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EDITORIAL BOARD QUESTIONNAIRES

Joshua Gray

Democratic candidate for Cook County Board (3rd District district)

Joshua Gray

Joshua Gray

Democratic candidate for Cook County Board (3rd District district)

Education
Sam Houston State University: Bachelor in Business Administration
Occupation
Director of Community Engagement and Advocacy for KIPP
Home
Chicago
Past Political/Civic Experience
Chairman of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center Advisory Board

Responses to our questions

In preparing future budgets, Cook County may face rising costs and static revenues. How should county government evolve? What specific finance strategy will you encourage for producing balanced budgets? Please be decisive.

Our neighborhoods need to see county dollars in the form of services. Our kids should be going to programs, not prison. We are in a county system that over taxes residents and fails to find innovative ways.

Cook County government should evolve by honing it focuses on the areas with the most need. Today, Chicago has many hospitals that serve the entire population. Therefore, the county should focus on the areas and people who are not being served, such as geriatric memory care patients and individuals with mental illnesses.

The private sector has taken some of the burden of general patient care from the county. Similarly, caring for unincorporated areas at an extraordinary expense is not necessary. The finance strategy implored for producing a balanced budget will be strategic and measured. A reputable consultant would need to be brought in to identify where cuts should be made. However, there are certain programs that should be off-limits, for instance; law enforcement, judicial, and healthcare.

Furthermore, the time is now for the county to become more IT-friendly and follow the leads of other jurisdictions. A move towards technology would eliminate some positions upon retirement, reduce energy costs for county buildings, and allow for quicker service.

If faced in budget debates with cutting the county's payroll or raising taxes, which one will you choose, and why? Please be decisive.

I would choose to cut the county's payroll but preserving as many service and union jobs as possible. That means cutting the administration budgets of elected officials. Many elected officials enjoy qualified non-union staff persons and patronage employees who are paid handsome unregulated salaries. A uniform salary table should be implemented for these employees and elected officials' administration budgets should be reduced significantly to reflect this reduction. Taxation has hit families in Cook County hard. People are more aware that they are paying more for everyday essentials such as transportation, food, and housing. Each time there is a new regulation that taxes an item, that item's higher costs is almost always passed along to the consumer. That consumer has a family and is being stretched far too thin.

Do you favor or oppose privatization of county services and downsizing of the county's workforce?

I oppose privatizing and downsizing of the county's workforce. Every time someone mentions privatization I quiver in my boots because once a corporation gets involved with what should be government run services the first people that become vulnerable are minority employees. Furthermore, the quality of service is decreased. In recent years when Chicago Public Schools privatized janitorial services in schools, we saw a sharp decline in the quality of service, placing our teacher and children at risk. Private companies tend to pay their workers less than unionized employees and provide little to no benefits. That situation has shown us that workers tend to then care less about their job and do not see it as a career or a way they can provide for their families over time. County jobs and government jobs, in general, have been the backbone of a strong working and middle class. These, mostly unionized, employees have provided quality service and been rewarded with fair pay, health benefits, and retirement packages. It has been shown throughout history that this model produces quality for the employers and is an anchor in our communities.

The relative stability of the county health system has reduced the costs to taxpayers. How can the county now stabilize the finances of the public safety and court systems?

Public safety and court system could be downsized by my three-part approach.

First, I will work with Chief Judge Evans on jail divergent tactics for first time minor offenders. Tactics such as a) sending troubled teenagers ages 11-18 to boarding schools; b) Expanding job corps for those 18 to 24, and c) Increasing the usage of community courts similar to those in North Lawndale.

Second, I will promote a 65 % increase in the use of electronic monitoring for nonviolent offenders only.

Third, I will utilize the county jail for mostly violent offenders and career criminals. We will not utilize the system for drug addicts or people with mental illnesses.

What is the role of the County Board in accelerating criminal defendants' time to trial and otherwise speeding up the flow of court cases? What if any changes do you propose for defendants' pre-trial release and electronic monitoring?

The County Board has no role in accelerating criminal defense or speeding up the flow of court cases. As it stands the State's Attorney, Public Defender, and Chief Judge have independent power of their offices and allocate their budgets as they see fit. The County Board only has the power to approve, amend or deny the overall budget.

With that understanding, the role of the County Board can only be advisory and depends on the relationship established between individual commissioners and the heads of those offices. To that end, I would invite the State's Attorney to consider ticket prosecutions for misdemeanors, where a maximum fine is determined by the offense and prosecution is limited the information collected and photographed when the ticket was issued.

