Five compete for three spots on Oak Park Village Board

2011 Election Guide

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Five candidates are competing for three open spots on the Oak Park Village Board of Trustees, with Jan Pate and Jon Hale stepping down after one term, and Trustee Ray Johnson seeking reelection to his third term on the board. The field includes two unrelated independents, Lewis Carmichael and Lynn Kessen, along with three candidates endorsed by the Village Manager Association political party — Johnson, along with newcomers Adam Salzman and Bob Tucker.

Following are the candidates' answers to emailed questions. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order.

Lewis Carmichael

Age: 80

How long have you lived in Oak Park? 11 years

Profession: Retired dentist

Board or commission positions held before, or political offices sought: No boards or commissions in Oak Park. Unsuccessfully ran for assistant supervisor, Waukegan Township, and alderman in Waukegan.

1) Briefly, why'd you run for a spot on the village board? To shed light on a longstanding case of police misconduct and brutality.

2) What are two or three of your top priorities when you get on the village board?

To get the above problem corrected.

3) What's your reaction to the village board's recent violation of the state's open meetings act?

Mistakes happen. We need to be careful not to make them again. Twenty-five years ago I was accused of having a meeting a 5,000 feet. Actually we were much lower.

4) How do you feel about village hall's use of tax increment financing districts? Do you think the proposed streetscape project on Oak Park Avenue and Marion is an appropriate use of TIF dollars?

I need to have access to many figures before making a decision. If major infrastructure repair is needed, a complete job should be done. The proposed plan looks like the architect expects to be paid a percentage of the cost. That is the way architects usually work.

5) What's your assessment of the proposed apartment building on the Comcast site? Have you decided how you'd vote for it?

It should meet all codes including parking. It will increase economic diversity. Yes when all codes and parking are met.

6) What can you, as a village trustee, do to help lessen the tax burden on Oak Park residents?

Control spending. I have seen many foolish purchases which involve continuing spending, like the flower pots. I endorse spending the money to remove all of the flower pots from in front of the fresh market.

7) Is there anything that you'd like to see added into and/or subtracted from the village budget?

I do not, and have not had access to the figures. When I have gone to village hall for information, the door has been slammed in my face.

8) Anything else that you'd like to add that we haven't asked about?

Nothing that I have not covered at my website, lewiscarmichael.com.

Ray Johnson

Age: 47

How long have you lived in Oak Park? 22 years

Profession: Program manager/community investment for HSBC North America

Board or commission positions held before, or political offices sought: Appointed to the Oak Park Community Development Citizen Advisory Commission in 1998, plan commission in 2001, and elected to the Oak Park village board in 2003 and 2007

1) Briefly, why'd you run for a spot on the village board?

I am seeking a third term on the village board in part because being a village trustee continues to motivate and inspire me. I love to solve problems and carefully consider policies which enhance our village. Citizen outreach and the need for strong constituent services drive me to be the very best public servant I can be. Fiscal discipline, which the Citizens for Accountable Leadership team pledges, will help create a thriving economic community with high-quality village services, in a diverse and dynamic village. I want to be part of the team which helps to implement this vision.

2) What are two or three of your top priorities when you get on the village board?

We have a few things to celebrate this year; crime is down 12 percent; sales tax revenue is up over 7 percent; occupancy rates in our central business district have reached 96 percent. This is great progress during any year, but especially good news during one of the toughest economies many of us have ever seen. As we know, there is much work remaining starting with bringing together the local taxing bodies (schools, library, park and township) for a collaborative discussion about various challenges, needs and priorities. How can we reduce the overall burden on taxpayers through consolidation of operations? How can we work together to bring real pension reform to Illinois? How can we build on our strengths to attract more people to Oak Park as tourists or residents? These are just some of the questions local taxing bodies should begin to answer with citizen and stakeholder input.

In addition to this broader community conversation about our priorities, the village itself needs to reinvent itself in ways that foster stronger relationships with current and new business or building owners, while utilizing technology in more innovative ways for service delivery and communications.

3) What's your reaction to the village board's recent violation of the state's open meetings act?

