Incumbent Forest Park village commissioner Jessica Voogd said she decided to run for a second term because she wasn’t satisfied with the progress on one of her major priorities when she originally ran in 2019.
“I was giving it a lot of thought,” she said. “I came to the determination that I was going to run for reelection because the lack of transparency is still a persistent issue.”
Voogd said the way Mayor Rory Hoskins handled a recent decision on new staff salaries, instances of the village not advertising open positions and the timing of the posting of village council meeting packets, as examples.
She said she wanted to have residents more engaged in the major village decisions and ensure that advisory committees and commissions feel relevant to the process. Voogd would also like to see a comprehensive plan for facility improvements and continue her push to make Forest Park energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable.
Voogd said that, to her, open government is integral to Forest Park’s success.
“The village has a lot of challenges and responsibilities, but when a government denies process or avoids transparency, it fails to effectively address those issues,” she said. “When community members and policymakers work together, in an open and honest way, we enact stronger, more inclusive policy.”
Voogd said she worked to improve transparency by updating the village website “to make it easier for folks to access information,” and raised concerns internally about that issue. She believed there were areas when the village fell short – such as “hiring friends and family members” without advertising jobs publicly.
“I have tried to correct that, trying to engage everyone in being as open as possible, and, when that doesn’t happen, I have publicly stated my concerns,” Voogd said.
She reiterated her earlier concerns about how the village decided on salary increases for department heads and non-union staff. Hoskins discussed salary ranges on-on-one with each commissioner, which avoided the public meeting requirements, where even closed sessions are recorded.
“That’s the disservice not only to the residents, but also the staff,” Voogd said.
She said that, if re-elected, she would push for the council to start off every year with a strategic plan that would clearly outline their goals and priorities.
Throughout her first term, Voogd consistently pushed for the village to be more environmentally friendly and sustainable. She said it may not necessarily be cost-effective in every instance, but it was something she would like to see Forest Park keep in mind when considering things like building improvements and equipment purchases. If re-elected, she would advocate for a plan to transition the village to electric-powered vehicles and otherwise improve efficiency. And she said she would continue to support the recently formed C4 collaborative, where west suburban municipalities agreed to, among other things, pool together resources for environmentally sustainable initiatives such as electric vehicle charging station purchases.
This tied into Voogd’s other major concern – that the village has been taking a piecemeal approach to municipal building maintenance, fixing issues as they arise instead of looking at the bigger picture. If re-elected, she would push for a comprehensive facilities improvement plan.
“It seems silly to fix something if you’re going to fix it again to address another issue,” Voogd said.
Commissioner Maria Maxham made moving towards ending the commission form of government one of her major re-election priorities. The change requires a referendum that isn’t likely to be placed on the ballot until 2027 at the earliest. Voogd said she was open to the idea.
“I don’t feel strongly one way or another,” she said.
Voogd added that she believed the form of government Forest Park currently has is “not a traditional commissioner form of government,” noting that, in practice, commissioners don’t get involved with their departments’ day-to-day operations, and that they have a village administrator to make many day-to-day decisions.
“At this point, we’re a hybrid form of government, combining commissioner and manager [forms of government,]” Voogd said. “We function more and more in a managerial way.”
She said that supporters of the referendum need to make a clear case that the new form of government would be better for Forest Park.
“I just want to make sure that the folks have all the facts and we determined how things will improve and change if the people determine that they want to [change it],” she said.
The state of local schools, especially Proviso East High School, has been a perennial issue for Forest Park. Most recently, short-staffing and issues with school buses led to student protests, and the school board considering firing teachers for allegedly encouraging those protests. Hoskins was among the elected officials who spoke out against it.
Voogd said that, while “it’s important to stand up when you see egregious behavior,” she believed the village needs to tread a careful line when it comes to other taxing bodies. And she said she isn’t against the village supporting the school districts.
“Locally, with [Forest Park School District 91], I tried to connect with them [about] whether they’re interested in collaborating,” Voogd said.