Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan is running for a third term to lead the board and he's being challenged by freshman Republican board member Chris Slusser.
Here are profiles of the two candidates on next Tuesday's ballot:
Chairman Alan Dunstan, D-Troy
It's been a decade since Dunstan was the first county chairman elected directly by the voters instead of the County Board, and Dunstan said progress has been made in the county in the last 10 years because of bipartisan cooperation.
"Here, Democrats and Republicans seem to be able to work together," Dunstan said. "We don't always agree, because that's impossible. But I honestly believe that Madison County is in the best position financially in the state of Illinois."
Dunstan said the county's stability is primarily because the 19 Democrats and 10 Republicans on the County Board work together to "deliver the goods."
"I don't take credit by myself, it's the team," Dunstan said.
A graduate of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Troy native, Dunstan was first elected to the Troy City Council in 1978, at the time the youngest city official in Illinois at age 21. Two years later he was elected to the County Board, again breaking state records. He served seven terms before his election to county chairman in 2002.
"I love this job, I love working for the people of Madison County," Dunstan said. "I actually enjoy County Board meetings."
The county budget has been cut each year for the past four years, with $3 million in cuts this year and elimination of 23 more employees, Dunstan said. He also pointed out that Madison County has more than 230 fewer employees than in 2002. The reductions were from attrition and some layoffs.
Madison County also is "virtually debt free," Dunstan said, which he credits to a decision to pay down the county's debt with its share of the Phillip Morris tobacco settlement.
In fact, Dunstan said, one of the county's continuing financial problems is that the county can't raise its credit rating from AA to AAA -- the county hasn't borrowed enough money to do so.
"If we end up remodeling the jail ... we will have to renew some jail bonds," Dunstan said. "They tell us that will actually get our credit rating up."
While Dunstan acknowledged that the 2011 tax levy has gone up 1.3 percent, he said it is the lowest increase in 20 years -- for which he also credits both sides of the aisle.
While most public bodies are sweating the pension issue, Madison County has always made 100 percent of its payments, Dunstan said. But he still is leery of the pensions being forced on local taxing bodies, because it is the county that must issue property tax bills, and he doesn't want to see them go up.
Madison County also was the only Southern Illinois county to receive a passing grade from the Illinois Policy Institute in governmental transparency, with budgets, audits, union contracts and the county checkbook all available online for the public to see.
Dunstan cited Madison County's growth both in the Edwardsville-Glen Carbon region and in the warehouse and transportation area around Gateway Commerce Center, as well as the America's Central Port, formerly known as the Melvin Price Center. He said he wants to see it grow even more, with a potential warehouse project that could employ more than 800 people -- though a final decision and announcement has not yet been made on that project.
"More than 50 percent of the U.S. population lives within 500 miles of Madison County," Dunstan said. "We can become the logistics hub of the nation ... If you want to know the future of the St. Louis metropolitan area, look east. The future of our region is in Illinois."
Dunstan said he wants to continue to induce businesses to locate in Madison County and especially wants to see through the levee rehabilitation project. Protecting property values and insurance rates through improving the levees is the biggest challenge and top priority for the county going forward, Dunstan said.
"What we've done as a team is tremendous -- and it's not me, it's 'we,'" Dunstan said.
Chris Slusser, R-Wood River
Slusser wants to see a lower property tax levy and more transparency in Madison County, and lists those as two of the main reasons he is challenging Dunstan for chairman.
Slusser, 34, is a graduate of SIUE who worked as a university police officer to get through college. He is now the chief financial officer for a commercial real estate firm, married for seven years and a frequent volunteer with social ministries in northern Madison County.
He said his wife introduced him to programs offering counseling to victims of sexual assault, and for three years assisted in weekly counseling sessions for men who have been abusers, frequently ordered to such therapy by the courts.
Slusser and his wife, Megan, also have formed a group to assist at-risk children through Madison County courts and has served as president of Riverbend Family Ministries, helping victims of domestic violence, particularly children who have lost their homes.
"All the political stuff I do is fine, but that's the stuff I'm most proud of," Slusser said.
Slusser was elected to the County Board in 2008 and serves on the public safety, information technology and county institutions committees. He was a strong proponent of the effort to put the county's checkbook online in 2010, and has been the treasurer of the Madison County Republican Party since his election to the board.
He also has worked on the campaigns of Republican congressional candidate Jason Plummer and state Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon.
Slusser agrees that Madison County has "so much potential based on our geographic region," but said he thinks the county could do more to cut through red tape and get out of property tax litigation against large employers like Olin Corp. and ConocoPhillips.
"Madison County is at a competitive disadvantage, being in the state of Illinois, and we're still making decisions like it's 1985," he said. "We plan on adopting soon, and I want to be able to tell my kids someday that I did something to change things."
Slusser proposes cutting the tax levy rather than its current increase of 1.3 percent. "We will send a clear message that we will not raise the property tax levy," Slusser said. "People have reached their tipping point ... we're being taxed out of our homes and communities. Wages are not increasing and the price of everything is increasing."
While Slusser acknowledged that cuts have been made, he said there are still places where waste is taking place in county government. For example, departments that have a high manager-to-employee ratio can be restructured, he said.
And while he said the online checkbook was a major reason that Madison County gets high marks for transparency, he would like to see it improved. "It's in PDF form and not searchable, while DuPage County's is searchable," he said.
Slusser has said he believes the county government can do more to fight unemployment and lower property taxes. "Madison County government should be part of the solution, not part of the problem," he said. "We're still operating under 20th century models which are inefficient and costly to the taxpayers. We need a cultural change and that starts with a change in leadership."
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 618-239-2501.