Name: Mark Kern
Immediate family members: Wife, Erin, and three children, Fred, Laura and Matt.
Occupation: County Board Chairman
Office sought: St. Clair County Board Chairman
Party affiliation: Democrat
Previous elected positions and years served: Mayor of Belleville; 1997-2004, County Board Chairman since 2004.
Why are you running?: St. Clair County is my home. I was born here, raised here, and my wife and I raised our three children here. I am committed to making certain St. Clair County is the kind of place our children can come home to and raise their own families. Families need strong, safe neighborhoods, growing communities, and access to good jobs and opportunities. That’s why I have devoted my career to public service and it’s what continues to motivate me to keep St. Clair County moving forward.
What is the biggest issue facing St. Clair County, and how should elected officials and county staff approach it?: One of the biggest issues - and one of my biggest frustrations - is unfunded mandates by the state and federal governments. This year alone, a new, unfunded mandate by the State of Illinois added $400,000 to our already stretched budget - and it is far from the only unfunded mandate with which we are saddled. As a county, we have held the line on spending and kept our tax rates down in order to attract and retain businesses and jobs and make our county appealing to families. The state and federal governments aren’t making our job any easier. I have traveled to Springfield to speak out against unfunded mandates, and I have asked our legislative delegation to support us in putting a halt to this unfair and unsustainable practice.
What are your views on MidAmerica Airport, and how should the county handle the future of the airport?: When I took office, I inherited a difficult situation at MidAmerica. I understand and support the decision my predecessors made to create a joint-use airport with a longer runway. MidAmerica proved essential to keeping Scott Air Force Base, its jobs and three billion dollars a year in economic benefits here. That decision continues to be important as a new round of base closings is expected soon. But the civilian airport has struggled as demand for commercial air service slowed dramatically after 9/11. My team rolled up its sleeves and worked to find solutions. Today more than 120,000 people have flown out of MidAmerica this year alone. Boeing and North Bay Produce have located at the airport, bringing jobs and economic development to our county. We field inquiries every week from companies interested the airport and the adjacent industrial park. We are on the right track and need to continue our progress.
What improvements do you want to see in how the county is run?: Since taking office, we have done a great deal to modernize county government and make it more convenient, easier to access and more transparent to the public. We have put the county’s checkbook and property tax assessments online. We raised level of professionalism and a commitment to customer service among county employees. We can always improve and will continue to listen and respond to the people we serve.
The county has cut back costs in recent years. What would you do to minimize expenditures? Or would you be open to any tax or fee increases?: We aren’t looking at any new taxes or fees. We are focused instead on cutting costs and holding the line on our budgets. Keeping taxes down is important to our economic development strategy. I have say Springfield and Washington, D.C. aren’t helping as they continue to pile on new, unfunded mandates. We are doing our best to manage that, but it’s challenging. We have reduced the total number of county jobs by 118 full-time employees and we doing our best to continue to simplify government processes and get more efficient in how we provide services.
Do you plan to serve the full term of office?: Yes.
Why should people vote for you?: I believe my administration has a strong case to make to voters about our track record of successes in finding pragmatic solutions to issues facing our county. We have become a stronger voice in the region, fighting for our county’s transportation infrastructure needs and working together to fix the Metro-East’s levee system. We have balanced budgets and brought fiscal discipline to county spending - lowering county tax rates five years in a row. We also have focused on making the most of St. Clair County’s assets as a transportation hub, bringing major industries and new jobs here. I would ask voters to give me the opportunity to continue to move our county forward.