Oak Park village president candidates clash at two forums

John Hedges, Anan-Abu Taleb debate village finances, processes

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

Follow our ongoing election coverage at OakPark.com/elections

After back-to-back forums last week, John Hedges and Anan Abu-Taleb made it clear they have very different perspectives on how Oak Park has been, and should be, run.

A newcomer to village government, Abu-Taleb cited his experience as owner of Maya del Sol, and vowed to bring a new, fresh face to the village, while restoring the public's trust in local government. His opponent, Village Trustee John Hedges, a veteran Oak Park government official, disputed his challenger's claims about Oak Park's poor financial state and said the village's outlook isn't as gloomy as his opponent suggests.

Abu-Taleb said the village needs a leader who listens to residents; Hedges noted that it's important to have a leader people can follow.

Both agreed there's room for improvement in customer service at village hall, that technology needs to be better utilized to increase efficiencies, and that the village board needs to meet less and let management do its job.

The difference between the two candidates, however, is most striking in how they think the job should get done. They made this clear at two forums, one on March 13 hosted by Wednesday Journal at the Oak Park Public Library and the other on March 14 at Buzz Café.

"There are problems. We've gone through this recession. We've gone through foreclosures. We have high taxes. … All those things going on," Hedges said Wednesday night at the forum hosted by the Wednesday Journal. "There is work to do, there's no doubt. … I think we're ready to turn some corners on some issues … we're turning the corner."

Hedges referenced a 2011 survey conducted in Oak Park in which a majority of people responded that the quality of life in Oak Park is "good" or "high." Nonetheless, he said he understands the burdens and said Oak Park needs to embrace its intergovernmental groups and work as a community to address the rising needs of both residents and business owners.

Hedges also pointed to the influx of restaurants and businesses that continue to come to Oak Park and the high occupancy rate across the village, the progress of developments that were once halted by the economy, and the village's focus on economic development.

Abu-Taleb, however, insisted the village isn't doing enough to help encourage businesses coming into town, and the rising tax burden is making the village unobtainable to current and prospective residents.

"I'm running because our government needs some financial discipline. I also feel the neighborhoods, the residents, the businesses — they need much better customer service and they deserve, for the amount of taxes we pay, excellent customer service," he said. "I have no doubt in my mind that, given the financial conditions today, something has to be done. Our economic situation we have today is not sustainable."

Hedges said his opponent's view on the finances paint an inaccurate picture. The village has reduced its manpower without raising taxes for six years, he said.

Quibbling over the details caused a few tussles throughout the forums, which turned into full-fledged debate at times.

Hedges and Abu-Taleb clashed on how they would maintain current service levels without raising taxes. Neither advocated raising taxes. Hedges said he's comfortable issuing short-term debt because the village is in good financial standing and has a good bond rating. Abu-Taleb wants to cut back spending levels and increase efficiency, but didn't name specific departments or services he'd change.

"All of them," Abu-Taleb responded, drawing laughter from the audience.

He wants quicker processes for people who do business in Oak Park. He claimed his wealth of experience from running successful businesses would be valuable in that role.

Hedges told his opponent that government can't be run like a business; it has to be run in a collaborative manner, taking into account the view of the board, staff and the 52,000 residents, he said.

"That doesn't work in government. I know it works in business. But in government you have to bring all the viewpoints together," Hedges responded. "It doesn't work that way and it doesn't work that way in Oak Park."

During both forums, Hedges and Abu-Taleb clashed on how the other one would address village finances and the tax burden. Hedges said the village's processes are "nimble"; Abu-Taleb said Hedges is out of touch with reality.

Night two: the Buzz

On the second night, Abu-Taleb wasn't up against just one candidate. Instead, he spoke along with the full slate of candidates endorsed by the Village Manager Association (VMA), which includes Hedges, current trustees Colette Lueck and Glenn Brewer, along with District 97 school board president Peter Barber. All three trustee candidates are uncontested in the April 9 election.

The discussion reflected similar themes, including economic development, business approval processes, and taxes. The VMA candidates stood united with Hedges, touting his legacy of leadership in the village as a reason to support him and the group. Although Hedges has served six years under President David Pope, he spoke Thursday about how his leadership style differs. He was asked specifically what new ideas he can bring to the board if elected president.

"The president's role is different than a trustee. … Coming in as president, I think it's just a fresh beginning. I have a different leadership style than David," Hedges said. "I'm going to be more inclusive, more collaborative, and look to trustees to help."

