The problems facing our county government have been chronicled at great length, not only in the pages of this paper but across the spectrum of media in the community. The county is ripe for change; only one candidate for the chairman position offers that.
While Republican nominee and former Rock Valley College Trustee Frank Haney says he’s had enough of the “good ol’ boy” nature of county politics, he relies on the same funding sources and advisers of the current chairman, Scott Christiansen. Lip service is suitable and expected for an election, but so is the expectation that a candidate so committed to decrying the nature of county politics would be willing to see them changed.
Christiansen has become an embarrassment to Winnebago County. Yet Haney said that Christiansen should be allowed to remain in office despite multiple the financial revelations and the federal investigation that led to the current chairman’s decision to not seek re-election.
It’s admirable that Haney mounted a challenge to Christiansen in the GOP primary, but he did not break the mold of go along to get along politics in the county. Amid FBI probes into spending irregularities and hundreds of thousands of dollars in waste, Haney saw no reason to begin the process of healing a broken county government and has said that any discussions on how to better manage its operations must wait until after the results of Nov. 8’s election.
Why? Because any attempt to reshape the role of the chairman prior to next month’s election would have made his candidacy all but worthless. Haney, while preaching the need for change, is committed to preserving the machinations that have led to a dysfunctional and shattered county government. Such an outlook will not see the drastic shift Winnebago County must undergo.
Democrat John Nelson is the pragmatic leader the county board needs. He is committed to ending the nepotism and corruption that has permeated the county’s operations. He is committed to putting the county back on stable financial ground. He is committed to finding creative solutions to the crime problems that continue to plague the community. And he will be able to look past the same kabal of business owners who have controlled county politics for more than two-decades to find new economic development potential for our area.
While Haney has already all but rubber-stamped a proposed private rail proposal set to cut through the southern and western portions of the county, Nelson has said he will listen to concerns from businesses and citizens, to weigh the balance of residents’ needs versus the want of outside corporate influence. Is he against the project? No, but he wants to see what the benefits truly are to the community, and he wants to hear from its citizens before saying yes to a project that will reshape the landscape of the county. We would urge candidate Nelson to oppose this project.
Nelson’s ideals lend themselves to a more open and transparent government, something Winnebago County has sorely lacked. Nelson has promised to serve no more than a maximum of two terms and has lent support to efforts to have term limits introduced into our county government, an idea that would see influence of corporations and private donors wane immediately.
And Nelson has also proposed an overhaul of the bidding process which allowed the county’s former purchasing director to steal more than $450,000 from the taxpayers of Winnebago County. With over four decades of experience as a lawyer, Nelson can help craft the laws and regulations needed to open up the actions of government. He has already proposed that bids for county work must include information about any donations to the campaigns of any elected county official, and has said that contributions from vendors to county officials should be capped at $1000.
But these proposals mean little if the person putting them on the table can’t work with the board to get them passed. Nelson, with those decades of experience in the courtroom, is just the kind of person who could see to it that these difficult dialogues are had in the boardroom and that progressive changes are undertaken. While Haney has emphasised over and over a willingness to wait through the election to even begin discussing the necessary changes we need, Nelson has laid out the key steps he wishes to see taken in order to push Winnebago County out if its corrupt past and into a brighter future. Those no-nonsense policies should be embraced across party lines as the board tries to rebuild the image of county government.
This year’s election has driven ideological divides deeper down the ballot than perhaps any before. But the people of Winnebago County need to look past the party and vote for the candidate who will best serve as its next chairman, and that person is John Nelson. He will listen. He will compromise. And he will also remain true to the principles that public service should be about: honesty, integrity and the will of the people, but not the rule of the mob.