The race to fill the open seat on the Edwards County Board of Commissioners in the Nov. 3 election will come to a close early,

With only two Republicans vying for the seat, it will be the Tuesday, March 17 Primary that settles the race between incumbent Duane Lear and challenger Jon Webber. Lear is wrapping up his first six-year term on the county board, while Webber is calling for a change in the direction of the board.

Each candidate has their own reasons for running for the open board spot.

“I want to continue to effect positive changes within the county, and to be a voice for the community,” said Lear of his reason for seeking reelection. “I have enjoyed listening to the public, appreciate their concerns and take pride in the accomplishments we have made over the past term.”

For Webber, a resident of West Salem, his hope in running for a seat on the county board is to represent the interests of the northern reaches of the county.

“I believe there needs to be a better representation of the northern part of Edwards County and a voice to listen to the concerns of people in the southern part as well,” he said. “I also believe that there needs to be a voice of reason with common sense leadership added to the county commission.”

In Webber’s estimation, the largest issue facing Edwards County heading into the election cycle is whether or not a change will be made to the make up of the board itself. An outspoken critic of the some of the board’s actions in recent months, the West Salem man expressed that he felt a change of direction was needed in how it operates.

“You cannot change bad past practices unless the right people take over,” he said. “Just like President Trump says, it is time to drain the swamp in Edwards County and Illinois.”

He also noted that his intention to weigh the long-term ramifications of any decision he would make as a commissioner.

“I am here to add Big Picture perspectives to decisions that might later have an adverse effect,” Webber stated. “I am also an independent thinker who will fairly consider matters before me and then decide on their merits, rather than play political games based on any vested interests in the outcome.”

Lear explained his feeling is that the state of the county courthouse and other county-owned properties is what needs to be prioritized over the next six years.

“The courthouse is in desperate need of repair, as well as the lawn and brick pavement around the courthouse,” said the incumbent board member. “We are also looking at possibly replacing the current county highway building, as it is well beyond its lifespan and in need of major repairs.

“When contemplating a new building, location is another factor to consider due to the current poor location.”

Lear also cited groundwork laid by the board during his first term in office to begin such repairs.

“The funding is in place for the contract work to repair the clock tower,” he said, referencing a $700 thousand restoration project. “The work is slated to begin in March, weather permitting, and will be completed by the end of the summer.  These repairs will stop the water leaking into the upper floors of the courthouse.

“The clock tower will be completely restored, which should last another 100 years.”

Lear also listed the installation of a perimeter wall around the inner yard of the courthouse which has already been started, the replacement of outer curbing and entrances to the Albion square, new trees being added to east and north sides of the square and replacing the damaged bricks surrounding the inner square of the courthouse as other projects he hopes to undertake or finish in order to maintain the property.

A concern for many Edwards County residents is the state of the road system within the county. With ownership of the roadways divvied between the state, county and road districts, it can be difficult to determine which entity is charged with maintaining a particular road.

Webber stated that he intends to provide clarity to those who are lodging complaints about roads within the county, as well as seek cooperation with road district commissioners on such matters.

“I think you must listen to residents and communicate with them what is and is not possible, as well as where such solutions can be found,” he said of the county’s road issues. “There seems to be a lot of shoulder shrugging and acting like there is nothing you can do about it and leaving residents in limbo.

“Partnering with the road commissioners and looking for a mutually beneficial outcome is something that I would work toward doing when elected.“

Lear noted that most roads owned by the county itself are in decent shape.

“Our county roads are in fairly good shape, for the most part,” he explained. “When I began my term, the Bone Gap Road – County Road 800E, was pretty much forgotten, but by keeping it in the forefront, we have managed to secure all but one easement.  That will allow us to proceed with repair work once the funding is secured.

“We are investigating some possible ways to begin this project.  However, currently it is on hold waiting on funding.”

As for the road district roadways, he stated that the districts themselves need to increase taxes to cover maintenance costs, as well as secure state funding in the future.

“It is imperative that all the county road districts be funded at the 33.3 percent tax rate,” said Lear. “We still have one district that is not at this rate, which may cause us to lose the State Needy Funding.  We continue to lose ground in all of these districts by receiving less funding and a constant increase in maintenance costs, which then leads to the inability to stay on top of road repairs.

“We have looked at consolidating these districts but this is something that must be done by the voters and not the commissioners.” 

A sales tax would also be an option, according to Lear.

“The only other option would be a sales tax increase to fund these district roads or they will continue to get worse,” he stated. “The recent 19-cent gas tax did nothing for these road districts – in fact, without the State Needy money, they will most likely continue to see a decrease in monies granted for repairs.

“We must make sure that we are spending what money we do have in the right places, and as responsibly as possible.  In many cases, the actual amount of materials that end up on the road is small compared to the costs of labor, equipment, and insurance.”

When asked how the county board could help Edwards County grow, Webber highlighted working with the agricultural sector.

“County Commissioners should work with farming and business entities on how they can encourage such growth and then point them to resources to make the added growth happen,” he said. “We need to change the mindset from ‘Why Edwards County?’ to ‘Why not Edwards County?’”

For Lear, keeping a balanced budget and the maintaining the county’s property are the key to growing the county economically.

“Maintaining a balanced budget and being fiscally responsible will allow us to plan for the future,” said Lear. “County buildings and property must be maintained for future generations.

“We must encourage the citizens of Edwards County to support local businesses which, in turn, places more monies back into our economy.”

Lear also thanked those who elected him to office six years ago.

“It has been an honor and privilege to represent the voters of Edwards County,” he noted. “It takes approximately three years to learn the processes and ins and outs of the position.  I feel that we have a good team of commissioners who truly have the county’s best interest at heart.

“I have enjoyed my first term and hope that the voters will support me in an additional term as County Commissioner.”

Being a voice for the northern portion of Edwards County, which currently has no representation on the county board, and lending an ear to the residents of the county capped Webber’s message.

“It is time that all parts of Edwards County feel represented on the County Commission,” Webber explained. “I will be an avid listener to your concerns and will work toward bringing back common sense leadership to county decision-making.”