The Forest Park Review sent questionnaires to each person running for public office in 2023. The candidates’ replies are as shown as they were received by the Review. For more on a candidate, click their name or photo.
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 is not in the financial position to purchase this property. I strongly believe that the Village can use its network to find a developer for this land, leveraging the resources that come with professional municipal planning companies to ensure this large site, on a major commercial corridor, is developed into retail use space that produces economic benefit, such as retail sales tax, for our Village. In the past the Village developed an introductory plan for this property and I would like to bring this to the attention of the Village Council for a more in-depth, and targeted, discussion.
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?
My position as candidate for the office of Mayor of Forest Park is strongly focused on community transparency and involvement. There is no greater team than the team of residents who live in our Village; those most directly impacted by the decisions of Village leadership. Under my administration, when important decisions which affect the residents of Forest Park are being considered, town halls, forums, and commissions which include a wide variety of residents’ interests will be encouraged and welcomed. John Doss’s door will be open.
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?
Madison Street has been the crown gem of Forest Park’s commercial development focus for many years and as a result our Madison Street district has experienced many encouraging changes. I do, however, believe that our Roosevelt corridor routinely goes unsupported or unnoticed. Some of our neighboring communities have embraced the opportunity on Roosevelt with tremendous success, and Forest Park would benefit to equally support both Madison Street and Roosevelt Road commercial districts in the go-forward.
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?
Deindustrialization and deeper rural expansion driven by COVID19 pandemic housing flight patterns have left many American cities with thousands of vacant properties. In fact, one analysis identified 60 cities with at least two vacant properties for every 1,000 residents. More than just an eyesore, vacant or abandoned properties can affect residents’ physical and mental health conditions, and have been associated with neighborhood gun violence. The “broken window” theory provides a framework for understanding how vacant properties affect the larger community. Vacant properties weaken social ties and the deterioration of both physical buildings and relationships comes to symbolize a lack of accountability. This theory helps explain why the same neighborhoods struggling with urban decay and vacant properties often face a higher risk of gun violence. Forest Park is in a unique position to combat all of this by putting the park back in Forest Park. When other municipalities attempt the remediation of these situations, the landscaping process is called “greening”, which involves clearing debris, planting grass and trees, and adding public places for residents to gather and connect. While I will always believe that “Greener is Better”, and am a strong advocate for green spaces and the effect such spaces have on a community, I can speak first hand to say the Park District of Forest Park is not interested in taking ownership of this space. The Park District would, however, be interested in partnering with the Village of Forest Park to support developing a plan for how we can best use the space. If elected mayor I would strongly encourage a collaboration of this caliber. Additionally, and as I’ve noted previously, I firmly believe there is no greater team than the team of residents most directly impacted by a decision of this sort and before I could ever reasonably state a definitive plan for this Altenheim Property a legitimate, unbiased, and special interest-free series of Town Hall meetings, commissions, and resident information forums would have to be introduced. I believe, and in many ways know, that the social benefits of connecting with one another through community spaces, such as parks and green space, is a core value of this great Village. This Altenheim property is a once in a generation opportunity for Forest Park to ensure our village’s legacy is solidified, but no singular government official, mayor or otherwise, should make this decision without the input of the people who call Forest Park home.
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?
Municipal governments in Illinois have been trending positively with respect to racial equity for a while now. But this does not mean we still do not have a long way to go. I believe our Village has been thoughtful about its approach to equality thus far. However, equity and equality are not the same and in order for equity to be realized at full potential opportunities for disadvantaged or marginalized people need to be generated at the municipal level. I know for fact that I cannot speak to the situations of every Forest Park resident with certainty, as I have not walked or lived in their shoes. What I am committed to do, if elected Mayor of Forest Park in 2023, is remain open minded with an open door and be willing to listen to all people who reside in Forest Park. Until every citizen is an owner, planner, and decision-maker in the systems that govern their lives and are provided the infrastructure needed to thrive, we will always have work to do.
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?
Public safety should not have to be an equity issue, it should be a legal concern, and a legal concern that needs to take priority. I envision Forest Park as a safe place to live, work, and participate in community events for all people, both residents and visitors alike. To develop solutions for public safety we need to fully support our Police Department by not only collaborating with their leadership to ensure proper support from Village Hall, but also by listening to residents, the boots-on-the-ground, regarding safety concerns and ensuring community information is properly presented to public safety officials. Integrating community interest with those of our Police Department is integral to a village such as ours, with a small police department and limited resources. Identifying the needs of both the police department and the citizens they protect and serve will require collaboration, a core value of my administration. Resourcing those needs may require necessary help from outside the village. In those cases, I would drive planning sessions with the village council, public service leaders, and community leaders to ensure our village works as one team to achieve the goal of a safe place to live, work, and enjoy.
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?
Not having Home Rule is certainly an impediment. Home Rule provides a long list of advantages over non-home rule communities, especially in the areas of revenue opportunity, taxation control, and housing codes and standards, the last of which is a topic directly related to resident safety – a key component to my campaign agenda. Only Home Rule units can generate money from Home Rule sales taxes, gasoline taxes, hotel/motel taxes, and real estate transfer fees taxes, among others. The village had, in early 2000, attempted to gain home rule status and was rejected. When elected I will be making Home Rule a discussion with the village council commissioners once again, because determining how the business of this village is managed is integral to its future success as a safe, clean, well-funded place to call home.
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?
I do not know enough about the city manager form of government, such as where it has been successful or where it has failed, to have an opinion on its preferability. I do know this topic has recently seen more traction among some village leadership, and if it is a topic of public interest, you can trust that I am genuinely curious to know more. Ultimately, I believe in doing what is right for the Village of Forest Park. Before any significant changes are implemented under the Doss Administration, as your mayor you can trust, I will require input from village leaders, at many levels, community engagement, and thorough examination of all elements of an initiative before supporting or denouncing the proposal.
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?
The Village of Forest Park has a full-time Administrator whose job it is to oversee village operations. I served as the Director of Public Works from 2008-2021, when I retired. During my tenure I had extensive, first-hand, experience in the day-to-day operations of our village. Our village commissioners should play an important role as first points of contact within the community for the departments they are entrusted to oversee. When commissioners embrace the privilege of this duty the residents of Forest Park benefit from having someone to engage on matters related to municipal operations. However, in my time working for our village, I can say I have never felt an active authority exercised by our commissioners. They have questions and concerns, and rightfully so. Their concerns should reflect those of the constituents who elected them. It is a commissioner’s privilege and duty to address those concerns. But I can say, with some measure of confidence, the Village Administrator is the day-to-day person guiding municipal service department heads. When I am elected Mayor of Forest Park on April 4, 2023 I see no reason any of that would benefit from a change that did not include considerable collaboration, ideation, and community engagement.
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.