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Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey the Forest Park Review sent out to all commissioner candidates running in this year’s elections. Candidates full, unedited responses are printed. 

Don’t miss your chance to hear commissioner candidates debate the issues.

The Forest Park Review is partnering with the Chamber of Commerce to host a commissioner candidates forum at 6:30 p.m. on March 21 at Forest Park Middle School, 925 Beloit Ave.

 Age:  41

•      Married to Samantha (Makin) Novak (works in District 91)

o     3 Children: Storey (11), Nolan (9), Cooper (7) (Nolan & Cooper attend District 91)

•      Parents: Carol & David Novak (Father was the Executive Director of Park District of Forest Park for 35 years)

•      Sibling: Brother (Nic) Sister-in-law (Jen) is a Teacher, District 91

o     Nephews & Niece: Nicholas, Matthew and Katie

 Previous political experience:

2015 – present        Village Commissioner of Forest Park            Streets & Public Improvements                       

The Commissioner of Streets and Public Improvements is responsible for road & alley construction, street cleaning, snow removal, sewers, fresh water utilities, garbage and yard waste.

Previous community experience:

I am currently and have been involved with many organizations and non-profits in the past.  As a committee member, I have worked alongside Board of Directors, Commissioners, and Citizens raise awareness and establish funding.  

Outside of Forest Park

•      Wheaton Chamber of Commerce, Taste of Wheaton Committee | 10 years

•      Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA of DuPage), Wheaton Brew Fest Committee | 9 years

•      Wheaton Lions Club, Lions Club Reindeer Run Committee | 7 years

•      Downtown Wheaton Association, Wine & Cultural Arts Festival | 3 years

•      Rotary Club of Central DuPage AM, Fun Run in Color Committee | 6 years

•      FT Cares Foundation, Light the Torch Night Run Committee | 6 years

•      Wheaton College Arena Theater, Shakespeare in the Park | 6 years

•      Bill George Youth Football League (Wheaton Rams Football & Cheerleading) | 9 years

•      Cosley Zoo Foundation | 10 years

•      DuPage County Historical Museum Foundation | 9 years

Locally

•      Forest Park & River Forest Little League

•      Volunteer for Forest Park North Side Parent Teacher Council

 Occupation: 

Superintendent of Special Facilities | Wheaton Park District | 2009-present

In my current role I manage the administrative planning, organization, direction, and supervision of facilities operated by the park district including: two outdoor aquatic facilities, fitness center, county historical museum, a five-acre zoo, mini-golf, skate park and ten sustainable large-scale community special events. I am responsible for a government agency division budget of more than three million dollars. In addition to my daily responsibilities, I have spent the last ten years of my career leading, coordinating, and executing the agency’s strategic and master plan.

Education:

1995-1999              Southern Illinois University               Carbondale, IL

Bachelor of Science – Park & Recreation Administration

•      SIU Park & Rec Alumni – Young Professional of the Year 2010

St. Joseph High School (1995)

Forest Park School District 91 (K through 8)

1.    What is the present state of the village of Forest Park’s financial situation? What is being done and what should the village board’s role be in promoting economic development? What are the best tools for doing so and what else can the village board to help recruit new businesses and maintain the ones already here?

The Village of Forest Park is and has been operating at a deficit. Our expenses and cost of serving our community far outweighs the revenue we bring in. Our reliance on the tax dollar is more than 100%. In my last four years the Village Council has been making strides to address this issue, but there is still more work to be done. The Village Administrator and Department Heads have been receptive to the Village Commissioners feedback during our annual budget workshops and discussions and have cut spending in the last four years without affecting core services. We have also examined rates, fees and fines that have not seen increases in many years and made changes to assist in offsetting some of the costs associated with these areas of business or services provided. Experience handling government budgets and planning is the strongest tool a potential commissioner can bring to the table. In my current role with the Wheaton Park District I manage a three million dollar plus budget in the black utilizing little to no reliance on the tax dollar. My professional experience of more than 20 years in government service and nearly four years of experience with the Village makes me a great asset to the 2019-2022 Council to continue to work towards fiscal responsibility and financial sustainability.

Staff has put together an Economic Development Report with the assistance of Business Development, Inc. that has been reviewed by the Village Council over the last two years. There are some very feasible opportunities included in the plan, but bottom line, the Village Council needs to be active in seeking alternative revenue sources. The Village Council should encourage staff to create a strategic and master plan to implement some of these changes.

