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:
Forest Park Village Commissioner of Public Property – May 2007 to May 2011
Candidate for Mayor of Forest Park – April 2011
Previous community experience:
• Senior Babe Ruth Baseball Head Coach, Downers Grove: 1983 – 1984
• Junior Achievement Project Business Instructor, Herrick Junior High, Downer’s Grove: 1982 -1990
• Board of Trustees, All Saints Apostolic Church, Glenview: 1994 to 2000 and 2002 to 2007
• Forest Park Plan Commission Member – 2005 to 2007
Design Manager – CB&I Storage Solutions, McDermott Inc.
BS General Engineering – University of Illinois @ Urbana/Champaign 1975
MS Civil Engineering – University of Illinois @ Urbana / Champaign 1981
1. What is the present state of the village of Forest Park’s financial situation?
The village has depleted the fund balances to supplement operating expenses to the point where the village is essentially living hand-to-mouth with insignificant reserves. What is being done and what should the village board’s role be in promoting economic development? Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) districts have been established in Forest Park to allocate future tax increases to improvements in the TIF districts. While these funds are removed from the general revenue, the funds are used to attract business to the TIF district. The village can also enter into redevelopment agreements which rebate a portion of the sales tax within limits established by the agreement. 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? While TIF districts and redevelopment agreements are effective tools for promoting economic development, these tools must provide for a next increase in the overall revenue to the village. As was done for the Downtown Business District, zoning ordinances can be used make commercial districts more attractive. The village can also work with the owners of vacant commercial properties and prospective businesses to facilitate the planning and zoning process.
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?
The eventual plan from the National Park Service will be an important source of information and design recommendations and will supplement the information previously assembled by the village and residents. With some additional input from residents, the Village Council needs to develop a mixed use plan which incorporates the zoning limits and restricted covenants contained in the purchase agreement with the Altenheim. The restricted covenants limit the total area of development to 8 acres and limits the development to zoning class R-1 and R-2 and qualifying exemptions “provided that such use will not interfere with the reasonable, quiet enjoyment by the residents of the A and B Buildings of their apartments and of the surrounding property retained by the Altenheim.” The NPS will not address the music venue proposed by some residents who have also not adequately considered the restricted covenants in developing the various options for a music venue. The development limit of 8 acres ensures that a significant portion of the Altenheim property will become open public green space. The portion of the property along Van Buren Avenue has utilities in place which would facilitate residential development consistent with the current zoning and Althenheim purchase agreement. Although input is required from both the surrounding residents and the Altenheim management, the Village should investigate the feasibility of rezoning the southern portion of the property to allow a hotel and commercial district.
3. Video gaming was the talk of the town over the past year. Did you have a stance on this issue?
I have long opposed Video Gaming in Forest Park and was an active advocate for both the non-binding referendum and binding referendum. I was an active member and financial supporter of the groups who sought to place the binding referendum on the ballot.
4. The debate seems to have divided the town. How do you think the village should move forward and heal?
The division was largely due to the tactics of the proponents and the sensitivity of the opposing parties. There were valid issues on both sides of the argument. Ultimately, the voters rejected video gaming by a narrow margin. The village should recognize the impact of not having video gaming on some establishments and help these establishments overcome the loss through increased funding for the Chamber of Commerce to market our village and by promoting local businesses exclusively at Village sponsored events.
5. Flooding continues to be an issue in the village. How can this problem be addressed? And paid for?
Like other communities that were developed prior to the 1940’s, sewage and rain water are carried in the same sewer system. Forest Park is in the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) which processes the combined rain and waste water from the Chicagoland area. The Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP) is a multi-decade multi-billion dollar construction project to prevent the discharge of sewage into our lakes and rivers and to prevent flooding. Most of the tunnels are completed and reservoirs are being added to the system. It is not economically feasible for Forest Park to separate our sewer systems or ourselves from the MWRD. However, our sewer system can be better maintained and updated to eliminate choke points. A comprehensive maintenance and improvement plan should be developed for our sewer system by inspecting our system, using data from the floods of 2010 and working with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. The village must aggressively pursue federal funding with in place shovel ready plans to improve and rebuild our local sewer system where most needed. However, even a well maintained sewer system and the completion of the TARP will not solve the problem for everyone. The village can assist the residents living in flood prone homes by helping to identify their specific solution and facilitating contract for the work.
6. What is Forest Park’s role as it concerns Proviso Township District 209 High Schools, if any?
As is the case for all of the communities served by District 209, the village can help to provide a safe environment for students on the campuses and as they travel to and from school. We should establish joint committee/commissions and also work in true partnerships with other jurisdictions i.e. Library Board, Park District, Local School District, Proviso Township, Cook County and social service organizations so that we can maximize services and programs and save limited dollars by keeping costs down.
7. 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?
Past administrations did not facilitate public involvement in the legislative process and, as such, the village of Forest Park was not nearly as transparent as it should be and can be. There are a number of items that the village can do to be more transparent and allow residents to be aware of the issues facing the village. In particular, the village should implement the following changes.
• Keep the public informed by issuing Council Meeting packets a week prior to the meeting instead of the minimum required 48 hours.
• Open Village Boards and Commissions to broaden community participation so that our boards and commissions are representative of our entire village.
• Provide easy access to information and documentation on village government.
8. If you had to write a mission and vision for Forest Park, what would they be?
The mission of Forest Park is to be a safe, well maintained, friendly, prosperous village where everyone is welcomed and everyone wants to make Forest Park their home and place of business.
9. Should Forest Park remain a commissioner form of government or change to a village manager form?
Forest Park should seek a change from the Commission form of government to a form which removes the administrative responsibility from elected officials. The new form of government should retain the responsiveness of the Village elected officials and staff to residents without placing administrative responsibility with elected officials.
10. What issues should the Diversity Task Force be charged to pursue?
Identify and encourage people with diverse backgrounds to serve on village boards and commissions. Promote and develop people from all backgrounds, genders, and preferences to participate in public service. Propose activities to engage all members of our community. Work with local entities like the Progress Center for Independent Living to identify obstacles to independent living and encourage the village and property owners to remove the obstacles.
11. What other issues do you feel will be important for the next village board to address? How should they be addressed?
The fundamental responsibilities of municipal government are to provide a safe environment with police and fire services, regulate building and construction activities, provide utilities and waste removal, maintain the local infrastructure, and provide for the well-being of our most vulnerable residents while doing so fairly and as efficiently as possible. While our police department does an excellent job, they need additional training and resources to provide a safe environment and reduce the number of lawsuits brought against our police officers. Our fire department also does an excellent job and previously provided fire and ambulance services to the Hines VA Hospital. The village should aggressively pursue the Hines VA service contract to help support our village and fire department. Elected officials at all levels of government in Illinois must address the underfunding of public service pension funds and immediately take corrective actions and stop transferring this obligation to future generations. This crisis will only be resolved with increased funding levels and changes to service contracts that are fair to the residents and recipients.