No states attorney is required to be present and a judge, hearing officer, or ALJ determines the liability. Those accused can defend themselves. If they want a public defender, one can be present to supervise interns who would handle the matter.

To reduce the impact of tickets, an automatic expungement would be initiated when the fine or community service requirements are met.

I would also work with the Chief Judge on my three-part approach that addresses public safety and court system concerns.

Do you favor or oppose contracting with municipalities or other public bodies to take over services now provided by the county's highway department, the forest preserve police, and other county-run offices? Please be specific.

I believe that where county services overlap with services already provided by municipalities, those services should be reduced or eliminated. Where elimination of coverage involves potential lay-offs, I believe that lateral openings for those employees should be made available in other areas that will help combat crime or provide other essential services. I oppose outsourcing or contracting with municipalities or other public bodies for services provided by county workers.

Do you believe unincorporated areas of Cook County are paying their share for services provided by the county? What if any changes do you propose?

Unincorporated areas of Cook County are not paying their fair share. I support the merger unincorporated pockets of the county with adjoining municipalities because the taxpayers are paying for duplicative services and require expensive resources. County law enforcement patrols these unincorporated areas, and could be refocused to areas that need increased patrols throughout the county. We are currently paying millions of dollars for only 127,000 citizens that live in the unincorporated land. With this current setup, we are wasting services and money that could be used for other services and projects. To do this we will need to incentivize the municipalities by providing lump sum funding, additional representation on the County Board, or sharing some federal dollars over a specific period during the annexation time.

What specific changes, if any, do you advocate for Cook County's property assessment system? Do you favor or oppose creation of an office of tax administration to combine functions now performed by several offices?

The tax assessment system should change. Over the years there have been many initiatives to make matters fairer. However, we are at a crossroads and the county is not sure how to fix a system that we all know is bias, unfair, and broken. Therefore, it is time for property taxes to be frozen. The people of Cook County need a break from tax hikes. However, knowing that our property taxes pay for services and projects, there will need to be a time frame attached to the freeze while a committee evaluates the current system, past approaches, and develops a new plan. That plan will then be discussed publicly before the County Board votes on it. I favor consolidating the board of review and assessor's office. All property tax assessments should be certified at the time of the assessment by internal employees who review them. Property owners should only have one opportunity to appeal their taxes at the county level. All other appeals should be filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

For incumbents: During your current term, on what proposed ordinances have you been the primary sponsor? For challengers: What proposed ordinances would you introduce?

  1. Property Tax Moratorium: It is time for property taxes to be frozen. The people of Cook County need a break from tax hikes. However, knowing that our property taxes pay for services and projects, there will need to be a time frame attached to the freeze while a committee evaluates the current system, past approaches, and develops a new plan. That plan will then be discussed publicly before the County Board votes on it.
  2. Assessor Reform Ordinance: There have been many calls from the public to make the property tax assessment formula transparent. The Assessor has refused. With this ordinance, it will be mandatory for the County Assessor to make this process public. We will also tackle the issue of property taxes being assessed unequally within Cook County.
  3. County Pay Scale Ordinance: Many elected officials enjoy qualified non-union staff persons and patronage employees who are paid handsome unregulated salaries. A uniform salary table (tiered system) should be implemented for these employees. This would also promote equal pay among County employees regardless of gender, race, orientation, and religion.
  4. County Contract Equality Ordinance: It was recently uncovered that the Cook County Health System does 0% of business with women & minority businesses. This gap needs to be closed across the board. We will do this in two ways:

    • We will change how W/MBE is marketed to the general public, and
    • We will have stronger enforcement of the 25% women and minority contract policy countywide.
  5. Municipality Incentive Ordinance: We will need to incentivize the municipalities by providing one of the three:

    • lump sum funding,
    • additional representation on the County Board, or
    • sharing some federal dollars over a specific period during the annexation time.
  6. Juvenile Court Extension: This ordinance will allow weekend court and bail for Juveniles at the Detention Center. It currently costs us $500 a day to hold a juvenile. With these changes, we will begin to not only prevent the school to prison pipeline, but decrease the juvenile population by 20% saving the county money.

  7. Cook County Hospital Board: This ordinance will place the hospital system under the direct control of the Board of County Commissioners. This is important because we can eliminate waste by overseeing a system that gets majority of our county dollars. Moreover, we can implement some of the most important health services to vulnerable populations. For example, mental health care for youth and adults can become the primary focus of Provident Hospital. Shuttered county hospitals can operate as geriatric and dementia care facilities, directly serving nursing homes and acute care patients.

Candidates for Cook County Board (3rd District district)

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