Curtis Dame, McLean County judge-executive, is eyeing another term in the courthouse.
Dame announced on Oct. 6 that he filed his letter of intent to run for reelection for the judge-executive position in November.
“I’m excited to do it,” Dame said. “We’ve come a long way. We still have a few hurdles to overcome as a county — whether it be looming pension issues that we know about or just planning future projects on how to fix the water issues here (locally), or utilities in general, or the high-speed internet. I’m committed to hopefully see those projects completed and improved and make the livelihood of all citizens in the county better. That’s what drove me to make the decision to continue doing what I’m doing.”
Dame said that working as a community has helped the county have a solvent financial standing; one of the main goals he was looking to achieve.
“I think some of the things that we need that I have worked on, by far, is the financial condition of the county itself,” Dame said. “Firstly, I feel like we have adjusted for inflation over the last 10 years or so, and that is what put the county in the dire straits that it was in when I took office …. I was fully aware of those issues. One of the bright sides of the situation that we faced is that everyone has come together to help us solve this problem.
“We’re to the point now (where) I feel like the citizens can go to bed or go to sleep at night knowing that we will be here tomorrow. That was not the case a few years ago.”
Though Dame admits that it has been easier said than done.
“The conversations that we’ve had have not been easy all the time,” Dame said. “But I applaud the teamwork efforts of all my colleagues, staff, elected officials, volunteers — and that’s probably the most surprising aspect is that we now have the county in good financial standing, that people have come out of the woodwork to volunteer and do these events .... and also be equitable with the citizens’ tax dollars.”
Dame looked closely at what the county has been spending, observing the priorities and determining what costs could be discontinued.
“We’ve cut waste,” Dame said. “We cut out about $100,000 worth of phone bills, (where) some of them weren’t even connected to devices to be used. Those little changes, (or) systematic reviews and third-party audits, have not only allowed us to be efficient, but good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
Dame has made it clear during his first term that transparency was one of the traits that he wanted to showcase when he took the position two years ago.
“The transparency has made this job more fluid,” Dame said. “It’s allowed us to somewhat tell the story better of the county of where we come from, but also where we can go.”
However, Dame said getting information to the county’s residents has presented some challenges.
“Transparency, in my honest opinion, is a facet of local government that can be hard to attain in McLean County,” Dame said. “One reason why is that we don’t have our own television station, we don’t have our own radio station. It is a hurdle, and sometimes it’s hard to get information out to the (residents). Even though we only have about 9,100 citizens …, it’s hard to get the … true story of the information out ….”
The pandemic, which began four months after Dame took office, also posed an obstacle, though Dame was able to see some glimmers of hope rather quickly, thanks to the residents.
“With this position, you learn to expect the unexpected. No two days are alike, and you never know what will walk through the door,” Dame said. “What this has shown me going through COVID-19 … is that our county has a strong community mentality. We made it throughout the worst portions of this crisis and this event by being mindful of what could happen and how we could get through it together.”
Dame has been on a mission to couple his transparency with an open-door policy in order to keep the line of communication more accessible.
“I’ve had people come in or message me on social media,” Dame said. “I get quite a few messages, and people want to know an answer to a question. I pride myself on being as reachable as possible on all platforms; not just coming into the physical courthouse ….”
Dame assures the public that he is working to make the county better, even when he may not be physically sitting at his desk.
“The one thing that we’ve run into with professionals and elected officials is that, sometimes, when people see that we’re not in the office, they think that we’re not doing the job,” Dame said. “If I’m not in the office, I am usually out either at a road department job site or looking at potential projects that we can work on. I like to have a hands-on approach. At the end of the day, I’m the one that signs the request to pay for those projects, and I like to know what I’m putting my name on.”
If reelected, Dame’s main priority is to find affordable high-speed internet access for all citizens through leveraging existing partnerships with surrounding counties to figure out a patchwork solution. Dame said that recent legislative changes in Frankfort are slowly making this become more a reality, sooner rather than later.
“We’ve made strides,” Dame said. “I think the citizens will be happy to know that a true, long term … solution is possible. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s a long-term, sound and reliable fix.
“Not only (would this) increase the standard of living for our citizens, but we also increase the access for services for potential businesses that want to move here.”
Dame is also looking into getting assistance from the McLean County Regional Water Commission to become financially stable, while also finding ways to help the city and public service utility providers best use Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to make “strategic infrastructure investments for water and sewer.”
Dame assures that his mantra in 2019 hasn’t and will not change.
“I don’t want people to think that the honesty, transparency,and accountability that I run on … is going to be let go,” Dame said. “Those will be the key factors that drive the development of the improvement of the two primary issues going forward.”
Dame said that he did not have any doubts or second thoughts about running for reelection, and that he understands the position is not all about him.
“Everyone that’s around me (is) affected by (the fact) I am the (judge-executive) — not only is it a position for the person that holds it; they’ve got their family, their loved ones and those that are involved in the inner circle…,” Dame said. “Not only am I the one doing the job, it does take time away from my family and my wife; there’s a level of burden that comes with the position, and there’s nothing to be taken for granted.”
Dame is thankful to to serve as the judge-executive and is hopeful to continue to serve a county that he loves and to set a good example for a new addition to the family.
“I’m humbled by the opportunity to serve my home,” Dame said. “My wife and I are expecting our first child in February. So, if anything, that’s added a level of passion and drive to my intent to file for reelection again. Not only am I taking care of my home, but now I get to take care of my first child and my family ….”
While the county has made changes for the best, Dame knows they are capable of more to improve the standard of living for everybody to “be proud to call this place home.”
“I don’t think we’ve seen the limit of what potential this county has,” Dame said. “It’s easy to get stuck in how things used to be. But, I beg to say that we haven’t seen the best yet from McLean County. I think we’re just getting started.”
Freddie Bourne, firstname.lastname@example.org