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Lake County Board member Aaron Lawlor selected as Edgar Fellow

Aaron Lawlor

Lake County board member, Aaron Lawlor, said that in his travels around the country he has heard many jokes and snide remarks about government corruption in Illinois.

“Illinois has definitely had its problems,” Lawlor said. “When I’ve participated in programs with elected officials from around the country, they really do kind of laugh. The folks, even from states with colored pasts like New Jersey, laugh about Illinois being one of the more corrupt states in the union.”

Lawlor, 29, who was recently selected to participate in the inaugural “Edgar Fellow Program,” said he hopes to bring up the topic of corruption and other pressing issues when he meets with others in the program in August.

“It’s something I hope we talk about,” said Lawlor, who was invited to participate in the program as one of “40 emerging Illinois leaders.” “If you don’t have a government people have faith in, you really can’t begin to face the other issues we’re facing.”

The Edgar Fellow Program was designed by former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar to promote responsible and responsive leadership in government. The 40 leaders will gather from Aug. 19‐22 at the University of Illinois at Urbana‐Champaign to launch a “forward‐looking enterprise” led by former Gov. Jim Edgar and the university’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA), according to a release.

According to the release, the objectives of the Edgar Fellows initiative are to “enhance leadership skills and promote understanding, networking and cooperation across regional, partisan and ethnic lines as these young men and women move ahead in their public‐service careers.”

“We see this as a tremendous opportunity for these outstanding women and men to further develop their abilities and encourage them to become the leaders our state will need to meet the great challenges of the 21st Century,” Edgar said in a written release.

“Just as importantly, this program offers a chance for them to broaden their perspectives and to become acquainted with each other, so they can work together effectively for the good of our state as they assume additional responsibility,” Edgar said.

Lawlor said he plans to talk to his colleagues in the program about steps the Lake County board has taken in the areas of ethics reform.

“What we’ve done in Lake County is to really strengthen our ethics ordinance,” he said. “Commissioners have never been involved in direct hiring, other than our administrator.”

“We made a more stringent ethics ordinance that we passed last year which basically says commissioners won’t even inquire about the status of a [job] application,” he added. “Instead we just refer the individual to the HR department. It completely takes us out of the equation from any possibility or perception of impropriety.”

Another hot button issue Lawlor said he plans to bring up during the meeting is property taxes. He said that from “a local level” property taxes are continuing to increase both from school districts and local governments and the increases are “becoming unsustainable” for residents of Lake County and the surrounding areas.

“It’s the fundamental issue that we face on the county board,” he said. “While we’re responsible for about 10 percent of the tax bill, people think we have more control over it than we do.”

“The real control is rooted in Springfield where they set the law related to property taxes,” he added. “I think what we’re going to see in coming years is that people are going to be increasingly upset about their property tax bills. It’s an issue that needs to be dealt with at the state level.”

Lawlor, who worked as a political director for Ill. Senator Mark Kirk, before being elected to the Lake County board, also said heath care will be on the top of his list of important issues when he travels downstate in August.

“When you look at the issues the state is facing almost all of them are budgetary and many of the budgetary issues fall under the realm of healthcare, whether its Medicaid, Medicare pensions, employee health benefits and that sort of thing,” he said. “If we’re going to work to solve some of the problem of our state, those are areas that really touch the core problems we’re facing.”

While wasteful spending is a concern, Lawlor cautioned against “short sighted budget cuts.”

What I’m excited to learn about is when we talk about cuts, which are absolutely necessary, we also need to look at the long term impacts on our state and our communities,” Lawlor added.

He also said the state cannot keep pushing obligations and unfunded mandates on local governments while taking away revenue streams.

“Local government is stretched really down to the bone,” he said. “At the end of the day local government, I believe, touches peoples lives more closely than pretty much any other level of government.”

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