Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey Wednesday Journal sent out to all candidates running in this year's elections.
Profession: local business owner
How long have you lived in Oak Park? 23 years
Why are you running for this office?
I am running for Village President because I want to give back to a community that embraced my heritage and gave me a sense of belonging. I believe the best way to do this is to serve the community as a Village President that gets up every day and thinks about how we can build a better tomorrow together. I will bring fiscal responsibility to Village Hall and cut waste and spending that isn't strategic. I am a pragmatic and innovative leader. I believe in building trust by listening to different views, stimulating debate and, then moving people forward.
Have you ever run for or served in a local political office before? If so, when and which office? No.
Have you served on other boards or commissions at a local level? If not, what makes you want to serve now?
While I have not served on local boards before, as a 23-year resident and local business owner for 17 years, I have had many interactions with our local government and I understand what it means to be the government's customer. I recognize the impact of the tax burden on our community. I understand what attracts business and what deters business.
Like many of the residents I talk to, I am concerned about what I see happening in Oak Park. Debt, high taxes, complex permit processes, and cumbersome parking regulations all contribue to the growing sense of frustration with our Village. I see focused activity in certain parts of the village while basic services and aging infrastructure in other parts of the town are ignored. I want us to have a meaningful debate about these issues and get people engaged in the conversation. I want us to move forward together to solve these problems and ensure that Oak Park has the financial stability while maintaining the values we share.
Do you have other experiences in local government?
Yes. As a local businessman who has lived in Oak Park for 23 years, I have had many interactions with the village government. That experience has led to a broad knowledge of the workings of Oak Park government and a strong insight into the needs of the village's residents and businesses.
Are there individuals or groups which actively encouraged your interest in running for village president?
Yes. Many independent village leaders, business owners, residents and neighbors have encouraged my seeking the presidency and have cited my leadership skills, strategic thinking, independence, my eagerness to challenge assumptions, listen to new ideas, and to work to achieve a positive outcome for all stakeholders.
What do you consider to be the greatest strengths in Oak Park's village government?
Oak Park has survived social and economic challenges because of the resilience and strength of her residents. Oak Park has long stood for open housing, equal rights, diversity, and fairness. These ideals have been implemented using the current government structure. The challenges of improving government can be resolved by promoting and selecting innovative, energetic leaders.
What is the biggest issue the village/village board faces today?
A lack of transparency and acceptance of the status quo are our most significant issues. Oak Park faces other serious issues: high taxes, increasing debt, deterioration of infrastructure, and parking policies (to name a few). But the current board's commitment to the status quo and lack of transparency on key issues is what is most disturbing to me. Without public discourse, how can we hope to solve these issues? If we don't take residents' views into account, how can we properly serve them? The Village President and the Board should not be making decisions in a vacuum. Instead, we need to open our doors, listen to different opinions, and make more informed decisions.
What does the term "economic development" mean to you in terms of the future of Oak Park?
Economic development is multifaceted. It involves all members of the community: residents, small business owners, commercial property owners, rental property owners, and government. Accordingly, in devising schemes to stimulate growth, economic development is something that should be aligned with the needs and desires of these people and entities. Oak Park has been experimenting on the taxpayers' dime for too long without caring enough about where people want those dimes are going. We have twelve shopping districts each with their own identity and none with exceedingly successful programs. In the twenty-three years since the 1990 Comprehensive Plan approval, property owners in the village, particularly homeowners, have received minimal return on their investment in Oak Park. Poorly planned and executed economic developments are to blame.
80% of our property tax comes from residents, and our residents pay sales tax and other fees on top of that. Today, residents and businesses are voting with their feet: many are beginning to leave Oak Park. To me, economic development means expanding the tax base and encouraging more business activity in Oak Park. Economic development means attracting more families to move in to our community and thoroughly reviewing our fiscal policies. In doing so, we can lower the tax burden and ensure that Oak Park continues to develop economically.
How should the village approach this concept?
In our restaurants, simplicity matters. We instruct our staff:
- Don't give our customers a reason to go somewhere else
- If you can't say yes to a customer, find a manager; there is always a solution.
These are 2 values that I would bring to the village board to utilize in policy-making. In Oak Park, the residents are the government's customers. And residents should be treated as such. Government employees should be trained in customer service and unnecessary bureaucracy should be eliminated to better streamline services.
I would also work to:
- Facilitate home owner investment and eliminate vacant foreclosures.
- Encourage multifamily property owners to invest in their properties.
- Retain current businesses and use them to attract new businesses.
- Modernize restrictions, ordinances and regulations that are outdated.
- Limit the role that the village takes in buying, holding and developing property that is not for the use of the municipality.
In your opinion, how can Oak Park continue to provide the best services possible to residents without placing additional burdens on taxpayers?
I would start by providing the best services possible, something that taxpayers, by and large, do not feel our current board is offering. To do so, I would promote a cultural change at Village Hall focused on great customer service and responsive, representative government. Next, I would implement new ways of generating revenue, such as relaxing the parking ban in a way that it would produce revenue without agitating residents. I would stop adding debt to our budget and reduce, merge, or eliminate departments and processes that have very high costs and very low yields. I would stop giving away land to developers who end up flipping their investment for quick and substantial profits at the expense of the residents. I would stop hiring consultants to tell us what we already know.
I want us to be ready for opportunities when they come knocking on our doors by moving in unison with our partner agencies to capture those opportunities. Our government should not pick winners and losers. Our government should not be in the commercial real estate business: 19 or so parcels of land have been and continue to be off of the real estate tax rolls, yet they are maintained by public works as they sit empty. I would auction off these real estate holdings and put the cash into our accounts to improve our inadequate fund balances that resulted in the recent downgrading of our bonds. The role of the village should be to facilitate business development, not impede it.
What is the village's role in encouraging local business growth and helping fill vacant storefronts?
I would start by acknowledging that Oak Park has the perception that it is difficult to do business in. Along with many other business owners and home owners, I have experienced those difficulties. I would send a strong message that we are revamping our Building and Permit Services and revamp our zoning rules to increase the rate of growth. I would move as many of these processes on line and make them transparent and hold them accountable.
Government should not stand in the way of businesses and impede their potential for growth. We need to cut the red tape and foster an environment that allows them to thrive. This will help foster more jobs, more revenue and more opportunity to invest in our communities.
What else should Oak Park residents know about you?
A village president's role is not to guide day-to-day activities. That is the role of the Village Manager and their staff. The president's role is to lead the village trustees in establishing the village's vision, developing plan goals, forming policy that is consistent with the needs and the values of our community, ensuring that professional staff is fulfilling its professional goal, and to be the face for all of Oak Park. I have spent the last 25 years developing these skills as the owner of multiple businesses, including Maya Del Sol. Leading Oak Park requires the same set of skills as being a restaurant owner: I have worked tirelessly to train and motivate my staff to provide a needed service tailored to the customer's desires. I have needed to bring together hundreds of people to make my business work, and attract investors to help finance the project. It is an everyday job that requires me to consider tomorrow while also thinking about the stakeholders. This campaign provides me the opportunity to give back to the community that has given me so much.
If elected, I would be honored to serve as Oak Park's next Village President. Thank you for your consideration.