Two incumbent Forest Park commissioners who were undecided about whether they were going to run for re-election next year have made their decisions.
Commissioner Joe Byrnes told the Review that he has decided not to run, while Commissioner Jessica Voogd confirmed that she is running. When the Review reached out to them at the end of May, both said they hadn’t made up their minds, though even then Byrnes said he was leaning against running. In a more recent interview, he said he’s been frustrated with the way the village government was operating and he was ready to move on.
This leaves a current field of five candidates vying for four seats. Incumbent commissioners Maria Maxham and Ryan Nero previously announced their intention to run. Two newcomers – development and grant writer Michelle Melin-Rogovin and Forest Park Historical Society president Mark Boroughf – have also joined the field. Candidates can submit nominating petitions between Dec. 12 and Dec. 19, and they have been able to collect those signatures since Sept. 20.
Byrnes worked for the Forest Park Police Department from 1974 to 1999, retiring as Deputy Chief. He served as a Park District of Forest Park commissioner from 2001 to 2007. Byrnes was first elected village commissioner in 2015, and he ended up running for re-election at the urging of several Forest Park business owners.
In an interview last week, Byrnes said he was proud of voting for various ordinances that got fire and police departments new vehicles and equipment, as well as his vote to raise salary ranges for village employees. He said there were two things he would have ideally liked to see through – shoring up the public safety employee pensions and ensuring that the village completes the ongoing sewer separation project. But, after mulling it over, Byrnes decided that running for reelection to pursue those goals wasn’t enough reason and concluded it was time for him to retire.
“I think it’s time for some fresh ideas, new fresh ideas for the council,” he said. “It’s just – when you get to a point where it becomes a challenge, just going into the village hall, it’s time to move on.”
Byrnes said he’s been frustrated with the way village council meetings have been organized, saying that the commissioners simply don’t have time to meaningfully review what’s on the agendas before they have to vote on it.
“We shouldn’t be getting an agenda on a Friday afternoon, where we can’t ask any questions until Monday, when the staff is there, and we go into the meeting on Monday night,” he said. “We should have those agendas a week in advance. I think we’ve all felt the same way.”
Byrnes referenced an argument between Voogd and Mayor Rory Hoskins that took place during the Oct. 24 council meeting. Voogd complained that she didn’t see the proposed employee salary range increases until earlier that day. While Byrnes said he didn’t want to take sides in this debate, he was troubled by this – and he generally felt that deciding employee salaries shouldn’t have taken as long as it did.
“I’m a guy [who feels] that, when you have something out there, we shouldn’t drag it on for 3, 4, 5 months,” Byrnes said. “We should take the bull by the horns, get an up and down vote, and move forward.”
More broadly, he questioned village priorities, and the urgency with which they are handled. For example, Byrnes argued that the village wasn’t treating the public safety issues around the Forest Park Blue Line CTA terminal seriously enough. And he said he was frustrated with Hoskins springing a plan to reuse the recently vacated U.S. Army Reserve site as the new village hall on the council, especially given that the Pentagon didn’t let the village do an environmental analysis.
“I just think that another four years of this, I don’t think I want to be a part of it,” Byrnes said. “I just want to move on with my life.”
He emphasized that he had no intention of leaving the village, and that he will continue to volunteer throughout Forest Park.
“I’m not just rolling up and going away – I’m just not going to be in the office anymore,” Byrnes said. “You don’t have to be a village commissioner to do things in the village.”
Voogd said she would explain her reasons for running for reelection soon.