In a setting aimed at reflecting an outreach to youth, Village President Anan Abu-Taleb Monday named Andrea Ott, a young Oak Park attorney, to serve as interim village trustee. Flanked by students, the announcement took place in the Student Center at Oak Park and River Forest High School.
Ott, currently the chair of the village's Disability Access Commission, will, following village board approval, succeed Ray Johnson, who resigned from the position earlier this month.
Ott, 32, owns her own civil law practice in Oak Park and is outreach coordinator for the Law Project of the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. That group provides pro bono legal support for nonprofits and entrepreneurs in underserved communities in Chicago.
After an introduction by John Phelan, OPRF's school board president, Abu-Taleb noted that Ott would be the youngest trustee to ever serve on the village board. Ott still must receive approval from the full board of trustees, which is expected at next week's board meeting.
Abu-Taleb said he chose Ott in part because of her age, noting that she would "bring a fresh perspective to the board."
"Most importantly I wanted someone who could represent young Oak Park families and the future of our great town," he said.
Abu-Taleb said in a news release, "She has demonstrated an unswerving commitment to the community and to public service as a volunteer on one of our most important citizen commissions."
Ott said she and her husband moved to Oak Park in 2007 and they have been "inspired by the sense of community in this village." They are now the parents of two—ages four and one.
"I want to nurture that sense of community by promoting policies and development that will bring the people of Oak Park together, make residents happier and more informed about what's going on in their government and simply making day-to-day life easier for the residents here as well as the businesses and organizations that serve them," she said.
Ott noted in a news release that she would work to represent the "important perspective of young Oak Park families, with ideas and values that will support fresh, new development and policies to improve the quality of life for residents, families and businesses."
"The role I have been asked to fill is a big one," she said. "Ray Johnson's long tenure on the village board is legendary, so I know he will be a tough act to follow. But with the support of the village president, members of the village board and, of course, the community, I am confident in my ability to be an active participant at the table where so much of the work that makes Oak Park special is done."
In an interview following the press conference, said she first got involved in village government after being encouraged to get involved with a village citizen commission by a fellow member of the business networking group, Oak Park Biznet.
"I joined the Disability Access Commission because it fell in line with the work that I had already been doing," she said, noting that many of her clients at the time were people with disabilities. "I wanted to be able to promote that and advocate."
Her position on the commission places her in the middle of a report issued last month by the HOPE Fair Housing Center, showing housing rental discrimination in Oak Park against African Americans and people with hearing disabilities. Ott currently serves on a special committee created to establish a taskforce to address the issues raised by the report.
"The results were disheartening, but I think that Oak Park is still forward thinking on this issue because we're willing to do something about it," she said of the report's findings.
Trustee Adam Salzman, who served with Ott on the Disability Access Commission, and preceded her as commission chair, said in a telephone interview, "She is a gifted professional, she's tough, she's focused and she's really smart."
He said her experience as a lawyer and on the commission positions her to "hit the ground running."
Trustee Bob Tucker, who serves as trustee liaison to the commission, said he's excited to work with her on the board of trustees.
"What strikes me the most about her is the terrific combination of intelligence, a lot of energy and a certain toughness that I think will serve her well if she's approved by the board at the next meeting," Tucker said.
Ott served as staff attorney for Prairie State Legal Services Inc., which provides free legal services for low-income clients, from 2008 to 2010. Ott earned a juris doctor in law from Indiana School of Law in 2007 and a bachelor's degree in English from Indiana University in 2004.