Quite simply, we must uphold the spirit and intent of the open meetings act. The violations noted must be taken seriously — period. If we've been calling the meeting to order in a room that isn't as "public" as the attorney general would like, we will change the location of where we gather. The two violations noted must be remedied go forward, while seeking clarity on the attorney general ruling is most appropriate so we are sure we are compliant 100 percent of the time. Releasing the minutes and transcripts from the meeting as soon as possible is also necessary.

4) How do you feel about village hall's use of tax increment financing districts?

I believe, through the use of the downtown or central business district TIF, there have been some strong public/private partnerships and key investments which have helped the central business district grow and attract a strong mix of independent, franchise and national businesses. The strong points would include the building of three parking facilities, infrastructure and streetscape improvements, improved parking technologies such as the pay-by-space terminals, and facade or retail-rehab grants.

The Garfield TIF assisted in keeping an auto dealership in town, while the Madison Street TIF has helped to provide funding support directly to the District 97 elementary schools, and will not be used for important infrastructure/streetscape improvements.

I also believe the village has made some missteps with regards to the use of TIF dollars, especially in regards to property acquisition. The nearly $7.5 million dollars used to buy the Colt building and Westgate office building in 2006, which I voted against, was a serious misuse of TIF dollars, which would have been better spent in partnership with a private developer who had a viable proposal ready for implementation.

Do you think the proposed streetscape project on Oak Park Avenue and Marion is an appropriate use of TIF dollars?

Key infrastructure and streetscape improvements which lead to greater private investment and improved quality of life for residents, business and building owners, or tourists will lead to an expanded tax base and greater economic vitality. The Marion Street project is exhibit A with the village realizing over $4 million in private investment since the infrastructure and streetscape improvements were completed. I firmly believe that creating a more inviting and invigorating gateway into Oak Park for the up to 50,000 visitors who visit the village by public transit at Oak Park Avenue, plus the untold thousands in additional visitors to key historic sites and structures, should have a more inviting experience. This will lead people exploring more of our village, visiting shops and restaurants along the way. Local and regional visitors will find Oak Park as a premier destination with new offerings that will strengthen our business districts.

On Marion Street, creating a welcoming and inviting gateway to Mills Park with greater connectivity to the Carleton Hotel and its thousands of yearly visitors and wedding and banquet guests more intrigued to explore all of downtown Oak Park, thus connecting North and South Marion, South Boulevard, with Lake Street, will improve the opportunity for all downtown business owners.

5) What's your assessment of the proposed apartment building on the Comcast site? Have you decided how you'd vote for it?

I have been carefully following this proposal since its inception, and one of my first steps was to meet with a small group of immediate neighbors who would be most impacted by this proposal, to better understand their views on the project. I came away from that meeting very informed about potential neighborhood impacts and concerns.

As I attended the plan commission hearings, I was able to hear the testimony from both sides and I shared many of the concerns expressed by the immediate neighbors. I was also moved by the testimony of those who spoke out in favor of the project, as they expressed in very eloquent terms the value system of Oak Park and their belief that this project sent a positive message about the importance of housing for low-wage workers.

The plan commission, in my view, carefully and thoughtfully added requirements to the proposal, all in an attempt to mitigate the expressed concerns of the neighbors. his very thorough review by the volunteer citizen commissioners is now being reviewed by the neighbors and other interested parties throughout the community. I pledge to continue listening to all in advance of a final decision, but am optimistic that a critical component of the requirements regarding the tenant profile of the building, which creates preferences for tenants who already work and/or live in the vllage or are people with disabilities, will ensure a successful project.

6) What can you, as a village trustee, do to help lessen the tax burden on Oak Park residents?

As the Citizens for Accountable Leadership, Adam Salzman, Bob Tucker and I have pledged to make the tax burden issue No. 1 when elected. We must provide the leadership to bring all Oak Park taxing bodies to the table and seek real ways to collaboratively reduce costs. This includes everything from health care costs, to pension reforms, to the way in which we each operate our administrative buildings. We each have purchasing, accounts payable, human resource and IT departments; there are ways to consolidate some of those services and operations, ultimately saving taxpayer money.

7) Is there anything that you'd like to see added into and/or subtracted from the village budget?

