Many of the Livingston County candidates running in the June 28 Primary Election outlined their positions on numerous issues during a candidate forum held Tuesday evening at the Eagle Theater in downtown Pontiac.
All of the candidates running for elected office in the county were invited to attend the event, sponsored by the Livingston County Farm Bureau, The Central Illinois Farm Network and WGCY Radio 106.3 FM.
“This is not a public hearing for citizens to express their views on issues,” stated Livingston County Farm Bureau’s Roger Wahls at the start of the forum. “We are here to listen to the candidates. Please help us keep this forum on a professional level.”
First up was Livingston County Clerk and Recorder Kristy Masching who is seeking the nomination for reelection to the office.
“For the past 19 years, I have greatly enjoyed serving as your county clerk and recorder,” Masching said. “It is an honor and privilege for me to serve the citizens of this county.”
Masching shared highlights of both her personal and professional life and informed the audience of her office’s responsibilities such as maintaining various records, issuing licenses and processing applications.
Sheriff candidate Tom Vagasky was the next one to take the stage. He pointed to professional experiences and leadership qualifications.
“I was the acting narcotics lieutenant for this area which covers 13 counties,” Vagasky explained.
Prior to this role, he was the State Police Task Force commander in Bloomington. The 26-year law enforcement veteran also spent time working in the Department of Corrections and as a parole agent.
“As Task Force field supervisor, Task Force commander and Zone lieutenant, I oversaw large budgets in different sizes.”
Vagasky vowed to evaluate and ensure proper supervisions in each division of the Sheriff’s Department should he be elected.
“I believe there always should be one supervisor as a sergeant to four, maybe five officers at the most,” he said.
When it comes to employee retention, Vagasky feels good employees stay when they are treated fairly, equally and consistently. He said promotions need to be done fairly and not by a “good old boys” system.
Vagasky told the crowd he has found someone to be his chief deputy.
“He is retired from the department after 26 years. He was a Sergeant, he was in the Proactive Unit and he’s well respected with everybody in his department.”
Drugs are Vagasky’s main concern compared to other threats to the safety of Livingston County residents.
“They always have been and probably always will be.”
Vagasky indicated Fentanyl deaths have increased sharply in the Midwest with drug overdoses up but actual drug deaths down due to Narcan. Methamphetamine is the candidate’s second biggest fear in the county as its use has spiked since the price has dropped.
A revamped school resource officer program is another goal of Vagasky, who said he would work with local schools on security protocols. Admitting rural property crimes are a problem, Vagasky claims he would add deputies to patrols.
When asked whether or not the county Proactive Unit should be revitalized, Vagasky said he would like to rejoin Task Force Six when State Police have the personnel to ensure it is properly supervised. He feels joining the force would alleviate liability for the county with better training and funding.
“Drug task forces put people in prison, they put the dealers in prison – not the low-level dealers, not the users.”
In Vagasky’s opinion, the Proactive Unit is ineffective due to poor training and low staffing in various police departments across the county.
Mike Kirkton of Gridley was the next to speak. He is running in the Illinois House 105th District and was endorsed by the political arm of the Illinois Farm Bureau known as Activator, for being friendly to agriculture.
“Getting the endorsement from Activator was not only personally important to me but professionally important to me,” Kirkton stated.
The fourth generation Livingston County farmer served around the world in the U.S. Army and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. He earned a bronze star in Desert Storm and has served on the Livingston County Board.
“There are some unique challenges with the 105th district that all of us are facing,” Kirkton admitted.
Kirkton said in order for there to be change in Springfield, residents have to get out and vote. As a representative, Kirkton believes it is about leadership and the ability to work with both Republicans and Democrats.
“As a Republican in the legislature, we are in a super minority.”
If elected to the seat, Kirkton vowed to listen to both sides of an issue but more importantly, listen to what the constituents want.
Candidates running for Livingston County Board were given the opportunity to say a few remarks at the end of the night. District One’s Jim Carley resided in Pontiac for more than 40 years, raised his kids there and served on the county board several years.
“I’ve always felt I should return some of the things in the form of service. The people of Livingston County have been very good to me,” Carley said.
District Two county board member Bob Weller was born and raised in the county and went into the insurance business, operating offices in several communities. His main reason for running again is giving back.
“I always take a conservative approach to whatever the issue is with the board,” Weller explained.
Joel Barickman of District Two grew up on a family farm in northwest Livingston County and returned home to help run the farm after working for a real estate developer previously. He said the county board is different from the partisan politics on television.
“Rather than partisan hot-button topics, it’s about local issues that affect our daily lives.”
Steve Lovell, also in District Two, lived in Dwight for over 40 years, working in the construction and excavating business. Lovell is familiar with the construction industry and the ability to deal with people, he said.
“Basically, I would ask for your support,” said Lovell.
The final District Two candidate to speak was Jason Bunting who resides in rural Emington with his family. He farms corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, cattle and sheep. He recalls learning at a young age the importance of getting involved in the community to make a difference.
“This is where it happens, this is where the rubber meets the road,” Bunting said, referring to local government.
District Three county board candidates were the last to speak. Linda Ambrose has lived in Illinois about 45 years and taught at Forrest-Strawn-Wing, which later became a part of the Prairie Central district.
“I feel my biggest asset is my willingness to devote time and seek answers for the people of my district,” observed Ambrose.
Rebekah Fehr lives in rural Fairbury and was born and raised in the county. The executive director of the Fairbury Area Chamber of Commerce, small business owner and president of Preserving Illinois County Rights said maintaining local control is an important issue facing the county.
“Each county is unique and a one-size-fits-all zoning standard should not be placed on each county nor should it be determined by the state,” Fehr said.
Seth Welch is a 2009 graduate of Prairie Central High School, born and raised here. He has been employed at Technical Metals since 2014 and is currently president of the Fairbury Area Chamber of Commerce and serves on the Fairbury Zoning Board of Appeals.
“I want to make my community a place to go for people who are looking for good paying jobs, a sound education for their kids,” Welch said.
Countywide candidates not in attendance at Tuesday’s forum included Livingston County Sheriff candidate Ryan Bohm and treasurer candidate Mary Nicole Meier.
LISTEN BACK to audio highlights of Tuesday evening's forum in Pontiac (audio quality is low, you'll need to turn your volume up).