Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey Wednesday Journal sent out to all candidates running in this year's elections.
Profession: Retired Executive Director of Park District; sitting Village Trustee
How long have you lived in Oak Park? 33 years
Why are you running for this office?
I first ran in 2007 on a slate whose theme was "Let's get Oak Park moving again," and I really believe today Oak Park IS on the move, thanks in large part to the Village Board's efforts to keep a lid on Village spending, deliver services more effectively, and improve the business environment, despite the poor economic climate of the past few years.
I am running because we need a President with the experience and support of the Board of Trustees who can hit the ground running to keep that momentum going as the overall economy improves.
I am committed to Oak Park, to public service, and to listening to the many good ideas people have in this community. I have a passion for Oak Park that has meant so much to me having raised my family here and served the community professionally. I have the time, experience and energy to be an effective Village President from day one.
Have you ever run for or served in a local political office before? If so, when and which office?
Yes, I was elected in 2007 to a two-year term to finish Geoff Baker's term after he resigned, and elected in 2009 to a full four-year term as Trustee.
Have you served on other boards or commissions at a local level? If not, what makes you want to serve now?
In addition to six years as Village Trustee, I have served on a number of local boards and committees, often in a leadership role, including United Way/ Community Chest, Oak Park Community Foundation, Madison Street Business Association, Pleasant Home Foundation, OPRF Citizens Advisory Committee on Athletics and Activities, Oak Park Council of Governments, Drug and Gang Task Force, Oak Park River Forest Rotary Club, Village/District 97 Task Force on Diversity.
Do you have other experiences in local government?
Yes, I was the Executive Director of the Park District of Oak Park for twenty years 1980 to 2000; I served as Acting Village Manager in 1985 for ten months.
Are there individuals or groups which actively encouraged your interest in running for village president?
Yes, I was selected for slating by the Village Managers Association and I was encouraged by several sitting Village Trustees, business owners, and residents.
What do you consider to be the greatest strengths in Oak Park's village government?
Citizen involvement in 26 boards and commissions, many dedicated professional staffers, a great police department, our diversity and sustainability programs, a Village Board that has kept spending under control but insisted on maintaining strong service delivery, high levels of citizen interest in what happens in Oak Park.
What is the biggest issue the village/village board faces today?
The biggest issue facing the Village is its overall property tax burden, which is making Oak Park less affordable for current and prospective residents and therefore threatens to change the diverse character of Oak Park.
As President, the Village Board and I will address this issue by first insisting that Village services be delivered more cost effectively, something we've been doing since I've been on the Board and that will be a priority for me and the new Village Manager. Second, by working with other local governing bodies on ways to share operating costs to save taxpayers money. Third, by focusing on economic development to grow the local tax base, and finally, by making sure that our existing diversity programs remain strong.
What does the term "economic development" mean to you in terms of the future of Oak Park? How should the village approach this concept?
The Village government has played a vital role in economic development for decades going back to the 1960s and 1970s when disinvestment in Oak Park was rampant. It continues to be vital to the community as we work to broaden the tax base so that our local services and schools can continue to support our quality of life without further burdening taxpayers.
The Village government should help support and direct major new investment and make it easier for businesses to get up and running by taking a more holistic approach to economic development that includes collaboration with others in the community (i.e., business associations, school boards). We've more than held our own in the years since the recession, but we really have to be ready to move forward as the overall economy improves.
In your opinion, how can Oak Park continue to provide the best services possible to residents without placing additional burdens on taxpayers?
We need to find the most cost-effective ways of delivering key services to residents and businesses. This is not the time for "business as usual." We have figured out ways to do more with less over the past six years. More on-line permitting. Outsourcing. Consolidation within Village staff. Smart meters. A better budgeting process that's more timely and more transparent, which allows the Board to make better decisions. This is something I've pushed for and that I will insist on further improving as President. I also support the new Village Manager's new performance measurement standards. Through these efforts we've kept a lid on the size of the Village budget over the past several years. There are other opportunities we've taken advantage of -- our electric utility aggregation program has already saved residents more than $5 million.
What is the village's role in encouraging local business growth and helping fill vacant storefronts?
Keep in mind that Oak Park is doing far better than many surrounding areas post-recession. Our commercial occupancy rate is 92%. New businesses are opening all the time -- we issued 126 new business permits last year. And a local property broker told me recently his phone has been ringing off the hook.
We need to build on that success. Working in tandem, the Village Business Services staff and the Oak Park Development Corporation (OPDC) staff advise prospective and existing local businesses on locations, business models, and OPDC administers Village grant and low-interest loan programs. Sometimes reputations can be hard to change but the Village is easy to do business with more so today than in the past.
The coming years will be challenging. We have a lot of commercial space that's outdated. We have Internet retail to deal with. I want to see the new Village economic development director hired and to bring together the various folks involved in local development to meet this challenge with one voice for a strong Oak Park.
What else should Oak Park residents know about you?
My wife Jane and I have lived in Oak Park for 33 years. We've been married for 45 years. We have two sons, one who lives with his wife and our three grandchildren in Oak Park. The other lives close by in Chicago. I have a passion for public service especially for Oak Park.