Paula Yensen




Lake in the Hills

Ph. D., Education and Urban Affairs, Michigan State University

Executive Director, United Way of Central Kane County

Married, Michael Bissett



On the Record

Why are you running for McHenry County Board, and what qualifications do you bring to the office?

Four years ago, I decided to run for McHenry County Board because I believed I could make a difference in local government. I walked door-to-door throughout the 5th District every weekend for six months. I saw the struggles of my constituents as they faced the economic volatility of the 2008 recession. I listened to their stories. I promised those voters that I would do my best to represent their interests and concerns. I’m still listening. I have a simple philosophy: be fair, be effective, and respect the taxpayers. Government works when politicians adhere to that philosophy. I served as Village Trustee in Lake in the Hills from 2001 to 2008. I began working with county issues in my second term as Trustee, when I became volunteer liaison to the county’s transportation department (MCDOT). As the current vice-chair of the transportation committee, I’ve helped improve collaboration between MCDOT, local government, and the public. My peers recently elected me Chair of the county’s Storm Water Commission; I am now leading efforts to strengthen the county’s storm water ordinance and protect our ground water. I had the honor of meeting and studying with world-renowned theorists in urban affairs during my Ph.D. program at Michigan State, and I believe that solid foundation continues to serve me well as we confront difficult local and regional challenges here in McHenry County.

The County Board has resisted calls to make its chairmanship popularly elected. Now, a referendum has been placed on the November ballot that seeks to change the county to an executive form of government. What do you think about the referendum and the board’s resistance to allow voters decide whether they want to elect the board chairman at the ballot box?

I believe that concentration of power in the hands of a few well-connected politicians eventually corrodes the public trust. That’s why I voted in support of term limits for the County Board Chair, and I also voted to prohibit the Vice Chair from serving as chair of any committee of the County Board. I’m in favor of reducing the powers of the County Board Chairman, but the referendum that voters will see on the November ballot does precisely the opposite. In fact, it creates an entirely new office, with much greater powers, and promises to make county government more contentious. The professional administrator of the county would be replaced by a partisan leader with the power and motivation to replace current professional staff with political cronies. I can’t support a referendum that’s likely to make McHenry County more like Cook County, with even more nepotism and political favoritism than we have now.

Do you support county government using taxpayer money to lobby against state legislation that would have protected property taxpayers from tax increases in years when property values declined? Explain your answer.

I don’t support using taxpayer money for lobbying. Period. I have voted against the County Board budget for four consecutive years in part because it has included money for this activity. We already have state legislators and Congressional representatives who are supposedly elected to represent our interests in Springfield and Washington. Let them do their jobs, and hold them accountable.

The County Board is working this year to not collect the inflationary tax levy increase allowed under state law. Will you agree to support a freeze to the county’s levy again next year? Explain.

I’m a fiscal conservative, and I’ve never voted for a tax increase. I won’t support a tax increase next year unless something unforeseeable and extraordinary happens.

Given the obstacles a local couple have had with turning their vineyard into a winery, how business friendly would you say the County Board and county ordinances are? What changes would you seek if elected?

There are a few County Board members who have been adamantly opposed to economic development in agricultural areas, even when the development complies with the 2030 plan. We should be so lucky to have the ’problems’ of Napa Valley in McHenry County. A vineyard, winery and tasting room provides a good balance of agriculture, commerce and gracious living. This seems to fit the character of rural McHenry County perfectly, and is the kind of business we need to encourage. Wineries near Galena, Illinois and in Door County, Wisconsin offer fine examples of what we might expect from a winery in McHenry County. We’ve already changed the liquor control ordinance to allow for more flexibility in tasting rooms, and in the future we need to re-evaluate the planning and development ordinances to encourage more of this kind of agribusiness.

Outside of jobs and the economy, what is the biggest challenge facing voters in your district and how would you address it?

I constantly hear home owners complain about their property taxes increasing while home values decline. For many families, and especially for seniors on fixed incomes, this is a crisis. They are trapped in homes they cannot afford because of increasing property taxes, yet they cannot sell because they are ’under water’ on their mortgages. No one who lives in McHenry County should risk losing their home due to rising property taxes. Everyone loses when a property is abandoned or foreclosed. These are personal tragedies, but they are also causing serious, long-term damage to our communities. I have opposed property tax increases, and I will continue to advocate for the property owners in my district. Government can and must find ways to deliver essential services more efficiently, slow the growth of departmental budgets, and focus investment on the infrastructure projects most likely to produce long-term tax relief for property owners. I also support the consolidation or elimination of redundant government authorities. We don’t need 7,000 units of government in Illinois.