough available land within the present communities to do whatever type of develop for the next 15 years, at least. At the end of this window of time there may or may not be fast rail, meaning 220 mph going through the community. If this comes to fruition, then there will be a need for a major change in how the communities approach urban planning.
Water quality and quantity is a huge issue in this state, though difficult to imagine because of the excellent water available to use from the Mahomet Aquafer. Because land in the county is being covered with non permeable surfaces, the amount of runoff has been increasing for decades. This runoff carries with it all types of contaminents that end up in the streams and eventually the aquafer. So a major focus ought to turn to what is the best long-range plan to protect the aquafer. One of the major ways to do so, as mentioned above, is to develop means to create sustainable approaches for the land, both urban and rural. This will slow down the overland flow and in turn by slowing down the flow, allow the water to percolate through the many cleanzing layers of the earth on the return trip to the aquafer. In addition, this approach will minimize errosin and public works costs to handle clean water.
Social sustainability— access to health care, locally grown food, housing to meet county population needs, diversified jury selection
Locally grown foods are a win-win no matter how one looks at the situation. The best of all worlds is to have locally grown organic foods--cuts down on travel costs, degradation of foods as they are transported over time and space, and creates jobs, thus economic development, and preserves farm land. Fortunately, there are several such farms in the area. Nonetheless, there is room for expansion and a market, as shown each summer by the Farmers Market.
Recently the city of Champaign had a study done to economically evaluate the cost return of different types of housing. The basic positive return occurs from the building of very expensive houses. If this study is put into effect in the planning of housing availability, then there is the chance for major skewing away from housing for middle and low income families. More importantly, there does not exist an overall master plan related to the intersections of population, income level, and available housing. This information would help make better decision to fill the identified needs throughout the county and better plan for development and land use.
Presently, the County Board makes decision more on a bi-partisan basis than for the "health, safety, and welfare" of the county. Second, I have not analyzed the distribution of each and every board member per district. Nonetheless in District 6 and 9, the members are clusters in one area. In District 6 for years, the members have lived within a stone's throw of each other. This causes the question as to whether the present CB configuration truly represents the citizens within each district. While campaigning, I would ask people if they can name their CB member--most of the time, none could be name and every now and then someone could name one or two.
Single member districts might help solve this--much better representative distribution throughout the county, enhance opportunities for residents and members to at least know each other's names, facilitate and increase member and constituent contact, and possibility engage residents in county decision making. As to whether the CB size ought to remain at 27 or adjust slightly depending on the drawing of single districts needs to be studied.
This possibility of more diversity on the board would help put aside the question as to whether the board chair ought to be elected at large or remain as is--voted from the elected CB membership.
A change such as this ought to have built in both formative and summative evalution along with a sunset clause of the next census. A decade is a reasonable length of time to evaluate whether this new format is working for the benefit of the county, increasing diverse representation, and improving the decision-making process.