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.
Previous Political Experience: Forest Park Mayor, 2019 – present; Village Commissioner, 2007-2015
Community Involvement: Forest Park Youth Soccer board member, coach or parent, 2005 – present; Forest Park Juneteenth Pool Party, 2009- present
Education: B.A. in Government, University of Texas at Austin; Master of Social Work, Loyola University of Chicago; J.D., Loyola University of Chicago School of Law
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. The next Village Council of Forest Park should pursue the former Army Reserve site. There are a number of potential uses. The president of a local automotive dealership once suggested that his company would want to purchase it from the village if the village were to acquire it. It could also be attractive to residential developers as there continues to be a demand for senior housing.
A reasonable price will be determined upon further study. There may be environmental contaminants present. I would like to see it transferred to the village for a nominal amount. I believe that the village can work with state and federal partners to arrive at a purchase structure that does not involve the “property exchange” scheme that the Army Reserve proposed last summer.
I have shared the village’s intention to pursue the former Army Reserve site with the head of the Illinois Finance Authority (IFA). He indicated that the IFA could provide financing for the acquisition. Senate President Don Harmon’s chief of staff is also fully apprised of that the village may pursue the property. She indicated that President Harmon would assist us in obtaining grants to help clean up the site and prepare it for development. Additionally, Illinois House Speaker Welch and I have spoken about the property. He also supports our acquisition of the site. Finally, the village has spoken with Sen. Dick Durbin’s staff about ways to find an alternative to the Army Corp of Engineers preferred “property exchange” scheme. In my second term, I will continue working with Sen. Durbin to help the village acquire the site.
2. How should the discussion of this acquisition be more public and transparent?
For transparency purposes, the Village may choose to publish information about the site on its website. However, the negotiations cannot be done in public.
3. What do you believe is the single greatest commercial development opportunity in Forest Park?
The single most significant commercial development opportunity for the village is the present opportunity to join the nearby enterprise zone. An enterprise zone is a geographic area that has been granted special tax breaks, regulatory exemptions, or other public assistance in order to encourage private economic development and job creation.
Over the last few months, I have spoken with stakeholders in the nearest enterprise zone to gauge whether they would let Forest Park join the Maywood-Melrose Park Enterprise Zone. They have assured me that their communities will allow us to join the enterprise zone. In order for us to join the enterprise zone, each community’s corporate board must pass a resolution granting Forest Park entry. Then, our Village Council would have to pass a resolution stating that Forest Park wants to be part of the enterprise zone. Once all of the required governmental resolutions have been passed, the administrator of the enterprise zone must submit an application to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
Our inclusion in the enterprise zone will lower costs associated with the anticipated development of the new automotive dealership to be located at the vacant space at Roosevelt and Desplaines. It will also lower the costs for any developments that may commence at the Altenheim property and at the former Army Reserve site. Finally, inclusion in the enterprise zone may also lower the costs to build out the anticipated cannabis dispensary (to be located on Madison St.) that is projected to generate approximately $400,000 in annual sales tax revenues.
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?
A minimum of nine acres of the Altenheim property should be preserved for green space.
The Park District is not the best option for building out the property. The Park District has not expressed a desire to purchase the land. I believe there are better options. I would like to see the village sell a maximum of two acres of the Altenheim land to a developer. The majority of proceeds from the sale of theses two acres would be used fund the police and fire pensions.
Last Fall, the village council appointed the Altenheim Advisory Committee to perform outreach and to engage the public in a series of meetings to discuss potential uses for the Altenheim land. This committee has held a number of public meetings that were subject to the formalities of the Open Meetings Act. During these meetings, stakeholders, including nearby condo and townhome owners, discussed their preferences for any potential development that might occur. This committee was comprised of a broad section of the community and its members were appointed with an equity lens to assure the participation of women and persons of color.
The Altenheim Advisory Committee will soon report its findings to the Village Council and make recommendations for how the village should proceed.
It is important to note that a condition of the $750,000 state grant, awarded to the village to demolish the dilapidated buildings that were situated on the land, was that the village would undertake some development on the property that would lead to job creation. The state did not give the village $750,000 to clear the land for perpetual use as green space or to simply be a park.
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 municipal government is a process of eliminating racial disparities and improving outcomes for everyone. It is the intentional and continual practice of changing policies, practices, systems, and structures by prioritizing measurable change and involves creating opportunities for people of color to serve our community.
Racial equity should be a priority. I believe that representation matters. While serving as the village’s Commissioner for Accounts and Finance, I worked with the former fire chief to invite African Americans and Latinos who were already certified paramedics to take our town’s Fire Fighter’s exam. This was my initial effort to demonstrate that the village’s commissioners should prioritize equity while at the same time ensuring that equity and requisite experience/credentials were not mutually exclusive.
Making an effort to recruit, hire and retain employees who reflect the wider community will be good for the village. In my experience, when people see themselves reflected in the population working in our government offices, they feel more invested in the community. Since I began serving as mayor, I have tried to deliberately appoint women and men of various racial and ethnic backgrounds to serve on various boards and commissions, including the Environmental Commission, the Traffic and Safety, the Fire Pension Board, the Police Pension Board, the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners and our Planning and Zoning Commission. I expect that some of the men and women who I have appointed to these advisory boards will seek elective office at some time in the future.
6. How should Forest Park balance public safety concerns with making policing more equitable and community-engaged?
Forest Park can balance public safety concerns with making policing more community engaged through training that includes Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training. It starts at the top. Since I began serving as Mayor, I have opened a dialogue with senior police department leaders about concerns that include racial justice and equity. These discussions became more pointed during the summer of 2020 in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, and other occurrences that led to media and public scrutiny that focused on police departments across our country.
During the summer of 2020, we had a community meeting where the chief and deputy chief discussed our department’s policies in order to demonstrate that FPPD does not execute “no knock” search warrants and engage in other unwise practices. This was unprecedented, in that it allowed the community to directly engage the police department with respect to policy and procedures.
The Forest Park Police Department’s leadership is as diverse as it has ever been. The department has a deputy chief who is of Asian descent and one female sergeant. The police department’s eligibility list indicates that FPPD may soon have a second female sergeant. The FPPD also has a number of members who speak a language other than English, including Chinese, Polish, and multiple Spanish speakers.
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?
Forest Park’s ability to generate revenue is impeded by our Non-Home Rule status. That being said, I would support a referendum on Home Rule.
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 has not prevented us from thriving and emerging from the Covid 19 Pandemic. I would support a referendum on whether to adopt an alternative form of government that includes a greater number of policy makers and staggered elections. When the village council began the search for a new village administrator, I had a resource from the association that certifies village managers to make a presentation to our Council, and the public, about other forms of municipal governance.
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?
Commissioners are policy-makers. The Village Administrator and the staff are paid to implement policy. Generally, elected officials should provide reasonable oversight while allowing the staff to do their jobs. In some cases however, a Commissioner may have expertise or experience that can be leveraged for the benefit of the village.