My name is David Pope. I am a current member of the Oak Park Board of Trustees, and I'd like to take a few moments of your time here to let you know of my candidacy for Village President, explain to you why I have chosen to run, and convey why I will be running as an independent candidate, free of any party affiliation.
Ties to Oak Park and Public Service
My candidacy stems, at least in part, from my history. I was born here in the village in the mid-1960's, and was adopted as an infant into a loving family that made a conscious decision to live and raise their young children here in Oak Park. I am incredibly fortunate to have been raised in a family that was active in the community, a family that helped prod Oak Park to embrace people of all backgrounds and to become a community that showcases its commitment to openness and diversity as its hallmark. My parents were part of that effort (with my mother serving on the District 97 School Board from 1969 to 1973, following her early membership in an organization called First Tuesday). I am quite fortunate to have been influenced by their worldview and by the shared values reflected by the broader community here in Oak Park.
Later, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, attended graduate school for an MBA at Northwestern, and then returned to Oak Park to settle here in the community with my wife, Beth. We were both drawn by the village's continuing commitment to values that we share, and are pleased to be raising our daughter, Elise, here in this very special place.
Five years ago, I drew upon my background in economics, finance, and strategic planning (along with my experience as a Principal with the Strategy Consulting practice of Price Waterhouse) to establish my own firm. In the process, I have also achieved a degree of flexibility that has enabled me to become more involved here in our community, with the hope of maintaining and strengthening our quality of life and ensuring that we continue to provide opportunities for all Oak Parkers. After all, children who live in safe neighborhoods, attend strong schools, and are raised and nurtured by a community of caring and concerned people, have far greater opportunities than those who do not. Beyond this, children who are raised in a community that respects all and embraces differences across cultures and backgrounds, these children become citizens of the world. Living in Oak Park enables us to provide our children with a "passport" to life and to a world of opportunities. These benefits are equally realized by teens, young and middle-aged adults, and seniors as well.
In an effort to contribute and support these ideals, I served as a member of the village's Plan Commission, and was subsequently elected in the spring of 2003 to serve as a village trustee on a platform that called for some reasonable and responsible policy-level changes.
During that campaign I emphasized three primary challenges that I felt needed to be addressed. First, the need for improved fiscal stewardship and real recognition of the impact of rising taxes and fees on village residents, property owners, and businesses. Second, improved communication and open, honest discussion of issues and choices facing our community?#34;including a willingness to help build bridges of understanding among groups with differing interests and priorities here in our community. And third, improving cooperation, coordination, mutual support, and collective leadership among all of our taxing bodies to ensure that together we most efficiently meet the most important needs of our community.
Vision of Leadership: Moving beyond Politics
I continue to believe that these issues are critically important to our future. I am committed to addressing them, and I believe that I can bring balanced, evenhanded leadership to our community.
During the nearly two years that I have served as a trustee, there are some things that our board has done well, and other things that leave real room for improvement. In my capacity as co-chair of the board's Finance Committee, my energy has been focused on encouraging our village's adoption of performance measures that will help our community to improve overall performance, provide services more efficiently, and in turn relieve the pressure of continually escalating taxes that we all face as residents. If we can be more efficient, we can do more to assist and support those most in need, and we can ensure that we are not taxing people out of our community.
Economic pressures are also an important element in our community's sometimes contentious discussion surrounding real estate development opportunities and private investment in the community.
In this context, and with the cost of government (across all taxing bodies) increasing at a rate exceeding 5 percent each year (approximately twice the inflationary increase), we face choices today that will fundamentally impact the character of our community for decades to come.
In light of these financial pressures, we do need to look for ways to increase government revenues to help defray the tax impact on residents and property owners. However, as a community, we also must recognize that, as an inner-ring fully built-up community of our size and age, it will be virtually impossible to accommodate the level of new private investment and development that would be required in order to enable our tax base to keep pace with this level of increase in spending.
In other words, we are going to face choices. Choices about taxes, choices about what services to provide, choices about how those services are provided, choices about how our governing bodies work together, and choices about what type of future we want for our community in light of the impacts on ourselves, our friends, our neighbors, and our fellow Oak Parkers. We will need to do a better job in determining community priorities. Reaching agreement on those priorities will require fair, evenhanded, open and committed leadership.
