Below are candidate-submitted answers to a survey Wednesday Journal sent out to all candidates running in this year’s elections.
Profession: Coordinator for Holiday Food & Gift Basket, a local non-profit organization
Years in River Forest: 15
Married: John Henek.
Children: We have two boys 18 & 15
Have you ever run for or served in a local political office before? If so, when and which office? No
If you are not currently on the village board, how many village board meetings have you attended in the last year?
In the last year, I have attended more than 5 village board meetings, as well as many village commission meetings for the Development Review Board and Traffic and Safety Commission. In addition, over the same time period, I have attended numerous meetings of the D90 school board, park board, and library board. This base of understanding for the depth and breadth of board work will serve me well as I come up to speed on VORF issues.
Why are you running for trustee? What talents and skills can you bring to bear that will have an impact on village government?
I’m seeking a Village Board Position because, as the history of my community engagement illustrates, community involvement is a priority in my life. My view is broad, my village connections deep and my interest community-wide. I’m a tireless worker who will bring these perspectives to board deliberations.
Through my professional and community service experiences, I’ve learned the key to success is thorough research, thoughtful collaboration and two-way communication. I’ve demonstrated a commitment to work on behalf of the entire community, and will bring that to the Board table as a village trustee. I’ll do the leg work needed to consider all sides of an issue to make an informed decision, and will balance any decision with fiscal stewardship. I’m an active listener and will engage in open dialogue. Finally, I’ll advance Board goals while balancing them with the broader implications of each decision.
Give us your thoughts on Economic Development. Be specific. What are your thoughts about the Economic Development Commission?
An overarching goal of the current board is to improve property values and stabilize or lower property taxes. I fully agree with and support this effort. One way to accomplish both is through economic development. River Forest is not teeming with land ripe for development; however, the current Board has laid the foundation to capitalize on development opportunities with the establishment of the Economic Development Commission. This initiative has allowed the Board to tap the expertise and resources of residents willing to do the leg work and research to find opportunities for the village. From this commission two TIF districts (Madison and North Ave.) have been identified. The recommendation to the Board was to move forward on next steps necessary to establish official TIF status. Clear communication with the residents will be critical to gain understanding and support for this effort.
Other opportunities for economic development are located at Park Ave. and Lake St., Lathrop Ave. and Lake St., as well as the former Hines Lumber property. As possible developments are identified, such as the townhome project currently being reviewed for the Hines property, it is important for community-wide evaluation of these initiatives through the village’s Development Review Board. As important as economic development is to the community’s financial base, it is imperative that it reflects the needs and desires of the community it serves. As a trustee, I would ask questions and review information to ensure the best project is advanced. I believe that tapping those more experienced in development to help attract private business and development to the village is ideal.
Maintaining positive relations and support for current businesses to remain successful is equally important. The recent establishment of the Lake St. Business District is a good example of how existing businesses could work together, as well as with the village to collaborate on ways to market the businesses, provide assistance as needed to improve or expand businesses that would lead to increased tax revenues.
The village is moving ahead to create tax increment finance districts on Madison and North Avenue. What is your understanding of TIFS, how they work and their benefits for economic development. Would you back them?
Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is a tool for municipalities to generate economic development in a specific area of the village considered blight or moving in that direction. It provides funding to improve property that is undeveloped or underdeveloped without raising the tax rate, but rather by improving the value of the property taxed and reinvesting this revenue increase to attract new developers or improve areas such as infrastructure and streetscape.
An area is eligible for TIF status if it passes state standards for qualification. TIFs have a life span of 23 years and require a redevelopment plan and budget approved by the village board.
By law, all school districts and major taxing bodies must meet annually with the TIF municipality to monitor the progress of the TIF. There are also built in opportunities for the public to participate in decisions regarding a TIF district.
With the limited opportunities for economic development in River Forest, I believe the creation of TIF districts to improve Madison and North Avenue is the right decision for the village. As a board member I would ensure proper oversight, so funds generated are used to achieve the most success possible.
