By TESA GLASS
MT. VERNON —
Editor’s Note: This is the second of two stories profiling the candidates for Jefferson County Board. The first story profiled candidates in District 2 and District 4.
Six county board districts have contested races in the Nov. 6 election, including District 5, District 6, District 11 and District 12.
County Board District 5 is seeing a faceoff between Democrat David Stewart and Republican Randy Jay Edwards.
Stewart is the retired superintendent of Farrington School who is now working part-time for Rend Lake College.
“I have years of experience working with budgets, levies and grant-funding, which can be applied to county government,” Stewart stated. “I have also served on township boards and water boards where I have gained experience working with people to solve their issues.”
Stewart said he wants to keep Jefferson County government open and transparent so that all residents know shat is happening and how their tax dollars are being spent.
“I would also monitor revenues and expenditures very carefully to keep the County solvent,” Stewart said. “I would work closely with all members of the county board to keep improving the county’s infrastructure. ... My years of experience in budgeting have given me the knowledge to keep the county financially sound which should help to attract businesses and industry, and bring jobs to the county. Also, I have the time, the knowledge, and the desire to serve effectively as a county board member.”
Edwards is a lifelong resident of Jefferson County who is employed in agricultural position that allow him daily contact with many residents in County Board District 5.
“A stubborn economy is one of the biggest problems facing Jefferson County today,” Edwards said. “The cities of Marion and Effingham are constantly growing. We should be experiencing similar growth. Our county sits at the crossroads of two major interstate highways and borders Rend Lake. Franklin County currently enjoys most of the revenue generated from the activities associated with the lake. Jefferson County needs to reach out for our share by expanding business and tourism in that area. Tax incentives need to be offered to industries to improve employment and tax structure. By employing more people, we can reduce the current tax burden on our hard-working families.”
If elected, Edwards said he plans to personally attend township meetings to directly gain information about the needs of people in each township and act accordingly.
“I vow to be fiscally responsible with the taxpayers money,” Edwards continued. “I will work closely with the township road commissioners to improve efficiency and report issues to the board.”
Edwards also serves as precinct committeeman for Shiloh 5.
“I am not a career politician,” Edwards said. “My home phone number is listed in the book, and I am always willing to listen.”
Two others who are no strangers to County Board service are vying for the seat in District 6 as Democrat incumbent Ted Buck is squaring off against Republican Jeff Williams, a former county board member.
Buck said his qualifications for the position are his experience, both public and in private business. He has served for 12 years on the county board and has 22 years of experience in the military. He believes the most important issue facing the county is fiscal sanity.
“Elected officials should always have the voter interests first in their priorities,” Buck said.
Williams said he has had many people from all over the county ask him to run for county board because they are tired of the negativity.
“I promise to be bi-partisan and encourage teamwork between board members and elected officials,” Williams said. “We need to focus on jobs and economic development.”
Williams said it is important to work with both parties for the common good of the county, not just one party line, “focus on the future and stop fighting about the past,” Williams continued. “The blustering at fellow board members and county employees must stop, along with political gamesmanship. I will make sure that we get the best value for all tax money spent.”
Williams has been a public service representative for nearly 28 years, served previously on the county board for six years and was on the highway committee and chairman of the land, tax and appointments committee for two years.
“I know what the job requires,” Williams said. “Because of my daily contact with the people of the county, I will be available for questions and concerns. In a conversation, I try to do most of the listening, so I can know what’s on the other person’s mind. I understand there are always two sides to an issue. ... I was not recruited by a political party to seek this office. I am not anyone’s ‘stooge’ nor do I control any. I have no hidden agendas. I will not be a ghost writer for letter to the local editor. I will not distort facts for my own glory. I believe you should treat others as you would like to be treated.”
In District 11, Democrat Jeremy Hall, will take on Republican Stan Elliott.
Hall, who is serving an appointment on the County Board, said he is passionate about Jefferson County and Mt. Vernon.
“Overall, this city and county have been good for me and my family and holding public office, while at times frustrating, has been a rewarding experience in giving back to the community. I have plenty to offer in terms of perspective and experience and have been fortunate to have made a difference in some of the ways this county board has operated in the last 10 months.”
