Below are candidate-submitted answers to a survey Wednesday Journal sent out to all candidates running in this year’s elections.

Age: 48

Profession: Attorney

Years in River Forest: 6   

Spouse: Maria Prada

Children: Richard, 17 and Christian, 14

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?

I have attended seven meetings.  In addition, I have listened to almost all of the online MP-3 recordings of Village Board meetings dating back to 2013, so that I have the necessary foundation and historical background to understand certain long term issues currently facing the Village.

Why are you running for trustee? What talents and skills can you bring to bear that will have an impact on village government?

I have always been interested and involved with public service.  Since moving to River Forest from Elmwood Park in 2009; my family and I immediately fell in love with the community and knew that we were going to spend the rest of our lives here.  With that love I became concerned with the general and economic health and well-being of the Village.  Our current President has made incredible improvements in literally all aspects of Village government, however, one person cannot be expected to resolve all the issues within the Village.   A strong and diverse Board of Trustees will guarantee that our forward progress as a Village will not only continue, but be enhanced and expanded.  The more diverse and experienced the Village Board is will directly translate into how effective they are in solving problems and issues.  I believe that my professional experience as a business attorney, a small business owner, and my long commitment and involvement in community service can be beneficial to the Village Board and all of my neighbors.  Very simply, I want to help our Village and residents prosper.

Give us your thoughts on Economic Development.   Be specific. What are your thoughts about the Economic Development Commission? 

For meaningful economic development to occur in River Forest the Village Board must be proactive.   With input from residences, realistic expectations need to be established and a viable plan to meet those expectations established.  What types of developments and businesses do residences want?  What types of developments and businesses will be successful in River Forest and how do we attract those businesses?  These are the questions we need to ask ourselves.  The Village Board is currently working on establishing TIF districts on Madison Street and North Avenue.  I am fully in favor of this action as it creates an incentive that prospective businesses consider when planning future developments.  Much more than TIF districts are needed, however.  The Village Board should also examine other incentives such as Sales Tax Rebates, Business Development Districts (BDD), and Special Service Areas (SSA) to bring new development to River Forest.  Additionally, sensitive urban planning needs to be considered to maximize and possibly expand our limited available commercial space.  In connection with this, streetscaping and street beautification has a proven track record in other communities in attracting economic development and needs to be implemented.  Overall, the Village Board needs to develop and implement both a short and long term plan of comprehensive strategies to bring new development to River Forest.  We must be cautious however, because development just for the sake of development is not a good thing.  Any development we pursue must not conflict with who we are as a community and must be harmonious with the wonderful character of River Forest and the needs of its residents.  With regard to the Economic Development Commission, I believe that they are on the right track in pursuing the creation of TIF districts on Madison Street and North Avenue.  The Commission was just established in 2013, so it is a fairly young entity.  As time goes on, I believe the Commission will prove to have a positive effect in improving the state of Economic Development within the Village.

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?

In the most simplest terms, a TIF district is a method in which a municipality utilizes future projected gains in real estate taxes to fund current improvements, initiate urban renewal and economic development in a specific geographical area.  The funds generated by the creation of the TIF are called the “Tax Increment” and is the difference between the amount of property tax revenue generated before the TIF and after for a twenty-three year period.

One misconception of TIF districts is that their creation actually causes real estate taxes to increase.  This is not accurate.  TIF districts have a long and proven track record in countless municipalities throughout the United States.  River Forest created a successful TIF district on Lake Street over twenty years ago; and I am fully in support of the creation of future TIF districts on Madison and North Avenue.  I fully believe, however, that Village government can not rely on TIF districts alone in triggering economic development.  Most TIF districts do not show any meaningful development for many years after they are first established.   As such, additional incentives and tools such as Sales Tax Rebates and streetscaping need to be considered as well so immediate gains will be produced.

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.