As we seek to create a more user-friendly business environment, we need to find innovative ways to engage with business and building owners, leading to a stronger retail/commercial mix in all 11 business districts. This may mean improved technology or other resources to provide even more services to the business community, with clear goals on increasing commercial vitality.

8) Anything else that you'd like to add that we haven't asked about?

There have been some discussions as recent candidate forums that the TIF districts should be eliminated, thus improving the revenue stream to the other taxing bodies, most notably the schools. A few things are missing from this discussion.

1. The TIFs already provide significant revenues to the taxing bodies through intergovernmental agreements and carve-out plans, so the full utilization of TIF dollars are not and have not been captured by the village. We have provided up to 40 percent of TIF revenues directly to other governing bodies, in an effort to be as conservative as possible with regard to how TIF dollars are used by the village.

2. The TIFs are not ending soon. There is not majority board support to eliminate the TIFs, even if there were three candidates running for village trustee proposing the elimination.

3. Finally, if in fact there was support to end the TIF, the village would be required to raise taxes to meet debt obligations on the three business district parking facilities. An important tool in moving infrastructure and streetscape improvements forward would be eliminated, and local dollars would instead be transferred outside of Oak Park, such as to the county and its related taxing bodies.

We must spend TIF dollars responsibly, in Oak Park, and achieve the goals as outlined in our business district master plans.

Lynn Kessen

Age: 46

How long have you lived in Oak Park: Nearly 11 years

Profession: Government affairs analyst in the engineering, consulting and environmental industry

Board or commission positions held before, or political offices sought:

I have not served on a commission or any other appointed position, though I have observed many, many Zoning Board of Appeals and plan commission hearings over the years. However, I do know that many of the commissions have longstanding vacancies, and fail to attract and appoint diverse representation from the community at large, so I believe that the committee member appointment process should be restructured, including the village board's role in that process.

1) Briefly, why'd you run for a spot on the village board?

I believe that the community really needs and deserves to have a broader, independent representation on the village board. Representation by someone who isn't tied to any political party or special interests that may hinge on such affiliations (I am proud to say that I am self-funding my campaign ... www.lynnkessen2011.com). An unbiased and truly independent perspective is necessary to effectively question the status quo and guide Oak Park through the financial stresses currently facing our community.

2) What are two or three of your top priorities when you get on the village board?

Smart economic growth: To achieve the goal of responsible economic growth, we need to become more organized and start operating as a cohesive village. Municipalities all over the country, both larger and smaller, have acknowledged the need for a long-term strategic plan to address growth. Guided initially by a small group of qualified residents (no need to outsource to a consultant when we have such a vast talent pool within our village), we need to craft a vision for all of Oak Park. This is a lengthy process, but we need to begin to tie together the several corridor plans and master plans already in place into a unified, village-wide plan.

Business development: There are many business success stories in Oak Park, and with the fairly recent addition of the Business Service Center to village hall, it is clear that the administration has a vested interest in attracting businesses to Oak Park. I would like to look in more detail at the current business licensing and permitting processes, and identify areas where realistic goals may be set in the attempt to make it easier, cheaper and quicker to establish a business in Oak Park. Though there are many factors that affect the timeline of the processes — many that are beyond the control of village hall — we should aspire to a process that takes no longer than 90 days. Increased economic growth is a direct result of creating a more business-friendly environment.

Open government: I would like to establish an Open Government Plan that clearly defines the types of information available to the public, how it is made available and a targeted timeframe for implementation. The document would be updated annually, with the ultimate goal of presenting as much information to the public as possible, which would reduce, if not eliminate, the need for formal Freedom of Information Act requests.

3) What's your reaction to the village board's recent violation of the state's open meetings act?

I am happy to see that many of the trustees see the attorney general's ruling on this question as an opportunity to review and improve how the board conducts its business. It is a sign that there is a true sense of wanting to do the right thing, and the desire to develop a more open and transparent interaction with the public it serves.

4) How do you feel about village hall's use of tax increment financing districts? Do you think the proposed streetscape project on Oak Park Avenue and Marion is an appropriate use of TIF dollars?

