Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey Wednesday Journal sent out to all candidates running in this year's elections.
Years lived in River Forest: Almost 12 years
Spouse, if applicable/children and ages: My wife is Cheryl and we have two children, my son Zach is 14 and my daughter Ryan is 12.
Have you ever run for or served in a local political office before? Yes
If so, when and which office? I am currently a River Forest Park Board Commissioner, elected in 2007.
If you are not currently on the village board, how many village board meetings have you attended in the last year?
Unfortunately, the Village Board meetings take place at the same time as Park Board meetings, but I have attended a couple of meetings in the last couple years in connection with a park district issue that was before the Village Board.
Why are you running for this office?
I have served as a member of the Park District Board for the last 6 years and I have found it to be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences of my life. I would like to take what I have learned from that experience and apply that knowledge to the challenges that the Village faces in the coming years.
What do you think are the three biggest challenges facing the village in the next four years?
In my view, the 3 biggest challenges facing River Forest are all interrelated and they stem from a village budget that is way too dependent on property tax revenue to pay its bills. The first challenge we face is how to diversify our revenue streams so that the property tax burden does not become unbearable. A related problem is how to provide necessary services to the village more efficiently and less costly. Finally, I think that the village board has to become less insular so that the village can take advantage of the experience and intelligence that is readily available in our village.
What skills/talents do you have that would enable you to deal with those challenges?
At bottom, the challenges that we face as a village are only going to be resolved by devising creative solutions that balance the interests of all stakeholders. For a significant portion of my legal career, I focused on negotiating complex business arrangements and transactions. From that experience, I learned the value of compromise and consensus and finding workarounds that all of the interested parties found acceptable if not ideal.
Moreover, I think that my 6 years on the park board hac=ve really prepared me to address many of the problems. For instance I have been conscientious while on the Park Board to make sure that the district spent the taxpayers' money as if it were my own. An example of that is a savings on legal fees since I was elected to that board. When I first joined the board, the district's outside counsel would attend every meeting as a matter of course in the event that some legal issue arose upon which the board needed advice. Since that rarely occurred, I suggested to the board that this was a luxury that we did not need. Instead, we now only ask our attorney to attend board meetings if we know that we will need that advice. While this has resulted in relatively small savings, they are savings nonetheless. If I am elected to the Village Board, I will try to apply that same common sense approach to all Village expenditures because even if savings are small, it is still a saving of tax dollars that can be applied to some other village expense.
Finally, I believe that it is the obligation of all elected officials to not only be willing to listen to taxpayers but to actively seek out their advice and counsel on matters that are before the board. I have strived throughout my term as a park board member to actively solicit input from River Foresters on a wide variety of issues. In fact, many of my proudest accomplishments on the board, including the construction of the paddle tennis courts and the bocce courts, were based on ideas from members of our community.
If elected, what are three goals that you have for the next four years?
My first goal would be to promote more citizen input in village decision making. While I think that the current board has generally done a fine job over the past four years, I also think that its mistakes stem mostly from a reluctance to actively solicit community input. The best example of this was the board's decision to put up the red light cameras. In my opinion, it was a mistake for the board not to refer the issue to the Traffic and Safety Committee so that interested residents could weigh in. Mike Gibbs has said that he was swayed in favor of the cameras by the testimony from Police Chief Weiss. Although I do not disagree that the chief's voice is an important one, it still reflects just one point of view. If the matter had been opened up to the public through the committee hearing process, Mike Gibbs might have heard an even more persuasive voice that convinced him that the red light cameras were a bad idea. We will never know, however, because the community was not given a meaningful opportunity to offer its opinions. Thus, to ensure that the community has a voice in important village matters going forward, I will propose a board rule that would require the board to submit any issue to the appropriate committee if one board member so requests. River Forest is fortunate to have a base of very intelligent and very giving residents. The village board should do everything it can to tap that resource to help us solve the challenges that we face in the future.
My next goal would be to cut back on village spending to the extent possible. This involves both a sensible review of all sorts of village expenses but also an aggressive effort to combine as many personnel functions across all of the taxing bodies through the use of intergovernmental agreements. Real savings for all taxing bodies in River Forest can only be achieved through head count reduction. We can do that if we partner with the other taxing bodies and combine those functions and staff positions that can be combined. I would also try to automate as many of the village interactions with citizens, such as buying vehicle stickers or registering dogs, as possible to lower the relative cost to the village for those transactions.
My third goal would be to diversify the village's revenue streams. During the recent home rule campaign, the village board pointed out that there were many revenue streams, such as a local gas tax, that can only be imposed by a home rule unit. While it is clear that the village does not want home rule, it seemed equally clear that many villagers agreed that it was not fair that the gas station on the west side of Harlem was effectively pocketing the tax because the gas station across the street had to pay a 6 cent/gallon tax to Oak Park. Accordingly, I propose that the village petition the Illinois legislature to permit all non-home rule entities to enact all revenue measures via a referendum that a home rule entity can impose by ordinance. If that measure is approved, we can then go to referendum on a number of revenue enhancing measures to broaden our tax base. If a majority of the village agrees, we can then impose that tax.
I also think that we must come up with a way of ensuring that the colleges in our town pay something to the village to help to defray the costs of the village services, such as fire and police protection, that they now enjoy. While I recognize that the colleges contribute to the overall value of our village, the same may be said of Jewel/Osco, Whole Foods or any other business in our town. All of them are valuable but no one would suggest that Jewel, for instance, should not pay anything in exchange for the village services that it enjoys.
Lastly, we must of course, promote commercial development in River Forest. I congratulate the village administration for the addition of the DSW shoe store to Town Square Shopping Center, but there are other stores in that shopping area that are still empty. We must offer whatever reasonable assistance the village can to ensure that all of the stores in our town are occupied. The best way to lower the property tax burden on residents is to increase the revenue that we derive from non-residents via sales taxes.
If you are running as part of a slate of candidates, why? If not, why not?
I am running independently. I want to be judged on my own merit and I want to have the independence on the board to disagree with the Village President when appropriate. Mike Gibbs has said that his slate is "like-minded but not lockstep." While I am not sure what that really means, I think that running as a slate makes it, from a practical perspective, much more difficult for board members to disagree with each other if they hand banded together for the purpose of being elected. I am not suggesting that we should revert to the bad old days of open hostility and rancorous discussions on the village board but it is still important that the members think and act independently.