Collaboration within units of government and between different units of government is an excellent and common sense way our Village government can respond to the increasing costs of providing services while facing a hostile economic climate.  Collaboration is simply working together and sharing information.  It can be done formally or informally. Governments have embraced the concept of collaboration because it produces mutually beneficial results for all involved.  Ideally, as a resident of River Forest, I would like to all units of local government (Park, Library, School Districts, Township, and  Village Government) reduce their individual costs by employing the economies of scale by purchasing supplies and services together.  Knowledge, technology, and innovation also need to be shared which would lead to greater efficiency and productivity.  Individual costs could be further reduced  through the elimination of redundancy and duplication.  Between our municipal neighbors the same benefits on a larger scale could be realized.  The creation of bridges between our units of government is not only good government, but also smart government.

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.

Township Government is the oldest form of government in the United States.  River Forest Township boundaries are that same as the Village of River Forest which make strong collaboration extremely beneficial to both the Township and Village governments.  Approximately 1% of a River Forest residents’ tax bill is allocated to fund Township operations.  As stated in the answer to the previous question, the Township and  Village Government can reduce their individual costs by employing the economies of scale by purchasing supplies and services together.  Line by line budget analysis of both units of government need to be conducted and costs could be further reduced through the elimination of redundancy and duplication.  This process has already started.  Currently, the Township utilizes the Village email newsletter to inform residents of Township services, and Township services such as discounted cab fare coupons are available at Village Hall.

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.

Recently, headline were made when Governor Rauner’s first proposed State budget included a provision which reduced the local share of the state income tax by 50%. 

River Forest receives approximately 1.2 million dollars annually from this local share to fund Village operations and services so it would mean a reduction of $600,000.00 in revenue.  With a FY operating budget just over 25.9 million dollars, this proposed reduction is substantial.  With that being said, the reality of this reduction being approved by a Democratically controlled Illinois House and Senate is very remote so I do not believe this issue will ever have to be addressed in real terms.  For the sake of argument, however, if faced with this scenario, I believe it would be in the best interests of Village residents to negate the budgetary shortfall by first reducing discretionary spending and then systematically absorbing the remainder of the shortfall in equal percentage shares across all units and departments of government.  The only exceptions would be in areas of public safety (Police and Fire) and senior services; which would not bear this burden.

 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?

Currently, the Village employs the use of Red Light Cameras (called Automated Traffic Systems) in two locations; North Avenue / Harlem Avenue and Lake Street / Harlem Avenue.  In FY 2015 it is anticipated that these devices will generate over $500,000 in revenue.  Upon implementing these devices Village government was primarily motivated to increase the safety of residents at these two intersections.  The generation of revenue was a secondary benefit.  The camera locations were very well reasoned.  As the Village government was motivated by public safety, I would not elect to eliminate the devices.  If they were removed, I believe it would be in the best interests of Village residents to negate the budgetary shortfall by first reducing discretionary spending and then systematically absorbing the remainder of the shortfall in equal percentage share across all units and departments of government.  As in the response to the previous question, the only exceptions would be in areas of public safety (Police and Fire) and senior services.

The community’s population is diversifying. What would you do to make people of color welcome in River Forest?

The issue raised by this question is very personal to me because my Cuban-born wife and two children are “people of color”.  One of the primary reasons my family wanted to live in River Forest was because of the culture of the community.  River Forest has an excellent culture of inclusion.  People of color are not looking for anything more from their community than anyone else:  High level school districts, stable property values, safe and crime free neighborhoods, top level governmental and senior services, reasonable real estate taxes, and transparent non-biased government are just a few attributes of a community that is welcoming and attractive to all people.  I believe that one of the primary functions of the Village Board is to enact policies that ensure that River Forest remains this type of community.  Since July 1, 2006, all licensed attorneys in the State of Illinois have been required to take annual continuing legal education; and I have focused my education on issues of diversity, bias, and discrimination because of my own personal interest and sensitivities in these issues.  Additionally, a significant amount of my law practice is dedicated to providing access to justice, on a Pro Bono basis, to minority litigants, so I see the devastating effects of intolerance has on individuals and entire communities.  As a Village Trustee, I pledge that I would always remain sensitive to issues of diversity and inclusion for the betterment of River Forest as a community.

Join the discussion on social media!

One reply on “Richard C. Cooke”