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: Ryan Nero
Previous Political Experience: Commissioner of Streets & Public Improvement
Previous/Current Community Involvement: AD-hoc Committee Altenheim, Chair of Traffic & Safety Committee
Occupation: Safety Director, Granite Construction
Education: B.S., Northern Illinois 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?
Enhancing and expanding the businesses and unoccupied property on Roosevelt has been something I have been in favor of for years. The Army Reserve Site is just one of several locations, that if developed, can improve the appearance of our Roosevelt Road corridor, and help generate much-needed revenue to Forest Park. Specifically, the Army Reserve property would have to be appraised by a licensed appraiser, and more attention paid to the environmental conditions of the existing structure and the land it sits on. Potential uses for this parcel of land could be a car dealership, hotel, or a new residential development.
2. How should the discussion of this acquisition be more public and transparent?
The due diligence for any property acquisition must be done by the department heads working in tandem with the Village Administrator, and third-party experts. The risk to the taxpayers must be considered to ensure we are protecting the interests of the community. We must have all the facts and discuss these openly. The early discussions should happen at the administrator level with council approval. Once purchase price has been established and the Council determines it has a funding mechanism, a public meeting could be held to determine the outcome.
3. What do you believe is the single greatest commercial development opportunity in Forest Park?
It is exceedingly difficult to pick just one. Both the Harlem Avenue and Roosevelt Road sections of Forest Park are key locations for commercial development. Additionally, over the last 4 years Madison Street (DBD) has seen meaningful change and improvement. New businesses have come to Forest Park and have helped to rejuvenate the DBD. Our Chamber of Commerce has been working hard and closely with the department heads and elected officials to make this happen.
Harlem Avenue has seen positive change and we want to continue that trend. Once vacant properties or diminishing business have now seen new life. Taco bell, Mr. Beef and Pizza, and Chipotle have been the most recent additions to Harlem Avenue. Moving forward, the former locations of CVS, Bed Bath & Beyond, as well as the vacant property at Harlem and Harvard will be the new focus. Finding new ways to make Forest Park more attractive to potential buyers will be a priority for the current and newly elected administration. One idea that has been discussed is the opportunity for Forest Park to look at joining other communities and adopting an Enterprise Zone Program. Enterprise Zones are geographic regions that are granted special status to encourage development and economic growth. (“Southland Enterprise Zones — CSEDCWorks.org”) The zones may be subject to favorable tax rates, regulatory exemptions, or other incentives to encourage businesses to stay in Forest Park or Locate to Forest Park.
Roosevelt road is no exception to opportunities for improvement. The former Hobo location also provides an attractive opportunity.
Lastly, the Altenheim property is the most publicized parcel of land in Forest Park and is ready for development. I am excited to digest the findings and recommendations of the Altenheim Advisory Committee. This parcel of land has been cleaned up and freed from the crumbling abandoned buildings that once occupied the site and provides a unique opportunity for development.
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 am eager to see the final recommendations from the Altenheim Advisory Committee, and specifically how they, through community outreach, have ranked the opportunity for green space at this location. From my early days on the Ad-Hoc Altenheim Committee I was in favor of green space. However, to continue the growth of Forest Park, this parcel of land could best be served as a combination of ideas including residential development, and green space. I will support the work of the Committee and the voice of the residents. It is my understanding that the Park District has told the Village it is not in a position to manage any more green space at this time, however, they would be willing to revisit the issue of maintaining whatever is built in the future.
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?
As elected officials we are responsible, for creating an open welcoming environment so that any person considering running for office or sitting on a board is an active participant within the government. Forest Park and its electors have done a respectable job of keeping our elected leadership and committees diverse. Our committees consist of unpaid volunteers who by way of wanting to make a difference, seek out involvement. I encourage everyone who has the time and love for Forest Park to reach out to the elected officials and be part of the decision-making body of the community. I also advocate for anyone willing to circulate petitions and pursue public office. The council is decided by the residents and made possible by our right to vote. I encourage everyone to exercise that right and vote for leaders that have proven they can put in the time, do the work, and get measurable results.
6. How should Forest Park balance public safety concerns with making policing more equitable and community-engaged?
Programs such as the Citizens Police Academy, Neighborhood Watch and the Police training group that meets monthly are great ways for the Police Department to interact with the Public. These programs help to engage our residents and celebrate our Police department for the tremendous job they do. Strengthening the bond between our police department and our community will help improve communication, identify opportunities for improvement, and make Forest Park a happy, healthy, and SAFE place to live, work, play.
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 authority often gets bad press because it is associated with raising taxes. Pursuing Home Rule in Forest Park affords us the opportunity to streamline our operations and be more efficient, while at the same time opening doors to new revenue streams. Communities with fewer than 25,001 residents can become home rule by passing a local referendum. This was attempted in Forest Park once before and failed. Presenting the opportunities Home Rule would provide the Village of Forest Park in a clear and transparent fashion would help to educate the residents of the benefits. It is important to know all the facts so a decision can be made for the greater good of the Village.
8. Do you believe that Forest Park’s commission form of government is preferable for Forest Park in comparison to a city manager form?
In the late 90’s the elected officials recognized the potential problems with the Commission form of government and created an ordinance and the current position of Village Administrator. The authority of this position is clearly spelled out. The Village Administrator runs the day-to-day operations. Technically, the Commissioners have statutory authority over their departments, but this has not been an issue since the inception of the Village Administrator position. I have found it extremely rewarding working with Sal Stella (Director of Public Works) we communicate and collaborate, on issues and he does a terrific job! The department heads are all professional and extremely knowledgeable in their field. I respect their opinions and have always felt comfortable expressing my questions and concerns openly and honesty with all of them.
9. What role do you think village commissioners should play in the operations of the village government?
Elected officials are policy makers and the voice of the residents. The elected officials should be actively engaged with the department heads. This is necessary to gain insight into the diverse topics brought before the council members. The elected officials must be informed on the issues so decisions can be made to move the Village forward. Having open and honest dialogue with each department head Provides the framework for good decision making.
Do you believe that the current mayor and commissioners should have active authority in the operations of the departments to which they are assigned?
I am not convinced this is necessary, however in my experience it seems to work fine. The department heads are fulltime employees and are considered the experts in their craft. It is my opinion that over the last 4 years we have been working together for the greater good of Forest Park.