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Out Here: Would aliens go to the mayor first?

Published: Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014 1:30 a.m. CDT

In June, I wrote a story comparing property tax burdens in this part of Lake County. I called officials to get their take on the total bills.

Mayors seemed to be the most logical sources for such a story, even though municipal governments only take a small chunk of homeowners' property tax bills.

A mayor is usually a community's most visible official. One time, a mayor told me that if aliens landed, they would ask to speak to the mayor, not the county board chairman, not the superintendent, not the state lawmaker.

The mayor is seen as overseeing the whole town, not just functions of the municipality.

For the story, I spoke with Round Lake Beach Mayor Rich Hill, who presides over a town with a relatively big tax burden.

Not mincing words, Hill pointed at the schools as the "biggest culprit" behind the taxes. (Schools typically take the largest chunk of property taxes.)

"They continue to give increases to their staff not based on the economic times. That's always a problem," he said.

In my experience, some mayors would be less willing to speak outside the scope of their municipal responsibilities.

Are Round Lake Beach residents more likely to know the name of their mayor or the head of their school or fire district? I'm guessing that the mayor is more identifiable.

In Chicago, the mayor is actually in charge of the schools. And I'm betting that nearly everyone in Chicago has heard of Rahm Emanuel. Would Barbara Byrd-Bennett's name ring a bell for most? Probably not, even though she is the CEO of the schools, reporting to the mayor.

The mayor is seen as the leader of the whole community.

Some think state office a 'luxury'

The office of Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon issues its share of news releases.

Recently, I wondered whether she was issuing more of them after launching her campaign for state comptroller late last year. In checking her state website, I found that, in the first six months of the year, she issued 37 news releases, which is the lowest in her four years in office. In 2011, she issued 48 releases in the first six months, 67 in 2012 and 55 in 2013.

These numbers show that she can't be accused of turbo-charging her taxpayer-funded PR apparatus in the face of an election.

Of course, some have questioned the need for a lieutenant governor in the first place, let alone staff time dedicated to issuing news releases.

In 2013, the state House voted 83-28 for a measure placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would eliminate the lieutenant governor's office, which lawmakers said would save taxpayers $1.8 million a year.

Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, sponsored the amendment, saying the statewide position was a "luxury" that a struggling state could no longer afford. Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, and then-Rep. JoAnn Osmond, R-Antioch, voted for the measure, and Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, co-sponsored it in the Senate, where it died.

Simon favored putting the issue to voters, but opposed eliminating the office.

In campaigns, politicians love to talk about reducing the size of government, but they often shy away from making that happen.

David Giuliani is news editor of Lake County Suburban Life. He may be reached at 847-231-7524 or dgiuliani@shawmedia.com.

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