'I think I can confront some of the issues'

RANTOUL — Darlene Kloeppel hadn’t thought she would run for office until Champaign County voters decided in 2016 to exchange the position of appointed county administrator for that of an elected county executive.

“I think I can get the position of county executive off to a good start and confront some of the issues that have been delayed until after the election,” Kloeppel said Saturday in a town hall meeting at the Rantoul Public Library.

A Democrat, she is running unopposed in the March 20 primary election.

Kloeppel believes her experience in the public and private sectors has prepared her for the position.

She was community services director for the county Regional Planning Commission until her retirement one-and-a-half years ago. In her 15 years there, she managed federal, state and local grants through public and private partnerships that grew from a $1.5 million budget to more than $11 million.

“We were able to grow and build on other programs,” she said.

One of those programs, she said, was the victim offender reconciliation program now known as the Youth Assessment Center. It was first operated by one person, but under RPC management has been expanded to a staff of five or six and a much greater outreach.

Kloeppel’s career began with a federal project integrating hospice services into the Medicare payment system and participation in the startup of some of the first hospices around the country. She consulted for Rosser FABRAP Justice Systems, Atlanta, on design and renovation of prisons and jails. She also served as consultant with Ernst & Young LLP, where she planned health care facilities. Her education includes master’s degrees in social work from the University of Iowa and in architecture and city planning from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

After her move to Champaign 21 years ago, Kloeppel was involved in the merger of three hospital systems into Provena Health Care (now OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center).

“I have a bigger picture look at things, but also practical on-the-ground experience,” she said.

Much of her experience could be described as project management, which she described as “behind the scenes things.”

“I’m good at that. Those are all the boring things people don’t want to think about so much,” she said.

Kloeppel said the question she is most frequently asked is what a county executive is. She described the position as essentially combining the resposnsibilities of the county administrator and the county board chair and adding in responsibility for representing the county publicly.

One major difference between an elected county executive and a county administrator appointed by the board is that the county executive is accountable to the people and can speak directly to the public, Kloeppel said.

“I think the biggest issue for the county right now is the budget,” she said.

While the county can only pass a budget one year at a time, she would like to see a six-year strategic budget developed.

“We need a longer-range vision,” she said. “We have a list of projects to work on, facilities we’d like to repair and IT things. We’ve done great studies about all these things, but then we let it sit. We need an actual vision of where we will be in six years so we get there. Otherwise another year passes and we just move it forward so we haven’t reached anything.”

Counties are getting “scrunched” financially, she said, as they are affected by budget cuts on the federal and state levels. She suggested that thinking regionally instead of on a municipal or county basis may lead to a more efficient use of resources.

 “If you don’t raise taxes, you just keep barely meeting costs,” she said. “We need to figure out better ways to do things.”

Kloeppel said she believes in consensus and building on the relationships she has on both sides of the aisle.

“I can play hardball if I have to. I know how it works, (but) I prefer to do it the other way,” she said.

And while she had to claim a party affiliation to run for office, she said she is “fairly moderate” in her approach to solving problems.

“I believe the county executive should represent the whole county,” she said.




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