On Feb. 14, Audrey Lynn Tanksley appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s running for Cook County commissioner in the 5th District in the March 2018 primary:
My name is Dr. Audrey Lynn Tanksley. I am a resident of the 5th District. Have grown up in the Fernwood, Roseland community. I am, as I stated, a medical doctor. I am also the mother of two outstanding Chicago Public School students. I am the fortunate wife of a union laborer and I’m a concerned citizen.
My top priorities essentially are laid out in my platform that I am running on which is to heal our county. Heal is an acronym for the four areas that I find to be the most urgent, in need of repair. That is health and wellness, economic development, assessment equity and property and labor and workforce development.
I have a number of ideas of what I’d like to do in each of those domains. With health and wellness, I’d like to work on improving the access to mental health services and facilities.
For the economic development, I’d like to work with the Chambers of Commerce as well as the small businesses in the area to find creative ways to produce more funding and increase the businesses owned by people in the community.
For the assessment equity, I would like to work extremely close with the assessor’s office as well as mandating some audits and things to make sure we are essentially fairly applying those calculations that they use for property tax assessment in all areas.
And labor and workforce development, I’m really interested in working with technology; developers as well as building some stem incubators; labor and trade unions to try and build apprenticeship programs in the 5th District for the constituents.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for the Cook County Board of Commissioners a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the county. Tanskley submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
QUESTION: The County Board enacted and then repealed a tax on sweetened beverages, then made further cuts to the budget. Can county government now claim an appropriate balance of revenue and services, or will more revenue or more cost-cutting be necessary? Please be specific as to where new revenue might come from, or where further cuts could be made.
ANSWER: Even if county government were balanced, it is always necessary to evaluate strategies to cut cost or build additional revenue to maintain stability in the county finances. To generate additional revenue, we can look at strategies such as expanding access to casinos and recreational marijuana. Revenue can also be generated by finding ways to increase sales of licenses and/or products sold by the county. Finally, another way to increase revenue could be to improve the collections from county health services and public safety. Cuts could be made to some of the county board committees that are duplicative. Priority to cut and/or combine efforts of committees that have small number of duties such as zoning and building can be eliminated.
Audrey Lynn Tanksley
Occupation: Internal Medicine Physician
Education: Doctor of Medicine, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, Springfield, IL
Bachelor of Arts, Biological Sciences, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale
MERITS Fellowship, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Integrative Medicine Fellowship, University of Arizona, Tuscan, Arizona
Campaign website: Under Construction
QUESTION: If the Affordable Care Act is eliminated or curtailed, what would you propose doing to keep the county’s Health and Hospitals System on sound financial footing?
ANSWER: If the ACA is eliminated, it would be detrimental to the county as this is one of the major reasons the county health care system is in adequate shape. If ACA was eliminated I would propose that the county and state work together to continue to offer County Care as an option for those who may lose their health plans. To maintain sound financial footing it would be imperative to maintain a good number of patients in the county health care system. Cuts would be needed to large areas such as pensions in order to mobilize capital, in addition to efforts such as generating more revenue to allow for payment of these services. If investment is made in cost effective payment models the health system could be designed to be the most cost saving and efficient for patients and the county.
QUESTION: What county functions or services would you support privatizing, if any, to reduce costs?
ANSWER: There is some benefit to privatizing services. However there is also a more added benefit to controlling major aspects of your business. While I would support privatizing services such as providing contracting with goods or professional services, I do not support the outsourcing or management of the county health or public safety system to private sources. Additionally any privatization has to be evaluated to insure the cost effectiveness of the measure versus using privatization as an avenue to foster cronyisms.
QUESTION: The state of Illinois is behind on paying money it owes to Cook County. What’s to be done about that?
ANSWER: The county should take action to collect any past due money owed to it by the State of Illinois. There is a legal process that can be undertaken to obtain the money due from the State. Also interest should be added to outstanding debt.