Hedges said would take a step back from getting involved in village staff and let them do their jobs; he'd also take a step back and re-evaluate how the board makes decisions. He looks at the opportunity as an "exciting" time to evaluate the protocol of how the village board operates within the village.

Abu-Taleb is running his campaign on the basis that the village has inefficiencies, isn't being fiscally responsible and isn't listening to its constituents. He repeated those themes Thursday evening when he suggested a newcomer like himself is needed to bring an outsider's perspective.

"We can collaborate, talk to each other and figure out how we can make a difference together," Abu-Taleb said. He highlighted what he said are budget flaws and problems with cash flow. "If we don't look at some fundamental things to do — if you don't have a mind like me that comes to the board to show how that could be done and together we could move forward, it's going to be more of the same."

The big theme throughout the forums has been essentially about whose leadership can bring the village what it needs to move forward. Abu-Taleb relies on his outsider perspective that would bring a new outlook to the board. Hedges pointed to his wealth of knowledge and experience in Oak Park village government, promising to be a balanced leader people can follow. Abu-Taleb said that strategy isn't working. Hedges said the last time non-VMA-endorsed candidates won, the board became dysfunctional.

"I know the village inside and out," Hedges said. His colleagues on the board, along with Barber, backed up this point and said there is a "steep learning curve" in serving on the village board. Hedges said he never considered running as an independent candidate and suggested that Abu-Taleb could have brought a slate of candidates with him but didn't.

"You have to bring people with you," Hedges said. "You can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way."

Trustees Lueck and Brewer said that as a board they rarely have identical perspectives and always share their honest views, have no problems questioning their colleagues and don't follow the status quo. Abu-Taleb has said he wants to shake up processes. The trustees, however, said they take their commitment seriously and are not as dismissive toward the public as Abu-Taleb suggests.

Still, Hedges' opponent stood his ground that his voice is needed to lead the board and the community.

"As a business owner and a longtime resident, I am in touch with the community and the needs," Abu-Taleb said. "The experience I bring is the experience needed on the board today. The experience on the board today is really theoretical and almost like an academic experience many times. I want to bring that practical experience and the new way of thinking — to challenge assumptions and to ask questions."

After two nights of talking, the opponents stuck to their claim that their leadership styles, despite their different experience levels with village government, would bring a fresh outlook toward village government. The difference is in how they're going to get there.

Talking points

Village presidential candidates Anan Abu-Taleb and John Hedges shared their views on economic development, taxes, village customer service, leadership skills and more at two forums last week. Here are a few talking points from the candidates:

Abu-Taleb on taxes: "This tax burden is working against the diversity overall. It's becoming almost an economic barrier for many people to move into town, people like us who feel their sense of belonging in Oak Park and feel they are accepted in such community. The economic barrier is becoming the wheel."

Hedges on taxes: "[It impacts] businesses certainly. It hurts profits. It keeps new businesses from coming into town. Fortunately we still have businesses and we still have businesses coming into town. But it still makes it difficult. … Walking around and talking to people, that's the number one thing that comes up. It's taxes: 'I don't know how long I will be able to stay in my house.' It's difficult and we have to take that seriously. We need to have that intergovernmental approach."

Abu-Taleb's final thoughts: "There might be 1,000 things wrong with Oak Park, but there's a million things right with Oak Park. I'm really encouraged to do this because I want to make a difference. I want to make a difference in this community. … It really worries me that [my opponent] is insisting financially we are OK. … To me, it's important to be socially responsible but you cannot be socially responsible if you are not economically responsible. … I want to provide that leadership. I want to provide that energy. I want to provide that passion and I want to do that for Oak Park."

Hedges final thoughts: "We have a double AA bond rating. We don't have a debt problem. We don't an expenditure problem. We could solve this. If we want to raise the amount of money we have in our village accounts, all we have to do is raise taxes. We're not going to do that. We've been working for four or five years not to raise those taxes. ... I think this village is a wonderful place to live. We need to keep it wonderful for the people who are living here. … We want Oak Park to stay good. We want it to stay solid. ... We have a passion for this community and we are going to work really hard to make sure this community works."

Where to hear the candidates next

What: Village president/trustee candidate forum, sponsored by South East Oak Park Community Organization (SEOPCO) and Wednesday Journal
When: 7-9 p.m., Thursday, March 21
Where: Irving Elementary School Auditorium: 1125 S. Cuyler Ave.