The use of TIF funds in this manner is appropriate, and though I prefer this type of use as opposed to using TIF funds in large quantities to entice developers at the expense of schools, libraries, parks and other village services, I do not agree with the extravagance being proposed with this project. Though the numbers aren't yet in, we can get an idea of the cost based on similar aspects of the North Marion project, and I am not convinced that the cost-benefit on this plays out in the public's favor. Because the infrastructure needs to be replaced, it does make sense to include streetscape improvements in the project. I think that the proposals are quite lovely, but I also think that they need to be scaled back considerably in favor of a "do more with less" approach.

5) What's your assessment of the proposed apartment building on the Comcast site? Have you decided how you'd vote for it?

This is one of the most controversial issues we presently face within Oak Park, so I decided weeks ago to make an appointment with Perry Vietti at Interfaith Housing Development Corporation (IDHC) to tour a couple of their established communities so that I could make an informed decision if I were to be elected. I was on the fence. I had attended a few of the meetings, read the articles and blogs, and spoken with individuals both supporting and opposing the redevelopment.

My conclusion is that I find it sad that a project such as this has divided our community. Having seen a few of the IHDC communities (we only toured two, but also drove past three others), it is evident to me that the resounding underlying issue — no matter the argument — is that people fear the low-income status of the anticipated residents of the proposed community. In other words, I don't believe that this question would be posed to candidates, nor would this redevelopment be at all controversial, if the low-income status were not a factor.

I truly respect that people have their opinions regarding the development of this community. I cannot, however, subscribe to the labeling and gross generalizations being made — that because the individuals applying to live in this community maintain a low-income status, they are a threat to public safety and property values. The target resident has been thoughtfully and clearly defined with the larger community in mind, and I see no ability to tie the likely tenants to increased crime and decreased property values. Based simply on the facts, I believe that the stigma being attached to the proposed use is unsubstantiated and unjust.

In absence of other reasonable arguments against the planned redevelopment of the Comcast building as presented, I support the IHDC proposed community.

6) What can you, as a village trustee, do to help lessen the tax burden on Oak Park residents?

In order to alleviate the tax burdens off the slumping shoulders of Oak Park residents, we must strive to attract more businesses to generate revenue. I would like to positively affect economic growth through a more practical approach than incentivizing developers with millions of dollars of taxpayer money. We need to address the stigma that Oak Park has acquired, rightly or wrongly, of not being business-friendly, and I would like to help try to change it. One area to look at would be to objectively analyze the licensing and permitting processes to identify areas that may be improved in order to make it more straightforward, less expensive and accelerate the ability to establish a business in Oak Park. Another would be to identify creative ways to somehow, some way, someday try to reduce the commercial property taxes so that we can have an even more profound effect on the cost of doing business in Oak Park.

7) Is there anything that you'd like to see added into and/or subtracted from the village budget?

One item that comes to mind after reviewing the village's past three years of budget audits (2007 to 2009) is that it is apparent that we need to address financial efficiency, and look at the possibility of providing the Finance Department with the additional support it needs to properly implement the policies and procedures to which we are bound. Understanding the underlying details of why there are material weaknesses and deficiencies in the processes is important in remedying the situation, which may prove challenging since there is evidence that reduction in staff was a contributing factor. It is so vitally important to get our financial house in order, and we should address this with a firm plan as to how to restore our financial operations, which may include increasing staff (temporarily or otherwise) or hiring a consultant, if prudent to do so, at the expense of a line item elsewhere in the budget.

8) Anything else that you'd like to add that we haven't asked about?

Attracting more businesses is most certainly a good action toward alleviating our property tax burden; however, it isn't the only answer. As individuals, we can also make a difference by simply considering our purchasing choices we make each day. We need to remember that, each time we buy something outside of the village, those revenues could have been invested back into our own community, which ultimately impacts our property taxes. I know it's impossible to purchase everything through an Oak Park merchant, but if we can all adjust our way of thinking to increase purchases where we are able within the village, we can improve our property tax issue. An added benefit to doing this is that, if business or service type need is identified, it gives us an even better understanding of which businesses we should attempt to attract and establish in Oak Park, which increases the likelihood of success.

