The Forest Park Review sent questionnaires to each person running for public office in 2023. The Review’s questions are in bold and the candidate’s responses are below.
Name: Jessica Voogd
Previous Political Experience: Current Village of Forest Park Commissioner of Public Property Previous/Current Community Involvement: League of Women Voters member, serves on Environmental Committee; lifetime member of VFW Auxiliary; Historical Society of Forest Park; photographer for MS Walk for Cure, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, VFW Auxiliary events; as village commissioner, hosted volunteer meet & greet, which brought community leaders, volunteers, and organizations together, held a community forum about recycling and waste reduction, worked with a District 91 student to support her fundraising efforts to improve our local dog park
Occupation: Buyer and set decorator on television, commercials, and movies
Education: B.A., Columbia College Chicago
1. Do you believe Forest Park should actively pursue acquisition of the former U.S. Army Reserve site on Roosevelt Road? If so, what do you believe would be the best use of this property and what do you think should be the minimum bid for its purchase?
I believe the village should continue to monitor the US Army reserve site as a potential future asset. It is important to thoughtfully consider the opportunity, which includes due diligence as it relates to the environmental condition of the property.
It is important to note that the Village has been looking to acquire this property for decades. A grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity helped the Village complete the FP Army Site Redevelopment Planning Study in 2012. That study said, “Forest Park is wise to be pursuing this long-term planning for this important geographic area within the municipality.”
It is also worth noting that the Forest Park Comprehensive Plan says of the property: “The Village should explore further opportunities for continuing discussions with the federal govt to explore the redevelopment of the army reserve center…If these properties become available, consideration should be made for pedestrian friendly development, along with the potential to generate additional revenue.” -Village Comprehensive Plan, pg 83
A TIF district was created around this area with the goal of unifying the look of the Roosevelt Road corridor with streetscape upgrades. Improvements were made with the anticipation of future development of the Army Reserve site.
Ultimately, I believe we should continue to monitor the site. There are many unanswered questions, a big one being the environmental state of the land, so it would be premature to speculate on a purchase price. That said, the Village’s acquisition of this property could provide some exciting opportunities for the future of Forest Park. The Village could build a new municipal complex, create pedestrian friendly greenspace, or lease land to casual dining restaurants. Development must be strategic, with a focus on sustainable uses while maintaining Roosevelt Rd as an economic engine. The Village must find that ideal balance between pragmatism and innovation.
2. How should the discussion of this acquisition be more public and transparent?
To me, transparency means easy access to information. It means embracing citizen engagement and opinions. The Village should continue to monitor the Army base and its availability, while encouraging public engagement at every step.
The Army site and its potential acquisition should be part of a strategic plan that includes a search for grants to conduct a new planning study. Public discussions, a documented plan of action, and research into best uses of the property work together to provide clear, consistent information. This along with regular public engagement will make citizen involvement easier, more relevant, and ultimately better for the village.
3. What do you believe is the single greatest commercial development opportunity in Forest Park?
The way folks shop, work, and enjoy their free time has changed dramatically in the last few years. Because of those changes, I don’t think there is a clear “single greatest commercial development” for Forest Park. I believe the greatest commercial development opportunity is to challenge the status quo. The Village must think about the big picture, about market trends and how innovation, equity, and sustainability are integral to successful development in the 21st century. We must consider how policy, infrastructure, and updates to village code and zoning are all vital to commercial development and investment. It is important we celebrate and protect our “small town charm” while we embrace innovation and development that provides long-term, sustainable growth for Forest Park.
Updating our Comprehensive Plan is crucial to successful commercial developments. In tandem with updating The Plan, the Village should explore creating an Economic Development Opportunity Plan, as recommended in 2014. This would outline goals, strategies, policies, and actions designed to support existing businesses, while attracting new commercial ventures and promoting growth.
4. What do you believe is the minimum portion of the 11 acres at the Altenheim property that should be preserved as green space for public use? Is the park district the best option for building out and operating that green space or do you believe that there are better options for operating the space?
The Altenheim sales contract allows for up to 8 acres of land to be developed, but at least 3 acres must remain greenspace. I am a proponent of greenspace and the economic value it provides. It is important to find a balance between preserving as much greenspace as possible, while exploring revenue generating opportunities that will provide long-term benefits. A rushed sale of land to a developer whose interest is simply maximizing profits would be a mismanagement of the taxpayers’ 20-year investment.