Contact:
Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

47 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Another Voter  

Posted: March 22nd, 2013 9:29 PM

@Jane Hedges - I didn't call your husband Kim Jong Il. I illustrated that experience isn't all the VMA ticket claims it to be. I am concerned that you seem so surprised by the angry comments on this board. There's a frequently shared opinion here that the current trustees are out of touch with the broader community in Oak Park. If you are surprised by the anger directed at VMA and the Trustees it would seem to validate that belief. You're toeing a volatile line for your husband's campaign.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: March 22nd, 2013 8:23 PM

These comments are pretty tame compared to some other threads I've seen. And Marc Stopek's cartoon on page 25 of this week's paper is far more "racier" than anything written here.

Unfortunately  

Posted: March 22nd, 2013 5:46 PM

@Jane Hedges. Please read my post below from March 18. Your husband IS a very good man and I believe that I can empathize with your post. However (and you knew that this was coming, sorry), his VMA supporters are conducting a campaign that is dragging Anan thru the mud and I'm fairly certain that his wife can relate to your emotions. Many in the VMA have a long record of doing much worse than what you are reading about your husband and they have no shame at all - business as usual. I'm sorry.

Jane Hedges from Oak Park  

Posted: March 22nd, 2013 5:25 PM

My, Lord, I can't believe the vitriol of these blogs. My husband is according to the negatives, "Old","Dumb" and "Kim Jong Il"Those who have no specific ideas call names. John a lot of new ideas. Have you seen them?

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: March 22nd, 2013 4:49 PM

If experience is John Hedges cornerstone, then we need to look at his experience as the Park District Executive Director through 2000. In 2004, a referendum passed to increase the park district levy 154%. The stated purpose was to correct the deferred maintenance of all the park district buildings. The language of the referendum implies that the Hedges administration did not take care of business.

Who Dat  

Posted: March 21st, 2013 2:02 PM

Will the real(facebook verified..or not) Dan Haley please stand up..

Dan Haley from Wednesday Journal  

Posted: March 21st, 2013 10:47 AM

Bridgett, no one has ever disagreed with any of our editorial judgments before. I'm shocked and don't know how to respond!

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: March 21st, 2013 10:16 AM

Thanks for your response, Dan. Then I disagree with your nuanced description. :-)5

Dan Haley from Wednesday Journal  

Posted: March 21st, 2013 10:09 AM

Dear Bridgett, We often run different or tweaked heads between print and digital. Web heads tend to be a little more forthright (search engine friendly), print heads can be more descriptive, nuanced. Just different mediums.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: March 21st, 2013 10:02 AM

WJ, why did you change the headline of this story in the print edition? "Hedges, Abu-Taleb disagree on leadership styles." The disagreements are way more than styles. Or, as Anna wrote, "how they think the job should get done." As an attendee of the WJ forum, it was clear that these candidates disagree on the condition of the Village. What one thought were problems, the other didn't. The difference in perspectives was stunning.

OP Resident  

Posted: March 20th, 2013 9:32 PM

I'm sure Madison will get hot again the next time the Trustees need to dump one of their pet projects not involving brick pavers somewhere. Look out when the Village decides it needs a new waste treatment facility. I'm sure Madison would top the list.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 20th, 2013 9:26 PM

Charles - there have been some discussion of Madison Avenue at the debate but it has been vague. Even the Madison Diet seems questionable. The Madison Tif has been closed since Tif funding has a 23 year term. That means; there will be no additional Tif funds going to Madison. There is $11,407 left in the Madison Tif account of the $20,629,000 spent during the Tif's lifetime. That is not enough to do a Madison Diet or much of anything else. Hedges comments at debates have limited.

Charles Neveu from Oak Park  

Posted: March 20th, 2013 5:36 PM

When is someone going to ask these leaders about the status of Madison Street? No one seems to be touching it or talking about developing it other than maybe reducing it down to one lane in both directions. It would be great to get a vibrant Madison like what exists just across Harlem Ave in FP. Instead, it looks and feels like its run down with no consistency. It lacks character. About the best thing that is on it is the newly-built Walgreens. Somebody ask these candidates about Madison please!

