Commissioner Ryan Nero said he decided to run for a second term for a simple reason — the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the council’s agenda, but now that the pandemic has receded, he believes he and the other commissioners will finally get a chance to work at their full potential.
“If we get four more years together — it’s exciting to see how much more can be done in terms of improving village of Forest Park infrastructure and bringing businesses to town without the distractions we had over the last few years with the pandemic,” he said.
Nero said he would prioritize supporting businesses coming to major corridors, and not just to the Madison Street corridor, though he demurred on what kind of incentives the village should offer. He also wanted to see the village continue to work on infrastructure improvements, especially “below-grade” improvements such sewer separation and lead pipe replacement. He also supports more investment in green infrastructure, continuing support for upgrading and replacing public works equipment, and finding sources of revenue to help bring the money in to fund all of this. Nero said he feels about service the same way he did when he first ran for a commissioner four years ago – if you are invested in the community and you like to see things get better, you should try to get involved any way you can.
Nero works as the safety director at Granite Construction. A Forest Park resident for the past 20 years, he previously sat on what was then known as the Cultural Park Ad Hoc Committee and chaired the Forest Park Traffic & Safety Committee.
The Village of Forest Park has six candidates – three of them incumbents – running for four commissioner seats. Nero needs to be one of the top four vote-getters to keep his seat.
He said his major priority would be to get funding for infrastructure projects and other village needs. Nero said he would continue to support the village going out for state and federal grants, and “looking into new forms of revenue.” Since Forest Park is a non-Home Rule municipality, it’s limited as to how much it can tax and what sort of taxes it can levy.
Nero said that, in spite of the pandemic, he believed Forest Park did a good job of bringing in businesses on its side of Harlem Avenue and along Madison Street – something that he would like to see continue. He also wanted to see more investment in the Roosevelt Road corridor.
One major development opportunity in that corridor is the U.S. Army Reserve base at 7402 Roosevelt Rd., which was closed last June. Nero said that, unless the village got to do an environmental analysis of the site, he wouldn’t support Forest Park buying the property. He added that he wouldn’t want to see the property remaining vacant too long, either, because “leaving it vacant would frankly be an eyesore.” Ideally, Nero said, he would like to see a commercial use such as a car dealership.
While Nero said he supported providing incentives to businesses, he said he didn’t have anything specific in mind. And he believed that the village and the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce have gotten a lot better at using social media to promote Forest Park – something that he would like to see continue.
The Cultural Park Ad Hoc Commission was one of several attempts the village made to decide the future of the historic Altenheim property which it owns. During his original campaign, Nero said he supported the proposal to build a park on the south portion of the property and selling the north portion of the property to a private developer. He told the Review that he still supports having some green space, but he also wanted to have something that would bring in tax revenue.
Ultimately, Nero said he wanted to hear what the current Altenheim Committee comes up with.
“I’m really excited to hear more on their findings, on the outreach to the community, and the suggestions and ideas they’ve had and the feedback they received,” he said. “I’m not the urban planning expert, and I’m certainly interested in hearing thoughts and ideas and what they heard from our customers, which is our residents.”
Fellow incumbent and former Review editor Maria Maxham said changing the commission form of government would be a major priority. Nero said he would be willing to explore that.
“If there’s an opportunity to improve the efficiency of the way we do business in Forest Park and open up new avenues to [allow for] new sources of revenue, I would definitely be interested in moving in that direction,” he said.
When it comes to another perennial issue – the state of Forest Park schools, particularly the Proviso Township High School District 209 – Nero echoed several other candidates when he said he was mindful of the fact that school districts are separate taxing bodies and wanted to tread carefully. He said he would like to see some kind of a mechanism where the school and village officials could meet regularly and discuss what Forest Park can do to support the schools.
Nero said that, as someone who has lived in Forest Park for two decades, raised a child here and regularly patronizes Forest Park businesses, he has a “personal, selfish interest” in seeing the village do well.
“It’s basically — it’s either you play the game, coach the game or get out of the game,” he said. “If you complain about a current situation and you have the opportunity to improve a current situation, you should be that catalyst, be that person to make that change. That what I’m trying to live by.”