The Ela Township Board recently welcomed a new trustee. Lake Zurich resident Joel Sikes was appointed to fill the vacancy of retired trustee Jack Reck. His recommendation by Supervisor Lucy Prouty was unanimously approved at the Dec. 10 board meeting.
Sikes, who had actually sought a communications position with the township, was asked to consider serving as trustee given his resume and political experience.
Sikes is a communications analyst for the Illinois House of Representatives. His credentials also include a stint as senior media coordinator for the New York State Assembly. Both of these positions have allowed him to be directly involved in the crafting of public policy and the promotion of policies focused toward government acting to facilitate a well-functioning society and away from those that have sought to dictate the function of society.
Sikes has three older brothers, and you may know his parents, Dale and Nancy, from their long-time involvement in activities around Ela Township.
After graduating from Lake Zurich High School, Sikes attended Illinois Wesleyan University where he studied political science and business administration. He went on to earn degrees in political science and history from Illinois State University.
A family that serves
“The reason I got involved in public service was a general desire to have a positive impact,” Sikes said. “Growing up, it was installed in me through my family to serve the community. For my brothers and I, that was frequently reflected through Boy Scouts. Three of us are Eagle Scouts. When I got older, I wanted to continue to find ways to serve.”
In addition to being a trustee on the township board, Sikes also serves on the Lake County Housing and Community Development Commission, a volunteer commission made up of county board members, local elected officials and citizen members. The commission utilizes funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to look for opportunities to help with low cost housing issues and community development.
Though Sikes is the first in his family to serve in elected office, commitment to service runs in the family. His older brother, Adam, served more than 10 years in the Marine Corps, which included two tours of duty in Iraq, during which time he was awarded the Silver Star. Adam now works for the State Department. Brother Tim is a deputy director with USAID, which is the United States Agency for International Development. He’s spent much of the past three years in Afghanistan working on getting women more involved in democracy and education programs.
Appreciation for township services
The Sikes family has long supported the many services of Ela Township and is especially appreciative of the senior program, in which Sikes’s grandmother participates.
“My family has found that to be a great resource,” Sikes said. “About 10 years ago, we moved my grandmother from California to be closer to our family. She had a lot of positive connections through the family’s church, Harvest Bible Chapel in Lake Zurich, but it was the township’s senior services program that helped her make new friends through their programs and activities.”
As the population ages, providing topnotch senior services will continue to be an essential component of township services, Sikes said. “It’s important to me that it’s carried on and looked after in a fiscally responsible manner so it’s sustainable in the future.”
As trustee, Sikes also wants to see the township continue to improve upon youth services. He credits the dedication of Ela Township Youth Director Alex Tonigan with making the program popular and successful.
“Younger families are looking to move into Ela Township because of its great schools and facilities, and in many households both parents are working. Youth services are becoming more important as people are looking for low cost ways to provide for their families rather than spending hundreds or thousands a month on additional childcare services. It’s done in a low cost, sustainable way through the township and we should look to improve on this and work with the private sector in this process,” Sikes said.
He also wants to continue to keep the community center sustainable. “The way spending has gone in our state and federal budgets is not sustainable. That model is really destroying the next generation, whereas local governments and townships have done a much better job of managing their finances in a smaller format and providing better services.”
One of the most important issues facing townships is the push to consolidate local units of government as a cost-saving measure, something Sikes said he fully supports. However, Sikes pointed out that townships provide programs and services at much lower cost than other government bodies that seek to provide similar services.
“Townships have kind of been under attack for the past few years,” Sikes said. “I think to a degree that’s not necessarily the right approach because townships provide a great deal of services at low costs.”
Rather than it being something to eliminate, Sikes believes township government could be a vessel for positive consolidation from the standpoint that townships have pre-existing infrastructure and cover a wider geographical area. He also noted that because state statute limits what townships can do, existing statute would need to be changed for townships to be used for cost-saving consolidation efforts.
“A perfect example in Ela Township is the highway department. Through intergovernmental agreements, the villages of Deer Park, Kildeer and Long Grove get their road services through Ela Township,” Sikes said. “This cooperation provides cost savings for residents because communities do not have the extra expense of maintaining their own facilities and equipment, which lessens the tax burden on residents. I think we should look to purse more intergovernmental agreements and private sector-government agreements that could provide cost savings in other areas.”
“In general, township governments, particularly in the suburban areas and in Lake County, are more solvent than many other local governments. Perhaps we need to take a page out of the township book for other local governments and evaluate some of the processes the townships have used to see if there’s a positive benefit,” Sikes continued.
The next township election is April 2017. Sikes said he will consider seeking election to the board, but right now, he is focused on getting up to speed on township business and looking to see how he can use his experience working with the legislatures to improve township operations.
“For me, it’s all about community service. If being in an elected position is a vessel for doing that, that’s great. If I’m in another position that allows me to provide service to my community, that’s just as good.”