President is no place for job training

Opinion: Columns

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John Hedges

Since I've been a village trustee, we've started several positive initiatives that we need to see through — like an improved budget process so we make more informed decisions with your money, new departmental performance standards to make sure village hall operates more effectively on your behalf, and continuing our commitment to diversity and sustainability initiatives while also providing excellent basic services.

I think we need to fix some things to make Oak Park work even better — from streamlining building permits and inspections to making sure village hall is doing all it can to help businesses get up and running, and working with schools and parks on ways to save your money.

I've dedicated most of my civic engagement career here, offering much of my time to volunteer activities, including the past six years on the village board. I've also committed time participating in the community on local boards and nonprofits and local business associations. To the contrary, my opponent wasn't a member of own business-district association until very recently, nor does he have any history of civic engagement in Oak Park. The office of village president is no place for on-the-job training, no place for a novice to governance.

We face complex issues on the village board that require us to make hard choices. Someone with no experience or even a demonstrated interest in issues beyond those that impact his own business is going to be hard-pressed to ask the right questions, much less make the right call when it's time to decide.

I've made the hard choices. I've led the board as we've cut spending while making village services more efficient during the economic downturn. We inherited a negative overall fund balance and a $10 million parking fund deficit six years ago from the last time inexperienced members were elected to the board. We will have a cash reserve in excess of $4 million by year's end, and our 2013 budget is lower than 2012's. Village staff is at 483, down from nearly 600. Our fiscal decisions have saved the village, in total, millions of dollars. We recently refinanced all outstanding debt at low interest rates, saving more than $2 million. Our electricity aggregation program has saved residents $5 million to date. The village share of your property tax bill is only 11 cents on the dollar, and we are keeping it low. Despite the economic downturn, we have actually improved the village's financial condition.

The village president is not a mayor. The president does need to provide leadership for the board, make sure its priorities are implemented, and communicate effectively with the village manager and the community. The village president also has to know how to work collaboratively with people, understand competing concerns, persuade and be persuaded. It isn't anything like running a small business. I've been in the minority on a number of issues yet have the support of all of my colleagues. No one has ever questioned my ethics or integrity.

I'm ready to tackle the difficult challenges we face, support the innovative reforms my slate has promised and keep focused on continued fiscal responsibility and delivering great services more efficiently. We have an experienced team and we need an experienced leader to guide our community's future direction.

I will be accessible and responsive to your concerns. Let's keep Oak Park moving forward on April 9.

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Observer from Oak Park  

Posted: March 29th, 2013 2:39 PM

The VMA platform is smoke and mirrors designed for elections?think transparency and fiscal accountability in the last election. These 2 things are still lacking. Think also about the fact that the TIF is over $25 million in debt and climbing thanks to your 'experience'. Your experience in gov't is one that relies too much on consultants on not enough on your constituents.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 27th, 2013 6:55 AM

@ 'Outside': The VMA selects, helps elect, and sits down. They don't "tell" any of us what to do. The current board doesn't lobby one another on votes either, which is why we have some key split votes. Most notably, John Hedges voted against the consultant contract for streetscaping Lake St., put forward by staff and the Village President who had advised we were "thisclose" to a major grant. We didn't get the grant, and John Hedges was right. There are no crickets with John -- he speaks his mind, has strong fiscal discipline, and will work in partnership with the board.

Outside the VMA Box from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2013 5:50 AM

Leadership requires thinking outside the VMA box. Tell us about a time that you haven't done exactly what the VMA wanted you to do. <cue the crickets> You're a nice man, Mr. Hedges, but you and the VMA must go for Oak Park to be headed in the right direction.

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