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.
Previous political experience:
Secretary, Senior Class, Doherty Memorial High School
President, Christ the King Church Youth Group
Canvassed for President Obama, Iowa and IL 2008 and 2012
Canvassed for Proviso Together, hosted Meet-and-Greets
Organized Western Suburbs participants to attend the Women’s March 2017 & 2019
Member of League of Women Voter’s
Canvassed for Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, hosted Meet-and-Greet
Previous community experience:
Coach, Forest Park Youth Soccer
Assistant Coach, Forest Park T-Ball
Founding Board Member, Best Foot Forward, All-Women’s Running Group in Western Suburbs
Host, monthly Brown-Bag-Lunch-making, for Housing Forward Homeless program
Community Advisory Council Member for District 91 School Board, 2017-1018
Collaborated with Forest Park Library to offer story times to preschoolers for Martin Luther King, Jr Day 2015/2016
Collaborated with Forest Park Library to promote and educate families about Indigenous People Day 2018/2019
Created and maintain Facebook page, BFF Tri Sisterhood, for local women participating or interested in Triathlons
Member, Betsy Ross-Field Stevenson Parent Teacher Organization 2017-present
Member, Garfield-Grant White Northside Parent Teacher Council 2016-present
Created and maintain Facebook page, Parents of Forest Park Preschoolers, for current and prospective families
Occupation: Social Worker
College of the Holy Cross, Bachelor of Arts 1995
University of Maryland, Baltimore Master of Social Work 2002
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’s financial situation is grim. According to the Village’s Audit for the year ending on April 30, 2018, we have a negative fund balance in the general fund. My understanding is that the Village has been relying on reserve funds for many years to pay for expenditures that exceed revenues coming in. The reserves are now depleted, so transfers from the water fund are being used. Commuter parking rates, building permits and compliance fees, higher ambulance rates and charges in refuse services have all been mentioned by Village officials as new revenue generators in 2018. Village officials also point to cost-saving methods that are being explored: reductions in insurance premiums, fees for fuel, telephone and credit cards, and continued discussions with all vendors.
I believe the Village has an important role in promoting economic development. We must do as much as a Village can do to help all our businesses. Continuing to support the Chamber of Commerce by not only being a member and supporting them financially, but by having the Mayor and Commissioners attend meetings and events sponsored by the Chamber. Collaborating with the Chamber and creating a marketing plan with them to promote all the businesses throughout the Village should be a priority. The creation of a village-wide calendar that is easy to navigate would be tremendously helpful to promote special events that local businesses are offering. As a Village Commissioner, I will encourage other entities throughout the Village (i.e. Library, Park District, District 91 and 209, Historical Society, Community Center) to collaborate with the Chamber to share events on their social media sites and promote local businesses in any way they can and use them to supply their own events.
I think it is also important to reach out to businesses that may not be members of the Chamber and find out their expectations of the Village Council and how it can support their needs.
It would be helpful to have a Budget accessible to the public via the website. The information I have regarding the Village finances is from attending the Village Council meeting on Jan. 14th, when auditors presented their findings, as well as from reading the follow up article in the Forest Park Review. However, not everyone is able to attend Village Council meetings. In addition, an audit is not the same thing as an actual budget.
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?
Sharing the National Park Service plan on the website, as well as holding a town hall, would be a great start. There has also been much work done by an Ad-Hoc Cultural Committee appointed by the Mayor. Their work and recommendations should be included in any town hall meeting. Concerns from residents from the 56 units of senior housing in the Altenheim in the Park must be included and made public. Representatives from the 193 units within the nine buildings of Residences at The Grove must be part of any public discussions due to their proximity to the property. Parking and traffic studies that have been done need to be included and/or updated as this would affect all residents in Forest Park. Any restrictions that were part of the original sale contract back in 2001 when the Village purchased the 11-acre property needs to be highlighted. The Village Board must weigh all viable options for this property, including those already proposed and others that may yet be imagined, and inform residents in a timely manner.
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?
I voted against Video Gambling. I did not agree with the process the Village Council used to allow video gambling to come into the Village. Collaborating with the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses, promoting the various businesses throughout the Village, and using them whenever possible for Village events are just a few ways to move forward. Implementing village-wide activities, such as the Kindness Week that was recently proclaimed by the Mayor, is a wonderful way to achieve such unity and continue to move forward and heal.
4. Flooding continues to be an issue in the village. How can this problem be addressed? And paid for?
This is not a unique problem to Forest Park. However, having experienced constant flooding in my own basement for several years resulting in losing our water heater, furnace, washer, dryer and numerous family pictures and mementos to sewage back-up, I am extremely sensitive on this topic. As a Village Commissioner, I would expect yearly review and updates of the Infrastructure Plan. I would talk with the experts who have been working on this issue, the Village Administrator as well as the engineering firm that the Village contracts with to better understand how this problem can be addressed. I would investigate whether our Water Fund could help pay for flooding problems rather than being diverted to the General Fund. Pursuit of state and federal grants must continue. Collaborating with neighboring towns could help secure some of these grants. I have heard that the Village has only recently re-instated a Commission that would focus on Environmental Sustainability. I would work to provide this Commission the support they need. This Commission could be charged with researching and advising the Village Council on this continued problem.