To do this, I think that we need to move beyond politics, and ensure that we as a community are really committed to good, responsible governance. As we move into this future, statesmanship will be far more important than partisanship, and I will do my level-best to provide this.
I will also do my best to be a president who will listen to differing viewpoints, encourage coordination and cooperation as opposed to dissension, and provide straightforward and honest explanations for actions taken. I won't feel a compelling need to win all votes or arguments at any cost, and I will be willing to acknowledge that sometimes my opinion will not be the majority viewpoint.
At the same time, I believe that all of us here in the community are going to need to make a real effort to come together, to listen to one another, and to acknowledge that no one in the community is always going to get everything that he or she wants.
Why Run as an Independent?
In 2003, I was fortunate enough to have received the broadest range of support during the Village Managers' Association (VMA) selection process. This begs the question,
"Why not run this year as the VMA-endorsed candidate for President?" It is a good question, and one that deserves an honest answer.
The reality is that there are many, many people involved with the VMA whom I greatly respect and admire. Some of these people would have preferred for me to run as the VMA-endorsed candidate for president, and I know that my decision to run independently will be a source of real concern and disappointment to them, just as it has not been a simple decision for me. In fact, I did submit an application this year with the intention of seeking the VMA nomination for president, however as I initiated the VMA process, I became increasingly concerned on two fronts.
First, I am concerned that there are those on each side of the VMA?#34;NLC (New Leadership Coalition) divide who are heavily invested, and in some cases too invested, in vilifying the other. Certainly there are differences between these groups' perspectives (e.g. "At-large" vs. "District" representation), and these differences are very important, but it seems to me that our community will be best served if we can get past the partisanship to a point where we consider ideas based on merit and address issues based on importance to our community. This can't happen in an environment where the primary focus is political advantage.
Second, I am concerned that the level of participation in this year's VMA selection process has declined markedly, and that this lack of participation will open the selection process to questions regarding its legitimacy. I served as one of 50 members of the VMA selection committee in 2000, which is the last time a full slate of five was named (president, three trustees, and a clerk). This year, the number of selection committee participants appears to have dwindled to something closer to 20. Despite the fact that I know and respect many of those now serving on the committee, and know them to be above reproach, the limited size of the group, in and of itself, provides an opening for others to question the extent to which it is representative of the needs and interests of the broader community.
In turn, I have come to the conclusion that a different approach and a different type of leadership are required at this particular point in time. I have made a very conscious decision to run as an independent candidate, not aligned with any slate or selection process. I have withdrawn my application from the VMA selection process, and I will stand before you on April 5, 2005 as an independent candidate for President of the Village of Oak Park.
Some will undoubtedly raise questions or concerns regarding my candidacy. The most legitimate one in my own mind is the fact that if I am fortunate enough to be elected president, then the newly constituted board would need to confirm a person to serve the remaining two years of my unexpired term as a trustee. If a replacement were required, it is logical that that process should be undertaken by the newly elected board, rather than by board members elected four years ago. In turn, there is no real rationale for me to resign my seat now. At the same time, I understand that the issue of the board naming a replacement may be a concern for some. The actual process would be that the newly-elected president would put forward a name, and the entire board would approve or reject that person. It is impossible for me to know whom I might propose to complete that unexpired term, as it is important to me that we have a board that reflects the broad diversity of Oak Park, and I won't know the composition of the remainder of the board until after the election. I can commit to you, however, that if I find myself in the position to put forward a person for board consideration, I will seek to name someone who is above reproach, someone who has a real understanding of and appreciation for the issues, the challenges, and the opportunities that we face as a community, and someone who is a bridge builder. This could be a former trustee, a member of a village commission, or a respected member of partner or community organization.
I realize that running as an independent is a higher risk proposition than it would have been to run as the VMA-endorsed candidate, and I have no way of knowing whether I would have received the VMA endorsement or not. Nonetheless, I am consciously choosing to leave the decision of who should be the next President of the Village of Oak Park in the hands of the ultimate selection committee, you the voters, and I respectfully ask for your support.
If you are interested in good, responsible governance, and focused effective leadership that is grounded in the fundamental principles that underlie this wonderful community that we share, I would welcome and appreciate your support and assistance in this campaign. I can be reached at 708-660-1156.