The drive into Crystal Lake was mostly the same.

A two-lane road had been widened in one spot. An extra gas station marked the route. There still was plenty of construction.

It felt the way it did when I would come home from college: a moment of recognition here and sometimes a pause of confusion – this wasn’t here before.

My return to the Northwest Herald office – where I spent three and a half years as a reporter – was a brief one in light of the ongoing pandemic, but it still gave me a thrill.

I’m very much looking forward to serving McHenry County as the paper’s new associate editor, leading our newsroom in its efforts to make sure that the community has the news it needs, that public officials are held accountable and that the fun, heartwarming and inspiring stories always are part of the mix.

Shaw Media Illinois senior news editor Jon Styf will continue to work with our team, which soon will include reporter Sam Lounsberry, who will cover the cities of McHenry, Woodstock, Richmond and Spring Grove starting Aug. 10.

Our other reporters include courthouse and special projects senior reporter Katie Smith; Kelli Duncan, who covers McHenry County government as well as the towns of Huntley, Lake in the Hills and Marengo; and Cassie Buchman, who writes about Crystal Lake, Cary, Algonquin and Fox River Grove.

My background is as a reporter. I’ve spent more than a decade primarily reporting on local governments, the past four and a half years at the Lake County News-Sun, Tribune Publishing’s daily newspaper in Waukegan.

Among my work, there was an awards-winning investigation into the arrest of a Waukegan District 60 administrative assistant charged with sexually abusing a girl for years. My reporting uncovered documents that showed the Illinois State Board of Education had known the man was fired from Chicago Public Schools on allegations of child abuse more than year before his arrest.

Before that, at the Northwest Herald, I took an interest in digging into what can seem like technical issues and showing why they matter, including the state’s tax cap, known as PTELL. That cap had a goal of protecting property owners but led to a philosophy of use it or lose it among taxing entities.

A 2015 investigation I led found that more than a quarter of McHenry County taxing bodies – which includes school districts, municipalities, sanitary districts, townships, park districts, fire protection districts and library districts – had enough money in the bank to cover all of their expenses for a year. Many of them continued to raise property taxes to the maximum allowed each year, citing worries that if they didn’t capture the increase that year, they would lose out on it in years to come.

I hope to bring my approach – reporting not only on what happened but why it happened so that the community can make informed decisions on what to do next – to my role as the Northwest Herald associate editor.

Our newsroom may be remote right now, but my inbox always is open. I want to hear the stories that make McHenry County the place it is. Feel free to contact me with story ideas, tips or just a hello.

• Northwest Herald associate editor Emily Coleman can be reached at or 815-526-4616.