By Anna Lothson
Being a household name and local government veteran doesn't mean staying the course is the only choice. That's the mantra Trustee John Hedges has emphasized this campaign season.
The presidential candidate leading the Oak Park Together slate, endorsed by the Village Manager Association, said the village has moved forward in the past few years. Among the accomplishments, he said, are putting a lid on village spending, service delivery efficiency, improving the business environment in a poor economy and getting finances back on track.
"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," Hedges wrote in a Journal candidate questionnaire. "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."
Hedges, a 33-year resident is the retired director of the Park District of Oak Park, has served on local board and committees that have touched many governmental bodies, including a business association and Oak Park Council of Governments.
Although he's seen the ins and outs of how Oak Park works, he said he still has a fresh way of looking at Oak Park and wants to revamp policies, make processes quicker, and improve customer service through training and technology upgrades. For starters, he'd like to offer more online permit processes, bring smart meters to the village, and make the budgeting process more timely and transparent.
Hedges, who serves on the finance committee of the board, said he's seen a recovery and transformation of the village's budget. Knowledge of this, he said, is what Oak Park needs in its next president. The newly implemented performance management process is one way Hedges said the village has and will address new efficiencies and find a way to deliver faster service in a focused manner.
In 2007, Hedges ran on a VMA-backed slate with the theme "Let's get Oak Park moving again." He believes the village has gained momentum. Oak Park is moving forward in economic development, particularly with a newly established department to enhance efficiency at village hall.
His opponent, Anan Abu-Taleb has touted his experience as a business owner in the community, but Hedges said there's a difference between being a good business person and being a village leader. This includes listening to 52,000 people instead of simply customers and the staff of a restaurant.
He said being a village leader means balancing "the greater good of community" with what business owners and landlords are asking for. Hedges said he doesn't always accept the status quo; rather he looks at situations as they present themselves at the time. For example, the controversial sign code is one instance Hedges suggested the board needs to revisit due to hardships it may be placing on business owners.
"It takes a little bit of a different person to learn to work with people," Hedges said. "I think I have an empathy and understanding of what they go through and the taxes they pay."
Hedges said he's not ready to step back from the board and said residents need a leader they can follow and one who understands government. With his community leadership experience, he vows he will be that person. He admits there are obstacles ahead, particularly in areas of economic development and business growth, but said this is the not the time for "business as usual."
Working together with an experienced team has been the theme of Hedges' slate; it's also what he's preached throughout his campaign. Hedges said he's equipped with the time, leadership experience and patience to move the village as a community.
"The coming years will be challenging," he wrote. "I want to bring together the various folks involved in local development to meet this challenge with one voice for a strong Oak Park."