Random Citizen from Oak Park  

Posted: March 20th, 2013 4:26 PM

If the VMA and other OP luminaries succeed in blocking Anan's candidacy they will have a fully uncontested ticket. Whatever Hedges' merits this is a very unhealthy election. Can OP residents call for a special election. -- a do over?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 20th, 2013 1:50 PM

The Patch reported the following this morning, "The median price of homes sold in River Forest was also up compared to last year. It rose 16.6 percent to $577,500 from $495,500 during February 2012. But the prices dropped 26.1 percent in Oak Park, down to $255,000 from $345,000 in 2012. I am tired of the Hunky Dory Slate telling us that everything in Oak Park is getting better, when our housing values are slipping away. It's time for Hedges and his team to explain why Oak Park housing value is eroding. Please don't tell us that it is because of the 2008 recession. River Forest went through the same recession.

Jim from Oak Park  

Posted: March 20th, 2013 12:25 PM

Hedges twists facts when he says the village hasn't raised taxes. The village portion of my bill went up 1/3 from 2008 to 2010, adding $475. I don't know how politicians like Hedges manipulate taxes, but the village squeezed another $475 per year out of me, and then the say they haven't increased taxes. I've found a half-dozen communities within an hour of Oak Park with half the taxes and justy as good quality of life.

muntz  

Posted: March 20th, 2013 12:04 PM

"That doesn't work in government..." Note to candidates...if you want my vote, that is the LAST thing I want to hear. It implies a resistance to change and a sheltered existence. The real world is constantly evolving and responding to change. I see no reason why govt cannot rethink how it does things. Heaven forbid govt opens itself up to proven concepts from the evil business world and private sector.

Another Voter  

Posted: March 19th, 2013 10:47 AM

@Voter: Completely agree. Kim Jong Il ruled North Korea for 15 years. He was re-elected every 5 years. Most North Koreans would agree that experience didn't make him a successful ruler.

Voter  

Posted: March 19th, 2013 1:00 AM

I disagree. Experience does not mean success. Length of service does not mean accomplishment. It can and has meant the same old philosophies and closed ended decision making. Anan will bring a fresh approach. Anan is a very intelligent man and no doubt, will learn quickly. Not all of our elected officials have come to the table with experience. That is another argument that doesnt hold water. If the current board members try to stifle him I am sure they will hear from the residents.

ConservaDem  

Posted: March 18th, 2013 6:05 PM

Mr. Butch Murtagh, I don't doubt that those four individuals can have a respectful relationship. I also don't doubt that Abu-Taleb wants to reduce spending. But even with the help of his colleagues, Abu-Taleb will have to learn the ropes. Hedges, on the other hand, has been a voice of prudence on the Board since 2007. He has the know-how. And if he wins, he'll have his majority, for the first time. It's a real opportunity for the Village. Skills + political capital / relationships = real change.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 18th, 2013 5:09 PM

ConsevaDem ?" Wouldn't this work for Anan as well? That is; Would Salzman, Tucker, and Barber join Lueck and Brewer position that if Anan was elected they would not help him during the learning curve? ?" They stated position at Buzz Cafe Debate. Certainly, If Anan won, the board could ignore him and create turmoil on at the board table, village hall, and amongst residents and business. If they did that, would Johnson or maybe Lueck or Brewer would become the nominal President by controlling six VMA votes? Is that good for the village? Does that respect the vote of the village? My knowledge of the board makes me believe that Salzman, Tucker, and Barber would take the ethical route and respect the role of the President.

Unfortunately  

Posted: March 18th, 2013 12:13 PM

I agree with a lot of the previous comments - pro and con regarding voting for Mr. Hedges (who IS a good man!) and that there are SOME current board members who "get it" (finally) regarding the fiscal/mngrl disasters of Pope, etc. But I'm voting for Anon because I'm sick and tired of how the VMA clan present themselves as indispensable to Oak Park. This 1-party hegemon has to end - and Anon is also a good man and I can't believe that the 6 adult VMA brd members will act like babies if he wins.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 18th, 2013 11:14 AM

@JBM ... good analysis. While I respect Mr. Hale for his fiscal expertise, I do not respect those who scapegoat village fiscal dysfunction on the brief NLP tenure or the Great Recession. Since the unreserved fund balance peaked at $10.5M in 2000, the board has been dominated by Pope and VMA members (86%). The 5-2 NLP majority that Mr. Hale mentions is simply not true, as Brady was not NLP and Marsey aligned with Pope and Johnson from the start. It was in reality a 4-3 Pope/Johnson majority.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 18th, 2013 11:01 AM