Adam Salzman

Age: 32

How long have you lived in Oak Park: Since June 30, 2008

Profession: Attorney

Board or commission positions held before, or political offices sought: Commissioner, universal access commission; chairman, universal access commission (currently held)

1) Briefly, why'd you run for a spot on the village board?

I am seeking the office of village trustee because I believe strongly that young families, on whom the future of our village depends, need a representative voice in village governance. Naturally, if elected, I will be a responsive and dedicated representative of all generations of Oak Parkers. However, there are several key issues pertaining to young families that deserve special emphasis in this election. Chief among these issues are transparency, responsible fiscal stewardship, and a commercial development policy that is smart, fair and sustainable. Our campaign has been chiefly focused on the issue of "fiscal discipline." To me, fiscal discipline means that the board is constantly asking the following questions: (1) Can young families, aging residents and residents of more modest means afford to live in our village? (2) Is the village board doing everything that it can to ensure that Oak Park remains affordable and accessible to residents of all economic, cultural and generational backgrounds? (3) Is the village board doing everything it can to ensure that Oak Park remains an affordable, convenient and productive place to locate and run a business?

2) What are two or three of your top priorities when you get on the village board?

During my first two years on the board, I hope to empanel a new commission dealing specifically with the issue of civic information technology. I would like that commission to lead a wholesale review of the village's online presence, its website and the extent to which certain key services have been digitized. The end goal, which certainly can be achieved within two years, is the complete revamping of the village website to make it more user-friendly, and an engine for more efficient provision of village services and increased transparency of village operations. The other key priority during my first two years will be the initiation of serious and productive efforts between the taxing bodies (village, township, District 97, District 200, park district and library) about specific services, such as purchasing and payroll, that can be shared in order to reduce expenses and ease the property tax burden on village residents.

3) What's your reaction to the village board's recent violation of the state's open meetings act?

If you note my priorities in the previous question, transparency has always been at the top of my priority list. I think we need to take the attorney general's findings seriously. I believe very strongly that the village needs to err on the side of over disclosure rather than under disclosure. We need to have clear criteria for when executive session is necessary. I would propose that the board only meet in executive session when (a) the board is receiving legal advice from the village attorney or, (b) the board is working through the parameters of a contract with one of the 11 village unions.

4) How do you feel about village hall's use of tax increment financing districts? Do you think the proposed streetscape project on Oak Park Avenue and Marion is an appropriate use of TIF dollars?

As I have stated at candidate debates, we need to accept the reality that the downtown tax increment financing district will be with us until 2018. We need to start from that premise, because there is no political calculus that will realistically lead to a scenario under which the TIF is "ended," as some have argued must happen.

Therefore, our energy needs to be focused on what the most effective use of those funds would be. I think reasonably priced streetscaping that creates a more hospitable and inviting environment for people to shop and eat out is a good use of TIF dollars. I have come to this conclusion, after many discussions with Oak Park business owners, who understand that streetscaping is not just about cosmetic improvements, but also about simple, practical measures like increasing the amount of streetlights so that shoppers and diners feel comfortable visiting an area at night, or creating additional parking so that more potential customers can be accommodated.

To the extent that retail activity can be supported and increased as a result of intelligent infrastructural improvements made through the use of TIF dollars, I am in favor of those improvements. Increased sales tax revenue takes the pressure off the village to increase its share of the property tax levy, and helps make our village a more affordable place to live — and that is always my end goal.

Our opponents have argued that ending the TIF is a good idea, because the money would be returned "to the schools and the parks." This sounds like a good idea, but ignores a few crucial facts:

A. The TIF agreements in place with the schools include generous "carve outs" that District 97 in particular has benefited a great deal from. End the TIF, and you not only end the carve outs, but the state of Illinois will also change the formula it uses to apportion District 97 its share of state aid. All of this will result in a net loss to District 97.

B. Ending the TIF would net District 97 about $2 million. This would not fix District 97's structural deficit, which is more in the neighborhood of $6 million. So District 97 would still have to run a referendum.

c. Ending the TIF prematurely would deprive the village of an important tool for generating revenue, in the form of sales tax receipts. Without it, the village would be forced to resort to the only other tools it has for generating revenue — raising fees and its share of the property tax levy. That is absolutely unacceptable to me, in light of the stresses that Oak Parkers are facing with their individual tax burdens. The village must not add to that burden.