A major item on the VP’s agenda has been collaboration. What has been accomplished in working with other units of government and organizations? What would you like to see happen? Be specific. Should the village encourage other entities to collaborate among themselves; and that includes District 90 and District 200.
I believe collaboration with other units of government and organizations is a key to identifying ways to streamline and improve services while reducing costs. There has been success with the village’s participation in the West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center and WEDGE, a West Suburban Drug and Gang Enforcement task force. More recently, the village board created an inter-government agreement (IGA) with the Parks Foundation whereby the Foundation was granted more authority to provide guidance on sustainability efforts in the village. Past initiatives such as a shared fire truck with Oak Park were less successful.
I believe it is important to develop relationships between members of other boards and administrations as it is through regular dialog that opportunities to collaborate will naturally emerge. Collaboration can only be successful if areas of alignment are identified. I am a “process person” and as such, believe this determination can only be made when staff tasks are delineated, commonalities across units of government/organizations are identified, opportunities for cooperation are clarified and systems to offer support to multiple users are created. Only after this process is employed can collaboration be integrated seamlessly across units.
Regarding collaboration among other units of government, I believe Presidents Adduci and Abu-Taleb have each stressed the tax strain on community residents and I support any initiative that calls for the examination of opportunities for cross-unit engagement.
Township – More and stronger collaboration between the township and the village can be one way to lower taxes. How would you make that happen? What areas can be merged? Building manager position, legal and other areas come to mind. Can you think of any others? Be specific.
As stated in the previous question, I do believe it is important to explore ways to save money through collaboration. I am pleased that the village and township have started conversations to identify areas where collaboration might occur. It’s great that information about the township is shared through the village’s website and e-newsletter. I would encourage this dialog to continue, because I believe as each taxing body gains a better understanding of each other’s roles and services provided to the community, it will be more apparent what resources could be shared.
I believe the community would embrace such initiatives if it’s clearly communicated that services will not be lost but rather will increase along with the increased efficiency of their delivery.
The village may be looking at making budget cuts as a result of a drop in the state income tax. What would you cut and why? How would you prioritize what you’d like to cut? Be specific.
The village board works closely with the village administrators and department heads to set the budget. If budget cuts were needed due to a cut in the state income tax, it would necessitate working together to identify areas of spending that might be reduced or cut. As far as how to approach that discussion, I would expect to prioritize the budget in terms of what legislatively had to remain, i.e. pension obligations, followed by what was needed to maintain essential services at the standard residents expect.
Should the village keep red light cameras? Why? If you elected to eliminate them, what would you do to cut to make up for the loss of revenue?
I’m not opposed to red light cameras as a revenue source, as long as they have the added benefit of improving safety. In analyzing whether to continue their use, I would want to know whether there have been marked increases in accidents or not, such as rear end accidents, due to the cameras. I would also want to know that they are effectively being used in conjunction with the timing of traffic signals according to national recommended guidelines. If the determination was made to remove the cameras, then the board would have to work closely with the village departments to identify areas in the budget to offset the loss of revenue.
The community’s population is diversifying. What would you do to make people of color welcome in River Forest?
Having grown up in the Austin neighborhood and having attended Trinity High School, I have a unique perspective on how River Forest has diversified since I was a young girl. I believe this diversity is expansive and encompasses more than race, and includes shifts in political, financial, and family diversity. I believe board decisions should be made with the intent of making everyone feel welcome and board policies should be fair and inclusive to all.
River Forest has a rich history and as a Board member, I’d like to share that history while welcoming newcomers to the community. Each of the schools and faith communities has family link programs, realtors offer a “welcome basket” to new buyers and I applaud neighborhood initiatives that enculturate new families to the community. The township has outreach initiatives to the youth, senior and mental health communities and that outreach is essential to continued engagement with less-represented cohorts. As a board member and through my own community outreach initiatives, I support – and will continue to support – engagement with all community members.