At the Buzz Cafe, each of the VMA candidates cited the 2008 Recession as a cause of the current fiscal problems. Follow the events below to understand that Oak Park's economic problems occurred long before 2008. SEPTEMBER 5, 2006 WJ One View - VMA President states: The current board may need to borrow up to $6 million to implement support for Harrison, Roosevelt and North business districts. He added that the debt was not a problem as the village was maintaining its 20% fund balance. DECEMBER 2, 2006 WJ News - Village Board near final approval of 2007 Budget - General Fund operating expenses expected to increase by 4.8 percent vs estimated 2006 spending. Budget is balanced with $700,000 revenue from parking fee increase. DECEMBER 3, 2007 WJ News (Dow Jones near 14,000) - "For the first time in memory, the Village of Oak Park is looking hard at staff layoffs to balance a 2008 budget that is some $4 million out of whack." On JULY 8, 2008 in a WJ One View, the"VMA PRESIDENT WROTE: "THIS BOARD HAS ADDRESSED THE SERIOUS FUND BALANCE BY MAKING DIFFICULT COST-CUTTING MOVES......." HE CONCLUDED HIS ESSAY BY WRITING: "THREE CHEERS FOR THIS OUTSTANDING TEAM (VMA), WHICH, TRUE TO ITS NAME, HAS MADE PROGRESS AND ACTION THE NEW THEME OF OAK PARK GOVERNANCE." WHILE OP BURNED, THE VMA FIDDLED. July 29, 2008 WJ News (Dow Jones @11,100) OP CFO states that the village is expecting to end 2008 with a $200,000 deficit and a general fund balance of negative $3.06 million. These events all occurred before the National Recession of 2008.

ConservaDem  

Posted: March 18th, 2013 10:47 AM

If your concern is financial and fiscal responsibility (and you have good reason to be concerned) think of it this way: Hedges is a real fiscal conservative. Put him at the helm, with Salzman and Tucker voting with him, and add in Peter Barber, who also knows how to stretch a buck from his D97 job, and you have a 4/3 majority that is fiscally sane. With Abu-Taleb, you are going to have a board reeling from the unfamiliarity of the new face. It will take a while to get to a clear fiscal policy.

Voter from Oak Park  

Posted: March 18th, 2013 10:26 AM

I agree with Enuf that Hedges, Salzman and Tucker present a rational and smart approach to these financial issues. I've appreciated their stands on some of the tough votes in the past years. It's one of the main reasons that I'm voting for Hedges. I trust him and want to see what he can deliver as president.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 18th, 2013 9:10 AM

I have paid attention to board meetings, and I am aware that Hale & Hedges have both brought a degree of rationality to the village board since 2007, along with Tucker & Salzman in 2011. The problem is that VMA lost control of Pope and Johnson during the past 10 years, and they initiated a spending spree of poor investments that squandered cash reserves and landed the village in court with D200. As a result, VMA lost credibility, and it is difficult to trust any VMA candidate as a result.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 18th, 2013 12:04 AM

Jon Hale - I accept your description of me as a -monolithic-power meme. In fact, I take it as a compliment. Despite the views of the deeply entrenched politicians in the village, someone has to take the responsibility of pointing out when the king is marching through town without clothes on.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 11:57 PM

Bridgett - The threat of raising taxes has become a 2013 scare tactic of the "Hunky Dory" Slate who are desperate to maintain their 7-0 control of the board. Taxes were raised because TIF's failed to increase property tax revenue for the village. Despite not having enough funds to complete the Downtown Oak Park project or doing even minimal work on Madison, the number one goal of the village remains Commercial Development.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 11:37 PM

Why is the only option, in order to have a balanced budget and healthy reserves, to raise taxes? So there isn't any fat to be cut from the budget, or to make better decisions with the money? A few things come to mind--the funky "hot tape" crosswalks in the Arts District, the bricked south Marion Street, national searches and surveys and consultant fees. I have to believe that the threat "we'd have to raise taxes" isn't the only answer.