5) What's your assessment of the proposed apartment building on the Comcast site? Have you decided how you'd vote for it?

I understand why some people on both sides of this issue want candidates to state their positions on this issue in advance of hearing it. But I also think most voters understand that it is not ethical or appropriate (and arguably not legal) for a village trustee to make up his or her mind and state his or her position in advance on an issue like the proposed apartment building on Madison and Grove.

The reason it is not appropriate is that the plan commission and proponents of both positions have worked very hard and compiled thousands of pages for the trustees to evaluate before the decision is made. It would be arrogant in the extreme to decide how you were going to vote before reviewing everyone's arguments and all the attendant documents. It would be even more arrogant to have made up your mind before hearing the testimony of the interested parties on both sides. I believe that the individuals who have worked so hard on both sides of this issue want their elected officials to listen to them with an open mind before making a decision.

Also, if an official were to state publicly how he or she were going to vote on this issue before hearing the arguments, it would present a very serious due process problem and leave whatever the board's decision is open to a legal challenge after the fact. That doesn't help anyone.

That said, I believe that voters are entitled to know the criteria that I would apply to this issue, and how I would approach making the decision. I have tried to approach the proposed project on the Comcast site by putting myself in the shoes of the nearby residents. On the southwest corner of my own block, there is a vacant apartment building, and I have considered how I would feel if someone proposed putting 51 units of additional housing there in place of the existing structure. And frankly, I would be very concerned. So I understand where the opponents of the project are coming from.

I have also met with members of the plan commission — one member who voted in favor of the project and one member who voted against it. We had a long and involved discussion. I was gratified to see that the plan commission's approval of the project carried with it 19 conditions. Two additional concerns of mine — the need for 24-hour onsite management, and the need for additional parking — were included in the 19 conditions attached. So far as I can tell at this stage, there are no conditions that address the problem of density. So my remaining concern is with respect to density — can the area absorb 51 additional units of housing?

When considering the proposal at the board level, that is the question that I want to see answered.

6) What can you, as a village trustee, do to help lessen the tax burden on Oak Park residents?

This is really the top issue facing the village, and Ray Johnson, Bob Tucker and I have a very specific plan to attack this problem and work toward ensuring that Oak Park remains affordable for people of all different backgrounds. First, we will immediately upon election convene meetings with officials from the other five taxing bodies (parks, District 97, District 200, township and library) and identify specific costs and services that can be shared among the taxing bodies. We do not need six HR departments, six payrolls, six separate purchasing departments, etc. This is a key area where we can save money.

Second, we will scrutinize the budget on a year-round basis to identify unnecessary expenditures and eliminate them.

Finally, we will pursue a smart, fair and sustainable commercial development strategy designed to generate as much sales tax revenue as possible in order to ease the pressure to raise property taxes and stimulate this other important revenue source.

7) Is there anything that you'd like to see added into and/or subtracted from the village budget?

I am generally skeptical of the need for consultants. If we do hire consultants, I want the additional expense fully vetted, competitively bid and justified before the board with testimony. In terms of what needs to be added, if anything, I would like to see some additional resources for Loretta Daly in the Business Development Department. However, if we can't afford any additional personnel in that area (a distinct likelihood), then I would be interested in empanelling a business development commission to provide Ms. Daly with some sorely needed support.

8) Anything else that you'd like to add that we haven't asked about?

I am especially interested in making village hall more open and user-friendly. Residents who visit village hall should have a clearer idea of where to go to get what they need. Right now, it can be rather confusing. The same can be said for the village website. While there is plenty of information on the site, it is not at all clear to the average user WHERE on the site the particular information they are looking for is located. We need to do a better job of making both the online home and brick-and-mortar home of village government easier to navigate.

Bob Tucker

Age: 44

How long have you lived in Oak Park? 16 years

Profession: Corporate general counsel and chief risk officer for Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago

Board or commission positions held before, or political offices sought: I currently am the chairman of Oak Park's Community Design Commission, and before being appointed, I served as a volunteer commissioner on that same commission. This is my first time seeking elective office.

