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: Michelle Melin-Rogovin
Previous Political Experience: Volunteer and worker on campaigns at the local, state, and national levels since 12; U.S. Congressional intern in college.
Previous/Current Community Involvement: Historical Society of Forest Park and the 209 Scholarship organization.; supporter, Forest Park Public Library; volunteer, Forest Park Garden Club; supporter, Scouts in Forest Park; volunteer, Forest Park Arts Alliance
Occupation: Grant writer, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science, Barry University, FL; Master’s degree in public policy, University of Chicago; certification in non-profit management, Case Western University
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?
Yes, I do think that we need to be actively involved in the bid process. Our village government has been actively preparing for this eventuality for more than 10 years — to position the Roosevelt corridor as a second business district in Forest Park.
The bid process would provide us with additional information about the building, land, and the opportunity it presents. As I am not an expert in the procurement of decommissioned military bases, I’ll leave it to experts to advise us on the proper amount to bid. Participating in the process is an opportunity for the village to learn more. I would expect that it would include the opportunity to leave if our participation was not a good fit. We should always be open to asking questions while researching, especially concerning the village’s need to upgrade several areas of its physical plant and generate tax revenue.
2. How should the discussion of this acquisition be more public and transparent?
The reality is that Forest Park has a lean, hard-working group of staff and elected officials. We’ve elected individuals who care about their work. They all have full-time jobs in addition to their elected roles, which are also full-time responsibilities.
Public processes and transparency are the purposeful sharing and involvement of the community in purposeful decision-making. I’ve never found anyone in Forest Park to be shy about expressing their ideas – but creating forums to ensure that these ideas are expressed in a meaningful way to help folks feel that their ideas are heard and valued is important. Mayor Hoskins’ Altenheim forum is one such venue.
3. What do you believe is the single greatest commercial development opportunity in Forest Park?
I don’t tend to put my eggs in one basket – something always breaks.
In talking to residents and business owners over the past year, I heard over and over again to heighten the “walkability of Madison Street.” Seeing increased business on Madison street has been incredibly important, especially during the years of the pandemic, when other towns have been losing businesses. Some have wondered how we can bring retailers to increase our uniqueness and small-town charm –unique makers that bring shoppers. Forest Park has many women-owned businesses and businesses owned by people of color, and we could continue to capitalize on that uniqueness.
Building on this, I want to add an innovation hub to Forest Park, where companies would be able to test their products with shoppers (there are pop-up stores like this on the north side and downtown Chicago for elite brands, it would be great to do this with west side brands to make Forest Park a destination). It’s a taste of what they do in the Fulton market.
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?
I respect the work of the citizen committee that has been reviewing the plans and discussing the Altenheim property. I’m in general agreement with the discussions of developing half of the available property and using half for green space, under the village’s covenant with Altenheim, maintaining a quiet, peaceful environment for the residents.
The Park District is an excellent organization and does a stellar job. I would trust them to tell us if they could take on this park when the time comes. It makes sense to keep this project in the purview of the Park District.
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?
In an ideal world, local government should model equity and inclusion in all its forms, (not just racial equity), as should the fourth estate. This should be a priority in all aspects of the Forest Park village government (purchasing, policy, communications, engagement, HR) and would increase residents’ engagement in the work of the village.
I have proposed, as have other commissioner candidates, to engage residents in the community to listen and answer questions about village life and provide information regularly where they are; to discuss topics of interest in real time.
6. How should Forest Park balance public safety concerns with making policing more equitable and community-engaged?
We’re in a time where our first responders are still recovering their staffing levels from before the pandemic. This is true for both our police and fire department in Forest Park, as well as our ambulance services which have just been brought in-house for the first time in a long time. These folks are handling a lot across the village and helping other villages. It’s an important context to keep in mind.
The community policing academy has been very well received. I’ve heard great things about this program and how the participants have appreciated gaining insight into our police officers’ roles in the community. I want to ensure that our community has opportunities to engage with the Forest Park police and fire when they can interact with the public and answer questions – but that means we need to fill vacant spots.
My experience with our first responders has been exceptional. I contacted the Forest Park police when a young man was wandering on my street who was delusional, unsure where he was. He had heatstroke and had not showered. He was going to people’s doors to determine if he lived there. I gave him a sandwich and water (with a friend) and walked with him until the police came, and I was so impressed with the officer’s gentle and caring response.
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?
No and No. Being a non-home rule entity fosters Forest Park’s inclusive and welcoming community. Becoming a home rule authority would make it more expensive to live in Forest Park for people with marginal incomes.
8. Do you believe that Forest Park’s commission form of government is preferable for Forest Park in comparison to a city manager form?
Our commission form of government is mandated by Illinois statute, given the size of our village. It cannot be changed until 2027. I’m more concerned about the village’s finances and pension debt, which affects our ability to operate.
We have an overwhelming pension debt, which I am running to address, and our structural finances. We have been fortunate to have Mayor Hoskins for the past four years, who has led on finance and addressing pensions, and I intend to join him and help attack this problem head-on. Our village staff is doing a fabulous job managing our expenses and pensions, and I want to roll up my sleeves to increase revenues to help pay down our obligations. It’s estimated that we have 15 years to make a huge dent in our pension debt, and we can’t take our eyes off the ball.
To me, the form of government we have five years later depends on the taxpayers’ cost. It’s math.
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?
My understanding of the Illinois statute, which I’ve read that establishes the form of government for villages, towns, etc., specifies the job description for each commissioner; it doesn’t specify how they are to be carried out. In other words, each elected official has discretion regarding how they work with the staff in their department. Said another way, there are many ways to be a colleague. One can micromanage, or one can collaborate. Given that Forest Park is a village where the department heads have so much experience, often decades, I would incline to approach the work in a highly collaborative manner with a growth mindset.