It's been almost five months since she was sworn in and already Catherine Adduci is making big plans — and taking steps — to bring progress to the community she leads.
Consensus jelled on a sweeping public works project; the process of getting people on boards and commissions has opened; and an ad hoc committee is creating a blueprint for economic development. More lies ahead.
As she begins to merge strategies from the boardroom with community service, the former business executive sat down with the Wednesday Journal and laid out the groundwork for the first year of her administration — and beyond.
In a wide-ranging interview, the 55-year-old Adduci talked about her vision, her agenda and challenges that face her community.
This week's discussion focuses on historic preservation.
What's your vision for River Forest?
River Forest is a great community; it has a lot of positives: the schools, proximity to Chicago, public transit is readily available, the surrounding communities are unique. It's a neat place to be.
What I want to see continue is what River Forest has been, but I'm not ignorant of the changes around us. River Forest is quaint, beautiful and friendly. And it's not homogeneous — we all do not look alike. We have young, old, African Americans, Latinos, it's a diverse community.
We need to ensure that we keep up our home values, that we keep River Forest safe and make it affordable for people to live here. We need to take care of our elderly, who happen to be one of our biggest populations. We need to make it all one village.
How do you plan for River Forest to be more inclusive?
We opened up the process for getting more people involved in boards and commissions. We asked the community, if you have a skill, we want to know about that skill and make you a part of our increasingly engaged community. Residents applied online, sent in a personal letter and offered their talents. We had more than 25 applicants and we're still getting them. We need to do more to communicate with residents. We need to ensure that they are being heard and are being asked.
What's important is that we need to continue to ask the questions: Where do we want River Forest to go? How do we continue to make River Forest a great community? We have to ask those questions and do these things so River Forest can continue to thrive.
What are your priorities; what is your agenda?
My agenda is no different from what I was saying over the 8-10 months before the election. As village president, I set the agenda and tone of the board. I will make sure I do get the insight and input of the board as well. One of the things we do in River Forest is annual goal-setting and strategic planning. We measure ourselves against the performance of those goals, and our board, and our village administrator and all department heads. That's invaluable. We believe we are doing a good job, but we want to know we are doing a good job by measuring how well we perform against those goals.
What goals are you looking at?
Immediate goals are public safety, preservation of property values, stabilizing property taxes, and connecting to businesses and our surrounding communities. As a board, we are going to be setting those goals in October and November. For example, a goal for public safety could be measuring how well our police officers are patrolling our community, making appropriate calls, responding in a certain time frame. The same is true for fire and public works. Preserving our property values can be effectively addressed, as an example, by making sure that the village's infrastructure is current through our Storm Water Management Project, which will soon be passed by the board. It's going to be an important part of our village for the next 2-4 years. We have to determine how to manage it, fund it, and make sure it does what it's supposed to do and stay within the budget that we told residents it would be.
You've heard me say it before — in order to effectively stabilize our property taxes we need a plan for economic development. It's important that the board vote to create a commission. It will help us do many things.
Ideally what would you like it to do?
The commission will clearly identify roles and responsibilities, who they consult, who approves, and who is informed. We have volunteer citizens, professionals who are willing to provide their talents to coordinate development in our community. When we create the commission, the ordinance will be clear that the board, as your elected representatives, is responsible and the commission as appointed officials, and in conjunction village staff will be accountable for development activities.
Who will we inform? The residents, developers and people who want to do business in River Forest. The ordinance will establish a structure; it will set roles and responsibilities. Hopefully it will create an environment where developers, bankers, businesses and other people can come and feel that in River Forest it will be clear what can be done, how it needs to be done, and it will be an efficient process.
The ordinance will specify accountability, responsibility and process. For instance, a surrounding community recently talked about negotiating with developers at the board level. I'm not quite sure from my standpoint that I want me or the board negotiating with developers. It's important that the commission, in conjunction with village staff, negotiates development.
Why not the board?
Because the board is the approver; our role is to set policy that is right for our residents and approve projects that implement that policy. Commission members will have the kind of skill sets required to guide us in this process. Let the commission be accountable for the type of development that we are going to do.
One thing you've talked about is expanding the tax base and improving property values. Some would say that a great method of doing that is through historic preservation. Should the village strengthen its historic preservation ordinance or grant landmark status to homes and the district to foster and strengthen preservation? Should your ordinances be as tough as those in Oak Park?
It's a tough question; it's one we have to have conversations over. It's a process. The significant houses survey was a big step. For the commission to be started was progress. To combine the survey into one listing was an unbelievable amount of work; I'm impressed with that listing.
We need to consider how to preserve the historic legacy of River Forest. The question now is what's next. Do we put in zoning restrictions? Is there a middle ground working with residents who own historic properties?
There's nothing right now that says that someone who owns a Buurma Brothers home can't tear it down.
There is a lot of history captured in these homes, and what a great opportunity it would be to do more and not just in terms of preservation but also education. We have to think out how we ought to do that. Our historic legacy, without a doubt, creates economic value for us. People come here because of our proximity to Chicago, our wonderful schools and our historic old homes; all of those create the economic value of River Forest. Our property values are maintained and strengthened and hopefully increase over time because of that. We want to ensure that our historic legacy remains intact, but at the same time we don't strap our homeowners.
Certainly one reason people move to Oak Park is because of its historic homes, knowing that if they do any renovations to keep that historic integrity, they will need to follow some pretty rigid guidelines. Shouldn't that be the same thing in River Forest?
Why? Unless there are past situations where an owner has taken a beautiful home and turned it into something else because there are no guidelines? I just can't name one home other than if a home had structural deficiency. People in town won't do that. Without sensing the existence of a problem, we should continue the conversation on how we preserve or protect our historic value.
Next: Issues of economic development and intergovernmental cooperation.