1) Briefly, why'd you run for a spot on the village board?

I am running for Oak Park village trustee because I want to keep Oak Park moving forward, and I want this accomplished with strict fiscal discipline, responsible and strategic development, and an open, transparent and responsive village government. I firmly believe in the value and importance of service to my community, and I am in the fortunate position to be able to dedicate my time, energy and skills to serving Oak Park as a trustee.

My wife and I moved to Oak Park 16 years ago seeking a thriving, beautiful and diverse community, and we never have been disappointed. We now have two children, Spencer (a freshman at OPRF) and Bennett (a fifth grader at Longfellow), and we love all that Oak Park has to offer our family. Oak Park, however, can be even better, and I believe that I have the skills, temperament and experience to make it better. I offer a unique voice with unique and important experiences. I have many years of experience analyzing and working with complex budgets, and I also have extensive experience in the areas of municipal finance, development and housing. These are crucial issues to Oak Park now, and they will remain so for many years to come.

2) What are two or three of your top priorities when you get on the village board?

I would like to see immediate and real movement on intergovernmental cooperation in Oak Park. The tax burden in Oak Park is becoming too large. All of our taxing bodies need to work together in innovative ways to save tax dollars for all Oak Parkers. The Village of Oak Park should be taking the lead on intergovernmental cooperation. We need to share services and costs where possible. We should be looking at new ways to consolidate resources, including equipment, buildings, employees and other assets. Moreover, cooperative procurement among our taxing bodies can help aggregate purchasing power in many areas, ultimately achieving discounted prices and reductions in administrative expenses and staff time.

I also would like to push for increased and innovative uses of technology at village hall. Oak Park is filled with bright, innovative residents, and we need to tap into that valuable resource when addressing issues of better technology. Increased access to services on the Internet could make Oak Park friendlier to residents and businesses. Wherever possible, I would like to see permitting processes being done via the Internet, where one could not only complete and submit paperwork online, but also follow the status of matters online.

3) What's your reaction to the village board's recent violation of the state's open meetings act?

Transparency in village government is essential. While everybody agrees that taking certain matters into executive (closed) session is appropriate and required, the fact that something is capable of being discussed in executive session does not mean that it must be discussed in executive session. We need to err on the side of greater disclosure.

The attorney general's ruling has taught Oak Park that it can do better, and the violations noted by the attorney general must be fixed quickly. On a related matter, the village government also must be careful about how much business is addressed on its consent agenda. If a matter involves controversy or citizens want to speak to a certain matter, then that matter should not be on a consent agenda. Nobody wants board meetings to last past midnight, but running the fastest possible board meeting should not be the goal either.

4) How do you feel about village hall's use of tax increment financing districts? Do you think the proposed streetscape project on Oak Park Avenue and Marion is an appropriate use of TIF dollars?

The village has three TIF districts — the downtown business district TIF, the Garfield TIF and the Madison Street TIF — but when most speak of the TIF, they're speaking of the Downtown TIF. Tax increment financing is one of the few tools available to local municipalities to promote and achieve redevelopment. I believe that Oak Park has made mistakes in the past with TIF funds, but some important investments and strategic investments also have been made to help attract businesses and investments into our community. When used smartly and appropriately, the TIF is a good thing.

When Oak Park is making investments of its money on things like streetscapes, it must know what the expected return on its investment will be. While no decisions have been made on proposed Marion and Oak Park Avenue streetscapes, careful analysis must me given to what Oak Park can expect in return for any improvements. We need to know specifically what we expect to accomplish and monitor what occurs after any improvements. The village must carefully oversee and control our tax dollars in economic good times and bad times.

5) What's your assessment of the proposed apartment building on the Comcast site? Have you decided how you'd vote for it?

I attended four plan commission meetings related to the Comcast building proposal. I wanted to hear all sides firsthand, and I was impressed with the arguments made by those both for and against the development. Those living near the proposed development have real and specific concerns that need to be taken quite seriously.

I have professional experience in the area of affordable housing, and I know many of the elements of what does and does not make for a good development like this. Oak Park deserves a very good development.