As for recruiting new businesses to town, the Village Council needs to work with staff to identify the areas in which business vacancies exist and what opportunities we offer to a potential business owner. We need to support the staff in this identification process and assist where we can with creating opportunities that are attractive to potential new businesses to move into town. The best tool the Village Council can provide is customer service. Current and future business owners are extremely valuable to our Village and we need to treat them the way we would residents. They are investing in our community and we should support their ventures from day one to encourage business development and economic growth.

2.    A representative from the National Park Service has spent the last year interviewing residents and designing a plan for how to develop the village-owned Altenheim property. How should the village board now proceed?

When residents were surveyed by the NPS they found the most important things desired for this location by residents were open space, green space, compatibility, safety, and inclusion. As a Park & Recreation Professional by trade, I could not agree more and we are lucky to have this “crown jewel” to develop. This property is the only remaining open/green space of significant size in our Village. While some investment in this property would be needed to create a usable space for the community it would be minimal compared to the other options of commercializing the space for public use. The condition of the old buildings at the south end of the property is deplorable and clearing the property as soon as possible is important.  Maintaining the green space allows us to be good neighbors not only to those adjacent to the property, but to the entire Village. It gives us a great location for community events and the open space allows us flexibility in the future for outside event rentals as well. From my experience in special events and facility management with the Wheaton Park District a green space such as this will provide many benefits to our community environmentally and for the economy. Events we do host or allow to be hosted on property can generate a small revenue stream for the Village and allow for additional indirect commerce for the Village while bringing the community together.

I believe the Village Council should empower the staff to begin drawing up plans for this property that would include demolition, construction of a walking path, landscaping of natural and native plants, and a simple restroom facility that could be locked for safety after hours or while area is not in use. It is important this property remains open and inclusive for those of all abilities. One of the elements we implemented in the strategic planning process I have been a part of in Wheaton is a continuous open space review process. Every five years staff spends time on each area of operation/property discussing what could be improved or added and setting timelines and urgency for the improvements. We incorporate staff and community feedback. This process is a little time consuming initially, but it has created a valuable open space plan and eliminates projects sitting around such as the length of time we have been discussing the Altenheim property. I think we need to start small by creating a useable space and continue to monitor the area for use in hopes that as we grow as a community to possibly add a fitness element, community garden, or simple band shell to the property over the course of time to meet the ever changing needs of our community.

3.    Video gaming was the talk of the town over the past year. Did you have a stance on this issue? The debate seems to have divided the town. How do you think the village should move forward and heal? 

The debate did divide the town, but at the same time it has shed light on the importance of transparency, education of the stakeholders and has engaged some residents who otherwise may not have gotten involved. I think we all need to work together to find the silver lining of how this debate strengthened Forest Park as well. I was very upfront about my support for video gaming. I know some people may choose not to vote for me based on this one issue, but I hope the residents and other candidates educate themselves on why I chose to support this issue back in 2016. The Village needed additional revenue and video gaming was projected to provide a new and potentially substantial revenue stream for the Village. While I stand by my vote to allow this legal form of entertainment to take place in our Village as it does in so many other towns, I serve the people, so I respect the vote to overturn video gaming.

Forest Park has been my hometown my entire life. The Village needs to continue to move forward in seeking other opportunities to generate revenue, they need to promote an open communication environment. The issue has passed and now we need to focus our efforts on why this is a wonderful place to live and raise a family. The essence of why Forest Park is a great place to live has not changed, and a vote for or against gaming should not take away residents’ support for our Village. A decision has been made and the issue is resolved according to the majority. Unfortunately, several businesses suffered losses during the process and are now sold or up for sale. A Village Council position comes with a lot of responsibility which sometimes includes making decisions for the greater good of the entire community rather than personal opinion.

4.    Flooding continues to be an issue in the village. How can this problem be addressed? And paid for?

The Village approved a long term agreement with an engineering firm in 2014 which outlines the steps needed to address the issues of the local sewer overflow and seepage into basements. The Village does have an infrastructure replacement plan in place that articulates what projects will take place each year. We continue to work these important improvements into schedules each year. While this project extends all the way into 2029, there is a lot that we have done to being to “green” our practices in the meantime to assist with storm water runoff and water quality protection. The Village has been and continues to seek grant funding to assist with completing major alley renovations. We have already installed “green alleys” which utilizes permeable pavers to allow for better flood management. There is another alley tagged for permeable paving in 2019. We were the first Village in Cook County to install a green alley, and these green alleys will continue to be important for our Village. We need to do what we can when we can. Being ahead of the curve and committing ourselves to invest in our infrastructure is extremely important. Taking small steps towards updating our infrastructure and replacing/repairing our current system will go a long way and needs to be the focus in the coming years. Not just to address flooding but environmental issues as well.