Hall said his experience as a journalist has given him a unique perspective on public service.
“A 16-year career as a journalist allowed me a front-row seat to local government without participating in the processes of council or board actions,” Hall explained. “I have unique life experiences that allow me to relate to a wide array of residents. I grew up in poverty, so I know what it is like to charge three batteries to go to school and work because I could not afford an alternator for my car. I have worked very hard to reach this point in my life and — while not the most successful person — have been able to achieve a higher standard of living than my starting point.”
Hall said his perspective allows him to actively listen to all and relate his life experiences to others.
“As a result, I vote my conscious based on these life experiences and relations,” Hall said. “Since joining the board, I have pointed out changes needed to keep the board in accordance with the Open Meetings statutes. As a result, the board has changed the way we operate before going into closed session as well as making sure we are holding proper discussion while in executive session.”
Hall said spending is the biggest issue facing the county.
“That said, this county board is in need of free-thinking members who do not ‘file in line’ with a ‘team’ or ‘clique’ and are unafraid to thoroughly examine the many issues that come through at the speed of light,” Hall said. “Decisions made should not be based on political party or friendships or — most important — personal agenda. All other issues, including guarding against unnecessary spending of taxpayer money, revolve around this singular need to one’s own person when votes are collected on ordinances that affect the thousands of taxpayers in Jefferson County. Board members need to be able to withstand public belittling when we disagree with the board chairman on an issue or simply ask questions to learn more about issues.”
Elliott is a lifelong resident of Jefferson County who graduated from Rome Grade School and MVTHS. He is the son of the Rev. Leslie C. and Bessie Beal Elliott.
“My dad was elected Jefferson County Treasurer in 1966,” Elliott said. “My sister, Debbie Elliott Marlow, was elected County Treasurer in 1994 and retired from that position in 2011. My brother Ed was elected and served on the County Board; so you can see, public service runs deep in my family. My family and I work here and participate in the sports and other activities this county has to offer, so you can see Jefferson County and what goes on here is very important to me. That is why I am running for office, to make a difference and to have a voice in our government.”
Elliott has never bee in public office, which he said brings a fresh perspective to the board. He jokingly said his 34 year career as a meat cutter has shown him “how to trim the fat literally and will figuratively help trim the fat on the county budget.”
“I am my own person and an independent thinker,” Elliott said. “I will not answer to a small select group of citizens; I will answer to the taxpayers. I am here to serve the people of my district the way I would want to be represented — with respect. We deserve representation that focuses on teamwork and not by a certain select group.”
Two incumbents are vying for the seat in the newly formed District 12 — Democrat Wayne Hicks and Republican Scott D. Taaka.
Hicks and his wife Patti have three adult children. He attended MVTHS, Rend Lake College, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and St. Louis University. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He has served on the Jefferson County Board for six years and as a Mt. Vernon Township trustee for 12 years. He has served for the last five years on the Jefferson County Board of Health.
Hicks is a member of Calvary Church, serving in various ministries.
“I believe that experience is a major ingredient in providing good and effective leadership in any level of government,” Hicks said. “However, integrity and faithfulness in serving your neighbors is just as important. It’s a willingness to give time and effort to do the best you can.”
Hicks said he is committed to helping provide the best services and financial responsibility to the county.
“My top priorities include helping Jefferson County office holders provide the best services to our community as a whole,” Hicks explained. “Our tax base is so limited that all efforts have to be made to maintain our quality of service within the current financial structure and without tax increases to keep the budget balance. In other words, no unnecessary spending.”
Taaka said the board must pool its skills to work together to thrive as a county while maintaining fiscal responsibility and transparency in government.
“I will uphold all statues and codes, help create and maintain a sound county budget, promote job creation in the county and continue to strive for ethnic diversity in our county workforce,” Taaka said. “With age comes wisdom if you are willing to continue to learn and evaluate your life experiences, which I have done and still do. I also started at the bottom of a manufacturing company and worked my way up to running the operation, so I understand team work at all levels.”
Taaka said he wants to serve in civil government as a senior adult to meet the debt of service.
“I want people to know that I believe everyone should work in civil service for a time and also that I dislike wasting money or county resources,” Taaka said.