This matter will appear before the new village board, and if I'm lucky enough to be elected in April, I will be voting on this. The plan commission asked its attorney to draft the commission's findings of fact, and the plan commission also has proposed approximately 20 conditions on the development. Fully examining the findings of fact and the conditions will be crucial.

I have a great deal of respect for all who serve on Oak Park volunteer commissions. Additionally, if I am elected, I don't think those on either side of this issue would like me to prejudge this matter without first hearing directly from them and their thoughts on the findings of fact and conditions. The decision-making process on this proposal must remain open, and the board must consider the comments and testimony of those appearing before the board.

If elected, I look forward to examining this proposal in great detail and listening to the continued thoughtful and respectful debate surrounding this proposal.

6) What can you, as a village trustee, do to help lessen the tax burden on Oak Park residents?

As discussed above, I would like to see more movement on intergovernmental cooperation in Oak Park. All of our taxing bodies need to work together in innovative ways to save tax dollars for all Oak Parkers. Additionally, expanding the tax base through strategic yet responsible development is very important, and Oak Park also needs to hold the line on its share of our property taxes. We need to see greater cooperation from all those spending our tax dollars.

7) Is there anything that you'd like to see added into and/or subtracted from the village budget?

Budgets are tight at village hall, but I would like to see additional assistance be given to those working with our businesses. Real improvements are being made, but more needs to be done. The village is fighting to overcome a reputation of not being the most business friendly community, and this only can be accomplished with a serious effort to be responsive and cooperative with existing Oak Park businesses, and businesses considering opening in Oak Park.

I also would like to see the village be more responsive and cooperative with residents and businesses looking to use the latest green technologies, techniques and innovations. Oak Park appropriately is trying to be a leader in green and sustainable initiatives, but we must be able to back up our talk with a process and department that is sympathetic to and fully educated in these areas.

8) Anything else that you'd like to add that we haven't asked about?

Oak Park needs to be more aggressive in retaining and attracting businesses. Ray Johnson, Adam Salzman and I have been meeting in the past two months with a wide range of many local business owners (some have been in Oak Park less that a year, and some have been here for over 30 years — and many others in between) to hear what Oak Park can do to make the village a better place to conduct business.

I want Oak Park's commercial districts to thrive with a diverse mix of businesses catering to those in Oak Park and attracting people from outside our borders. I would like to see the village work closely with the Oak Park Development Corporation and others to ensure that our businesses are receiving the necessary assistance they need to thrive. We can't assume that we know what all their needs are. Instead, we need to engage the business community constantly to learn exactly how they would like the village to help. I also would like to see a more unified marketing message coming from all the entities promoting Oak Park to the Chicagoland area, and the village should be helping to lead that effort.

Oak Park has so much to offer, but we need to get the message out. We need to be known as a business friendly community that can help business owners (new and old) cut through any red tape and get things done. Trustees can and should be spokespeople for the village across Chicagoland, letting everybody know all that Oak Park has to offer the business community.

Reader Comments

4 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Johnson, Salzman, & Tucker 2011  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 9:16 PM

Voted for Johnson, Salzman and Tucker. Thanks to the WJ for this overview of the candidates and their positions. I think Oak Park will be in good hands come Wed!!

OP Resident  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 10:07 PM

Make that I will "Vote" for Keesen, Johnson and Salzman. That may change if Tucker decides he will honor his pledge of transparency and set the record straight. I do like his positions on a number of issues but there's a cloud of suspicion hanging over his campaign. It's time to clear the air.

OP Resident  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 9:55 PM

I will wote for Ray Johnson, Lynn Keeson and Adam Salzman. Bob Tucker's strange decision not to address the claims that he has conflict of interest issues is troubling. I cannot understand why Tucker is unwilling to put the matter to rest with an explanation or denial.He still has time to put this to rest but the clocking is ticking. Come on, Bob. Speak up!

Carol Zavala from Oak Park  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:14 PM

I will not vote for Ray Johnson. He has been part of the problem...too much developmentwasting a lot of money thru bad judgement. I'm voting for Lynn Keeson and Bob Tucker!The VMA is no longer independent and putting the residents first!

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