By Nona Tepper
Martin Tellalian, a former village commissioner and mayoral candidate, is planning his next move, passing signatures to run for village commissioner this election cycle. Tellalian, an engineering manager, served as commissioner from 2007 to 2011. His final year in office, he challenged Mayor Anthony Calderone for the village's top spot, and lost by just 215 votes, according to the Cook County Clerk's Office.
He is motivated to run, he said, because he wants to see Forest Park restore financial stability through economic development. The village has projected a $1.9 million budget shortfall this fiscal year.
"We have to live within our means and we've not been able to do that these last couple of years. We cannot continue to operate that way," Tellalian said, adding: "I think it's important that we prepare ourselves to honor our obligations to our pension funds. We've allowed that to slip and we have commitments that we need to honor."
During his time on the council, Tellalian said he often called for a limit on the village's discretionary spending by focusing on its core services of police, fire and infrastructure. In 2008, as the village was preparing to pass its fiscal 2009 budget, Tellalian found himself at odds with Calderone over how much money the village should be keeping in its reserves, and lobbied for a heftier savings account, which is what the village auditor recommended. That year the village administrator called the budget "generally balanced."
Tellalian said he has always opposed video gaming as a revenue source.
"I was not in favor of video gaming in Forest Park; I think the residents made the right decision," Tellalian said. "But I recognize we have a need for our businesses to do well, and I think as much as a village can do, I think we should. I think we should be attempting to help our businesses prosper."
He pointed to his professional experience negotiating with construction vendors as an asset in helping the village face its deficit, as well as his life experience in the village. Born in Pittsburgh, Tellalian's family moved to Forest Park when he was an infant. He attended Field-Stevenson Intermediate Elementary School through fifth grade, and then his family moved to Lombard. Tellalian came back to Forest Park in his 20s. He served on the Plan Commission from January 2005 to May 2007.
The village should better market its location and services to outsiders, he said.
"I think if more people were aware of how much it has to offer in terms of the nature of our town, just our location, transportation, the services that we do provide, it would be recognized as the truly great place to live that it is," said Tellalian, adding that the village needs to get properties like the Altenheim back on its tax rolls. The village purchased the property for $3.6 million in 2001, averting a sale to a private developer whose plans were to build townhomes. The property consists of 11 acres north and south of Altenheim and includes the chapel building and three outbuildings, all of which are empty and boarded up.
"It can't continue as it has for so many years in the condition that it's in. It's not generating income; it's a dilapidated property; we really need to address the future use of that village-owned property and quickly," he said. "We need to generate additional revenue for the village, and I don't think that should be done with higher taxes. Our taxes are already too high."
During his time on the council, Tellalian also opposed the hiring of current Village Administrator Tim Gillian — a friend of Calderone's since childhood — saying there were more qualified candidates. He supported the hiring of John Doss, director of the Department of Public Works.
In his previous campaign for mayor, Tellalian was critical of what he perceived as an insider culture that existed within village hall and stressed a need for greater transparency and participatory government.
He is not running with a slate this next round since he believes independence is key to public service in small towns like Forest Park.
"An effective village council is that people are independent and guided by only what is in the best service of the village, not the relationships they have with some people on the council," he said.
Tellalian is the sixth prospective commissioner to join the race. Jon Kubricht, Julianne Bonwit, Jessica Voogd and Mark Boroughf have all announced they are running for village commissioner, under a slate that supports Rory Hoskins for mayor. Chris Harris said he is passing petitions for mayor and commissioner.
Commissioner Rachell Entler said she will not seek re-election.
"I need to dedicate my time to fighting breast cancer and getting healthy, as well as spending more time with my family," she wrote in an email.
Commissioner Thomas Mannix has said he will not seek re-election.
As of Nov. 20, the following political committees were active: "Citizens for Anthony Calderone," which holds about $15,000 in its campaign war chest; "Citizens for Daniel J. Novak," which holds $911; and "Citizens for Chris Harris," which holds an empty pocketbook, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Calderone and Novak did not respond to interview requests about their intentions this election.