QUESTION: What is your position on tax-increment financing districts? Are they a valuable development tool? Are they underutilized? Is the process sufficiently transparent? Should there be more community input? Should the definition of a “blighted” area be revised?
ANSWER: TIF districts can be a valuable development tool, when properly used. I do feel they are underutilized and not a transparent process. The community should have more input. Monies generated from TIF districts should not be used in areas that are not blighted. The process is not sufficiently transparent, particularly when funds which are earmarked for blighted areas are misused or misappropriated. Blighted areas should be well defined and mapped. Also strategies should be implemented to ensure that people who live in such areas can continue to call it home.
QUESTION: Recently, there have been calls to freeze local property taxes. What’s your view on the matter?
ANSWER: Due to the inequity of the calculation on local property taxes I am in favor of a tax freeze. I feel this is a necessary step to evaluate the current practices and correct errors.
QUESTION: Do you support or oppose efforts to merge unincorporated pockets of the county into adjoining municipalities? If so, how would you make that happen?
ANSWER: I would first want to evaluate the data on costs and services as well as the benefits of merging unincorporated pockets of the county into adjoining municipalities and any disparities that might exist. I think it is also imperative to meet with the residents who live in these pockets to hear their concerns. I could only support such an effort after thoroughly evaluating the proposal and weighing its pros and cons.
QUESTION: What is your plan to encourage economic development in the county?
ANSWER: Cook County, particularly in the 5th District has the opportunity to encourage economic development. Unfortunately, throughout the 5th District, blighted areas are abundant. However, I plan to utilize these areas which are rich with people but not opportunity. My plan is to focus on creating technology centers in distressed areas that have the land capacity to build such centers. Additionally, there are opportunities to create STEM and trade incubators to foster entrepreneurship throughout the district, thereby contributing to the economic development and success of the county.
QUESTION: An additional $40 million per year is needed to fund the Forest Preserve District’s Next Century Conservation Plan. Where can the county find the money?
ANSWER: The Forest Preserve District’s Next Century Conversation Plan is biggest objective and/or focus is the restoration and preservation of the “ecological treasure” encompassed within the Cook County Forest Preserves. The County should look to raise additional funds from outside the county such as from foundations which seek to protect the environment (i.e. Sierra Club).
QUESTION: Traditionally, the Forest Preserve District has not charged for parking in the preserves, but it is considering doing so at Swallow Cliff Woods. Do you support that?
ANSWER: No. The Forest Preserve should remain open to the public. Charging for parking in the preserves would discourage and in some case prevent people from enjoying the preserves.
QUESTION: Should the Forest Preserve District have its own board, independent of the County Board? Please explain.
ANSWER: No, the Forest Preserve District should not have its own board, independent of the County Board. Establishing a separate independent board for the Forest Preserve would be duplicative and costly. Creating another level of government would require additional staff to support the effort and thus additional cost which would likely be met by additional taxes or fees passed on to the residents of Cook County.
QUESTION: Is Cook County treated fairly by the state? If not, how so?
ANSWER: In some ways, Cook County has not been treated fairly by the state. Cook County has been negatively impacted by the property tax disparities, which has been detrimental to educational funding in Cook County’s poorest communities. However, the recent changes in the system for funding public school will hopefully change the way schools in Illinois are funded and bring more money to these schools.
QUESTION: Do you support another effort in the Legislature to reform the county’s pension system?
ANSWER: The Legislature has a responsibility to reform the county’s pension system. The County cannot continue operating a pension system that is underfunded. At its present, our county’s pension system is growing at a rate faster than our ability to finance it. Without intervention from the legislature, we will be forced to continue to unsuccessfully attempt to tax our way out of the pension crisis.
QUESTION: Please name any relatives who hold a county job. What’s your general view on elected officials hiring relatives?
ANSWER: To my knowledge, I do not have any relatives, who hold a county job. Generally, I do not believe elected officials should hire relatives or directly hire relatives.