The park district previously stated that they are not able to assume responsibility for additional property and maintenance at this time. Depending on the development at the Altenheim property, the best option in caring for any greenspace will be determined based on the terms of the development.
5. How do you define racial equity in municipal government? Do you believe it should be a priority? What are the specific opportunities in which an equity lens might improve local governance?
Racial equity in government is the consistent, fair, and impartial treatment of all individuals. It is the intentional practice of creating or adjusting policies and processes to eliminate disparities and encourage inclusive engagement and representation.
The Village should create a strategic plan that includes a racial equity action plan. It would create a guiding statement for Forest Park and set annual performance measures that track objectives, actions, and achievements. An equity lens should be applied to all policy decisions. Ways to do so include paying attention to who is affected and how they are affected by a policy, who is deciding goals and setting parameters, and what are the historical and social norms driving policy decisions. To further that effort, we need to increase visibility of the job openings within the Village to encourage diverse representation of the community. This can be achieved by posting job opportunities publicly and across multiple outlets. It is important that our elected officials and village staff reflect the community they serve.
6. How should Forest Park balance public safety concerns with making policing more equitable and community-engaged?
The Forest Park Police Department has been doing a great job, especially over the past few years given the challenges facing not only Forest Park, but communities all over the country. Because of those challenges, it has become more evident that public safety is not just the responsibility of the police. It requires collaboration with the community, policy makers, and our officers. To that end, I propose a holistic approach that will:
- Encourage the continued good work of our police dept., recognizing their professionalism and respectful engagement with the community
- Create a Police-Community Engagement board to share feedback with our department and serve as a conduit for resident engagement
- Strengthen our civic infrastructure. We must acknowledge that mental health, youth services, education, housing, economic opportunity, and community investment all contribute to the community’s well-being and safety
- Embrace new technology and resources, while keeping the rights and privacy of the community a top priority
- Ensure the department has the appropriate tools they need to do their jobs
- Continue to support community outreach programs, such as the Neighborhood Watch and Citizens’ Police Academy
7. Do you view as an impediment the fact that Forest Park does not have home rule? Do you think Forest Park should seek home rule authority?
Home Rule is granted to municipalities with populations over 25,000. Otherwise, a community would adopt home rule by referendum. Much like the different forms of government, I support open, honest discussions about the pros and cons. If it is determined that a change is beneficial to the people of Forest Park, I would support the community’s right to vote on the issue.
8. Do you believe that Forest Park’s commission form of government is preferable for Forest Park in comparison to a city manager form?
Twenty years ago, the Village adopted the manager form of government by ordinance when they created the position of Village Administrator. This has allowed for some of the basic tenets of the managerial form to overlay the existing commissioner form of government. To put it simply, it shifted the administrative duties of the council to the village administrator, while the mayor still retains the status of chief executive officer. Gone are the days of the traditional commissioner form, where each commissioner runs their respective departments. Now we rely on department heads and a village administrator to manage day-to-day operations. Commissioners provide oversight, make policy decisions, they approve contracts, large purchases, and annual budgets. A Forest Park commissioner does not run the daily operation of their department.
That said, it is important to listen to residents. If they want to change our form of government, it should be put to a vote. It would be incredibly helpful for residents to have an organization, like the Review, do a deep dive into the five forms of government in Illinois. A change would be warranted if it allows the Village to provide residents with better service, provide more access or transparency, or limits corruption. Much like the discussion about home rule, I completely support the community’s right to petition and vote on the issue. These decisions are made by the community, not the council.
9. What role do you think village commissioners should play in the operations of the village government? Do you believe that the current mayor and commissioners should have active authority in the operations of the departments to which they are assigned?
Elected officials should provide oversight. They should work with department heads and the village administrator to stay informed about processes, issues, and the needs of their department. I have made a point of checking in with department heads when I have questions or ideas. They are my first stop. Though commissioners do not run the day-to-day operations, they are accountable to the public for what happens in their departments. Therefore, I have been committed to staying informed, discussing ideas, and moving forward on the ones that are collectively agreed upon. For instance, by working with the director of public works, I learned about the troubling state of our village fleet of vehicles. I shared my ideas with department heads, and we worked together to create a fleet management plan and establish an equipment fund. This is managed by Village department heads, and is a promise to the future, guaranteeing resources are allocated for the proper care and life cycle planning of village equipment and vehicles. Commissioners should provide oversight and support for their departments. Working collaboratively produces outcomes that are greater than the sum of results achieved separately.