5.    What is Forest Park’s role as it concerns Proviso Township District 209 High Schools, if any?

It is important for us to continue to support and push for change in our school system. While we can advocate and support those who are committed to improving our schools – no one person is going to be able to waive a magic wand and change District 209. It is an issue we need to keep pushing for as it changes the scope and opportunity for the future of our Village. We need to support our 209 Together candidates, allow for contested races such as the one upon us for District 91, and we need to create a community of inclusion and culture that will one day overcome the stigma created by the school district. We are seeing families transfer their children out of District 91 as early as 2nd grade. When I was younger we saw children remain in town or the public school system until 8th grade. As a lifetime Forest Park resident I know how few of us remain in town as adults, but how important our hometown is to those who grew up here. I think whatever investment we can make into the children of Forest Park will be returned to our community tenfold.

6.    Transparency has been repeatedly noted by candidates and residents as an issue with the village. Do you believe Forest Park has a transparency problem? If so, how would you address it?

Transparency is important in government now more than ever. I truly believe it is crucial for our Village to continue to strive for. Four years ago, I probably answered this question differently and probably some of the other candidates may do so as well. In working with the staff and the current Village Council I have been impressed with how much transparency they do allow for especially as it relates to expenses. Everything can be found online and is provided for review to the Village Commissioners. Being transparent does not mean people will take advantage of the information available and educate themselves with it. Sometimes transparency is a great clutch word, but it order for it to work the information has to be available and the residents/business owners must want to educate themselves on what is available. Now, I do think as a Village Council and Staff we need to work to put information in residents and business owners hands that is consumable. If I did not work in a government agency our reporting and financial documents maybe confusing or hard to read. I hope in my next term to work with staff to create an annual report or resident update that is easy to understand. Residents and business owners are our customer and there is always room to increase communication.

I think we need to continue to strengthen our open-door policy. I cannot tell you the number of residents that I have received phone calls from or have met in person that are initially very upset, but by taking the time to listen I am able to help them with their issues. Communication is a two way street and the culture set by the Village Administration is key. We need to create an environment where community input is always welcome and community/stakeholder education is continuous.

Village Commissioner’s contact information is available on our Village website and I strongly urge residents to take advantage of this ability to reach out. My phone and email are always on. As a Commissioner I work 24/7 for the people and business owners of Forest Park.

7.    If you had to write a mission and vision for Forest Park, what would they be?

With my experience in government strategic planning, I do believe that a Mission and Vision are important for municipalities and local agencies to adopt. Though, I do think the process should involve the staff and key community stakeholders (such as Mayor and Village Commissioners). While I have listed below a suggestion for Forest Park, I would want to engage the staff in the process of deciding what was adopted by the Village as we put our faith in these individuals to fulfill our Mission and Vision day in and day out.

Mission Statement

The Village of Forest Park is committed to sustainably providing excellent municipal services and a high quality of life for our residents, business owners and community. We accomplish this through careful and strategic planning aimed at stimulating, strengthening and diversifying our economy and amenities.

Vision Statement

Focused on economic, land, and community development, delivery of core services and effective management of Village infrastructure, we strive to create a safe, inclusive and financially sustainable environment for our community.

8.    Should Forest Park remain a commissioner form of government or change to a village manager form?

This issue has been tossed around in this community dating back prior to my birth.  In 1967, Forest Park Review editor Claude Walker described the commission form of government as, “the current garbled monstrosity that encourages conniving and political shenanigans.”  The current Review editorial staff has been saying for years that the Commission Form of Government is obsolete and hinders Forest Park.  In our present form of government, the Commission and Mayor have legislative power and administrative authority with the responsibility of running a specific department within the village. Now that we have a professional Village Administrative position, I believe that individual should oversee the Department Heads and run the day-to-day operations of our local government and the elected officials should move into a role of legislative authority.  Illinois state stature allows for commission forms of government to be restructured when it/if would better serve the public need.  I would be in favor to putting this question to the people, allowing them to vote for their form of government. Operations aside, the four Commissioners and the Mayor each have one vote so it does provide a certain level of checks and balances as long as you have the right people in your Village Commissioner seats.

We are at a new crossroads with our outgoing Mayor. The Village will see a natural culture shift in welcoming a new Mayor. I truly believe adapting and growing are a crucial part of effective government service. Change is good, but you must always remember the history and past. As a first term Village Commissioner seeking re-election I bring both to the table. I provide a little bit of both to the Village Council and if re-elected look forward to serving with several new Commissioners and our next Mayor.