Jon Hale from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 10:25 PM

@ John Murtaugh. We RE-financed the debt at lower interest rates! There was no issuance of bonds instead of raising taxes. Hedges is the guy who pushed for a fund balance policy going forward. We never had one before. (Apparently neither does D200, but that's another issue.) But he thought it is good fiscal policy to have a target. However, if the Board had raised the cash reserve ?" which is what the fund balance really is ?" immediately to 10% to 20%, they would have had to raise your taxes to do it just to satisfy bond-holders when we already have a superior investment-grade rating. As it is, we are on a path to get to the target. Much as it fits your VMA-as-monolithic-power meme (ha ?" first time I get to use that word on-line), Hedges is not Johnson or Pope. In fact, he announced his intention to run for President before he even knew whether Pope would seek a third term. John Hedges and I came to the Board at the same time and had similar ideas about getting spending under control, setting up a better budget process, and generally getting our fiscal house in order ?" policies that were pursued by the Board post-2007 and helped get the Village through the recession. That's why I think he'd be a good president. The disastrous NLP board prior to 2007 drove us into a ditch financially ?" Pope and Johnson were in the 5-2 minority ?" but the VMA Boards immediately prior to the NLP certainly weren't all that distinguished on the fiscal front either. I guarantee you, I know this from experience, when you put people in these kinds of positions who have no experience with municipal finance, you are asking for trouble. I don't care whether they are running on a VMA slate, or any other slate or as an independent. Same goes for D200 this year. Show me what you know about municipal finance because that's what a ton of your decisions are going to be about. Sorry, I don't think running a restaurant qualifies.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 7:53 PM

In 2002, the Village of Oak Park unreserved fund balance was $9.9M. In 2003, Pope and Johnson started their tenure on the village board, and by 2006, the unreserved fund balance was reduced to a deficit of $3.4M, a $13.3M reversal of fortune in just 3 years.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 6:54 PM

Jon Hale - You mentioned in your post that when you arrived on the board in 2007 there were totally inexperienced people running things on the Village Board, (and) they squandered our cash reserves! Are you aware that when you arrived, both President David Pope and Trustee Johnson had been in office for four years (both elected in 2003). Where does responsibility begin and end?

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 4:45 PM

Since 2012, the village has had a Fund Balance Policy with the goal of an unreserved fund balance no less than 10% of operational expenses. In 2005, the first year of Pope and Johnson's board tenure, the unreserved fund balance dropped from of 15.3% to 2.1%, -7.4% in 2006 and -6.2% in 2007, when Jon Hale became a board member. Hale's cohort eventually achieved 10.7% in their last year, 2010, but the balance fell to 4.2% and 4.8% the next two years, and currently is in noncompliance at 8.2%

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 3:29 PM

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois Posted: March 17th, 2013 11:09 AM Jon Hale's comments are a bit confusing. What I got out of his post was that the board borrowed $90m so it did not have to raise taxes. Pretty much the same thing said by the "Everything is Hunky Dory" slate said at the Buzz Cafe Debate. That sounds like a Bait and Switch Strategy.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 12:16 PM

Mr. Hale is correct in stating that Moody's Aa2 rating is better than Aa3. I intended to focus on Oak Park's rating being revised from 'Aa2' to 'Aa2 with a negative outlook' in Sept 2012. According to Moody's, the negative outlook "reflects a lack of progress in improving the village's overall financial profile. If Oak Park's financial performance and position fail to improve, the credit rating will likely be affected." (see www.moodys.com). S&P rates OP as AA-, equivalent to Moody's Aa3.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 12:16 PM

While Oak Park did implement some fiscal restraint in 2007-10, the village is in noncompliance with their 2012 Fund Balance Policy of an unreserved fund balance of no less than 10% and no more than 20% of operational expenses. Under Trapani and Swenson, the unreserved fund balance began decreasing in 2001, until it was nearly emptied in 2005, and went into deficit in 2006. It made improvements from 2007 -2010, but began decreasing again in 2011 under Pope, from $4.9M to $1.7M (CAFR 2011).

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 12:15 PM

Also of concern is the Village's long term debt obligations, which currently include $82.4M of General Obligation bonds, a significant amount relative to overall village revenue. Under the 1970 Illinois Constitution, there is no legal debt limit for home rule municipalities such as Oak Park, and the Village does not currently have any formula driven debt limit, but looks to the market to determine its credit worthiness which, in part, takes various measures of debt into account.