5. What is Forest Park’s role as it concerns Proviso Township District 209 High Schools, if any?
Forest Park like any village or town has a duty to support their local high schools. As a Commissioner, I would like to show this support by attending academic, athletic and extra-curricular events. I would love to re-establish a Youth Advisory Board for the Village and have representatives from both East and PMSA on the Board.
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?
Yes, I believe transparency concerns are legitimate. As I became more active and engaged in local government, I found it challenging to navigate. I was told I wasn’t talking to the right people when I first brought up several parents concern about the lack of a stop sign at a crosswalk in front of the Preschool. When I went before those whom I thought were the right people—as I had been advised to do—the Village Council, and submitted a petition signed by 120 parents requesting a stop sign, I was told I wasn’t following the “proper procedure,” and that I first should have brought it to the Safety and Traffic Commission. (I had no idea we even had a safety and traffic commission!) Rather than feeling heard and respected for trying to be an involved and concerned citizen, I felt as if I was bothering people, and that our concerns were not important.
When I became interested in running for Commissioner, I wanted to learn more about the financial situation of the Village. I was unable to find a budget anywhere to guide me and inform me of where we stood. I just happened to attend a Village Council meeting where the auditors quickly reviewed their findings, but that is not the same thing as having an actual budget accessible to the public.
I attended another Village Council meeting where the annual Tax Levy was being discussed. I met a woman who had come specifically to hear about the Tax Levy. However, she missed the hearing, although she was present in Village Hall when it happened. She was standing outside the Council chambers with other people, not realizing that the meeting had started.
I believe we can do better in encouraging all residents to be involved and have a more participatory citizenry. Three simple things that I would do:
• Publicly thank each resident who attends and makes a public comment or brings a concern to a Village Council meeting. Give them the name and contact information for a Commissioner or Village staff member they can follow up with regarding their issue.
• Set up a system where Village Commissioners can take turns welcoming people to Village Council meetings outside the Chambers before meetings start. Commissioners can assure residents they are in the right place and guide them in how they can make a public comment.
• Work with the Mayor and other Commissioners to make the budget public and accessible to all residents.
7. If you had to write a mission and vision for Forest Park, what would they be?
Vision for the Future
The vision of Forest Park commits to building on its rich history and diverse community, providing an inclusive and high quality of life for all its citizens.
We pledge to work in collaboration with our residents and business community to nurture pride, develop a vibrant economy and together thoughtfully plan for the future.
To provide high quality public services in an equitable, inclusive, timely and fiscally responsible manner, striving for a clean and sustainable village.
8. Should Forest Park remain a commissioner form of government or change to a village manager form?
Before even forming an opinion, its important that we all understand the difference between these forms of government and what our options as a Village are. One of my main priorities as a Commissioner would be to listen to the needs and concerns of my constituents. If the form of government is a concern to many in our community, then it would be my job to put in the work to find out what our options are, lay them out in a clear and concise way through public forums, and have an open dialogue about what is best for Forest Park. After that kind of thorough process, we would be in a better position to decide how to go forward.
9. What issues should the Diversity Task Force be charged to pursue?
The Diversity Commission should be given some autonomy in identifying and addressing issues of concern from Village residents. The Commission could be allowed to collaborate with the Police Department when hate speech, or acts of vandalism or crime, which are motivated by hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, occur in the Village. The commission could help craft thoughtful yet swift responses. As a Village Commissioner, I would actively promote participation at Diversity Commission monthly meetings as well as any events they may sponsor. The Commission can help implement and educate other Village entities in what best practices are for ensuring a safe and nurturing environment. District 91 School Board set a great example by identifying a need within the District to pursue a more equitable approach to education, including how and who they hire. They sought out a program, The National Equity Project, to help guide them. The Diversity Commission could help the Village identify programs that assist municipalities in the same way.
10. What other issues do you feel will be important for the next village board to address? How should they be addressed?
Forest Park has evolved and that is a great thing for the people who make their home here. Our village has an enhanced vitality and appeal to people who are looking for an inclusive and friendly community, close to the city. One of my main goals as a Commissioner would be to strengthen the bonds between all residents, from those who have lived here their whole lives to those who are new to the village. Creating and encouraging community-wide projects such as the recent Kindness Week with District 91 and the Circle Bridge mural project are perfect examples. I would propose a yearly contest to generate other inspirational ideas.
A twice a year, structured, community-wide clean up with neighborhood captains could be another cross-community action to unify and beautify our village.
We need to start a yearly community-wide volunteer recruitment program. This would include recruitment for Village-chartered Boards and Commissions such as the Recreation Board, Diversity Commission and Safety and Traffic Commission. In addition, community-based, nonprofit and volunteer service organizations could be invited to participate.
Finally, I would propose we work with our Historical Society to explore opportunities for cultural and commercial development. For example, many local towns offer historical tours, as ours does during the Halloween season with the Historical Society’s cemetery tours. Let’s tap into our rich history year-round and make Forest Park an educational and cultural destination.