9.    What issues should the Diversity Task Force be charged to pursue?

Let me first start by saying how important citizen commissions are in local government. We should all value and empower these individuals as they are dedicating time to the betterment of Forest Park. As an elected official you are given the responsibility to not only represent the residents and business owners of your community, but to do your best by them. The most important thing to me is that people feel engaged in our community. A volunteer force like this is so valuable to our Village.

I would like to see the Diversity Task Force focus on inclusion, engagement, and celebration of the diverse offerings and residents of Forest Park. We need a government that welcomes our citizens, empowers our citizen commissions and their input, and puts the needs of the Village first. In a time of adversity we should have residents dedicated to celebrating ALL of our residents.

10.      What other issues do you feel will be important for the next village board to address? How should they be addressed?

The April 2nd, 2019 election will change the face of the Village Council. We will have a new Mayor and we have nine candidates vying for four Village Commissioner seats. It will be extremely important following the election for the new Village Council, Village Administrator and Department Heads to establish a united mission and vision outlining goals and objectives for the next four years and beyond. There are four accountability initiatives that I believe should guide the Village Council and Forest Park 2019-2023. 

Engage Residents & Business Owners

Forest Park should aim to be a village where residents of all ages and business owners are engaged and satisfied. As someone who was once a young resident of Forest Park; 41 years later I want to make sure we are engaging residents of all ages to invest in our future. Hopefully many of the children in our sports programs, schools and after-school programs today will be in my shoes someday, raising their families here. We need to make sure residents of all ages are satisfied so we can continue to develop the community we have all come to know and love.

I pledge to encourage more community involvement with our citizens, fostering a positive community spirit by continuing to offer residents an open-door policy. It is important to create an environment where residents and business owners are comfortable and the Village Council is a welcoming and open forum for our constituents to express concerns as well as celebrate successes. Balance can be promoted through engagement of the public and keeping our focus on the Village as a whole. 

In my professional career I have learned that the main reason people do not get involved or volunteer is that they were never asked. This community is filled with individuals who truly enjoy making a difference and have a vested interest in the Forest Park we have to make an effort to tap into that resource.  As part of my platform, I plan to encourage more community involvement and input from our citizens, while fostering a positive community spirit. 

Value Our History

As a lifelong Forest Park resident, I understand and value the Village’s history and culture.  My decade of service at the DuPage County Historical Museum has provided insight and knowledge of how important it is to protect, preserve, learn from, and advocate for local history while maintaining fiscal responsibly. Stewardship of culture and history of an area should be on the minds and agenda of every civil servant. It is essential to never lose your HISOTRY! Understanding where we came from will help us succeed better in the future.

It will be important as we enter 2019 with a new Mayor that our Village Council unites and promotes togetherness in Forest Park. When I was growing up in this town anyone would give you the shirt off their back. Neighbors supported one another no questions asked. It should be no different today. The greatest joy of serving the last few years is allowing and having Forest Park look out for my children just like when I was raised. It takes a Village to raise a family and I hope we strive to engage all residents in that way.

We are one Forest Park and as we move forward the Village Council will need to create a shared vision for our community. Each of the four Village Commissioners and the Mayor get one vote, so as a Council we are all equal. It is imperative we have a balance of knowledge and history to ground us while welcoming change to continuously do things better and smarter.

Enhance Our Community

We need to be an efficient and effective place of public service and business to ensure excellence for our residents and business owners. We have issues we need to resolve and work towards such as fiscal responsibility, infrastructure and business development. At the same time, we provide core services to our community and need to continue to seek ways to do things better and smarter yet still offer a high level of service to our residents and business owners. I am a huge proponent of positive change and innovation for this village, as I believe it is the way we continue to grow and adapt, remain sustainable, and make Forest Park a great place for all to live, work, play and call home.

Value Driven Commission

We need to always aim toward a professionally developed and value driven commission. Our Village Commissioners as well as staff need to be accessible, accountable, and transparent to our community members and constituents. Values of integrity, commitment, service, dependability, kindness, approachability, and adaptability guide my career as an elected official.  As a successful leader, I know that working in a positive manner and keeping the best interest of the community in mind when making difficult decisions is extremely important. Twenty years of public service experience has allowed me the opportunity to manage, produce, provide, and positively impact others in the community in which I work. I enjoy making a difference and serving others, and look forward to the positive impact I can and will provide to my hometown of Forest Park.

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Here's what Novak told the Review about his candidacy: 

Novak announces re-election run