Jon Hale from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 10:15 AM

There is no "troubling downward trend" in Oak Park's bond rating! Today's Aa2 rating is HIGHER THAN a Aa3 rating that one commenter says we had in 2006! Municipal bonds rated from Aaa through Aa3 are considered "superior" by Moody's ?" of "high quality with very low credit risk." The "negative outlook" simply means that Moody's thinks we are closer to moving back to Aa3 (also a "superior" rating) than we are to moving up to an Aa1 rating, which I don't think Oak Park has ever had. The reason for that outlook is because the last time we had totally inexperienced people running things on the Village Board, they squandered our cash reserves! When I was on the Board from 2007-2011, we started rebuilding the cash reserves and the current board has continued that. But ?" keep this in mind -- if we had built cash reserves up to the point where it would have satisfied bondholders, it would have meant raising your taxes. As it is, we have refinanced I believe all of the Village's outstanding GO debt at extremely low prevailing interest rates, saving taxpayers even more money. It's easy for Mr. Abu-Taleb to find something on-line that he thinks supports his campaign, taking it completely out of context, when what it really tells me is that he doesn't understand the first thing about municipal finance.

Emperor Palpatine  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 7:17 AM

And as my first act with this new authority, I will create a grand army of the Republic to counter the increasing threats of the Separatists.

Resident   

Posted: March 16th, 2013 11:32 PM

This current village board is entrenched. Nothing will change for Oak Park residents and businesses unless their is a change in leadership. Anan is the man for the job.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 16th, 2013 12:11 PM

Steve ... I think that is an apt analogy. Moody's states Oak Park's strengths as; large tax base, location proximity to Chicago, and affluent socio-economic profile, which all are inherent to the village itself. The stated weaknesses all pertain to poor fiscal management. Oak Park thrives due to its inherent base conditions, and despite village officials who continue to underachieve and devalue our potential.

Steve Bankes from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 16th, 2013 11:57 AM

Oak Park is an A student satisfied with Bs. How can you be involved in village government and the VMA for decades and still shake things up a bit? Hedges is a good man but has too much to lose by rocking the boat. Anan is a "free agent" and our greatest hope for straight As.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 16th, 2013 11:47 AM

While the Aa2 rating itself is not of concern, the downward trending is troubling. As recently as May 2006, Oak Park was rated as Aa3 with a positive outlook, but has been downgraded ever since. As per Moody's, the current negative outlook "reflects a lack of progress in improving the village's overall financial profile." Also of concern is that the current Aa2 negative outlook not only applies to current General Obligation bonds, but also previously issued GO debt, totaling $82.4M.

James  

Posted: March 16th, 2013 7:31 AM

@oakparkbob-I have another one for you, also indicative of this group's (Hedges and Co.) clueless leadership. Wanting to replace an old garage, staff said I needed a permit. After three months of delays, the garage I was DEMOLISHING was cited for peeling paint and I was denied the permit to DEMOLISH it until I painted the entire garage. Staff stupidity? Sure. But the Board and now current village attorney agreed! That kind of stupidity is an infection and must end. Therefore, no vote for Hedges.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 16th, 2013 12:46 AM

At the Buzz Cafe debate, Anan Abj-Taleb, candidate for president, cited a Moody's Credit Rating Services on Oak Park Village's bond rating. The report was published in December 2012. Moody's has ten ratings for investment grade bonds. The ratings go from Aaa to Baa3. Oak Park Village has a Aa2 rating. The village also has a "negative" rating, which is a status the credit-rating agencies (Standard and Poor's , Moody's and Fitch) give a company while they are deciding whether to lower that company's (village) credit rating. Moody's wrote that Oak Park Village's negative outlook is based on narrow liquidity in the village's General Fund and enterprise funds, negative budget to actual variances, and sizable unfunded pension liabilities. As reported by the Wednesday Journal, Trustee Hedges reply was ""There are problems. We're gone through this recession. We have high taxes, we've got all those things going on," "There is work to do, there's no doubt. ?But we're turning the corner." The election becomes clearer and clearer every day. The issue is how the residents' money is handled and the choice is "Status Quo" or "Fiscal Change."

Oakparkbob  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 11:23 PM

I'm for Abu-Taleb. Hedges is an old man who is beholden to the VMA. We've had enough of that! As a homeowner for 33 years in OP,I understand the frustration of dealing with the village. The permit process is ridiculous.I had a fence replaced & had to pay a $80 permit fee & went to the village to get the permit.I was asked to draw a schematic of the fence & they said no one would come to check it out.I could have drawn a line around the whole village & they wouldn't have cared! They just want $$!

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