Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey Wednesday Journal sent out to candidates running for public office this year.
Previous political experience:
Historic Preservation Commission, 2014-Present
Staff of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 1999
United States Peace Corps, 1997-1999
Previous community experience:
Mann School PTO Treasurer 2015-Present
Oak Park Area Association of Relators: 2005-Present
Youth Sports Coach: 2009-Present
Historic Preservation Award Recipient: 2013
Owner, Moroney Homes LLC
Real Estate Broker, builder, apartment management, real estate investment
University of Dayton, 1997
OPRF HS, 1993
St. Giles, 1989
Residential real estate development is a major issue in the village with the recent completion of Vantage Oak Park, new developments under construction (Elevate Oak Park, District House), and several proposed developments (Albion, Oak Park and Madison by Jupiter Realty, and the Harlem and South Boulevard development by Lincoln Properties). Please address your thoughts on all of the aforementioned developments and proposals. Do you support or oppose these proposals and why? What are your concerns for each project as they relate to traffic, shadows, affordability, density, impact to schools and other community resources, impact on the tax base, the changing nature of Oak Park or any other issue you would like to address?
The tax burden in Oak Park has grown 104% between 1999-2015. Furthermore, the share of real estate taxes collected from homeowners has grown from under 70% in 2000 to over 80% in 2015. This rate of tax increases is unsustainable and homeowners are too heavily relied upon for the levies of our taxing bodies. Therefore, the addition of new revenue via new development and businesses is essential in keeping Oak Park as affordable as possible and softening the rate of increase on homeowners. Furthermore, development can revitalize Oak Park’s business districts, add commercial uses that provide sales taxes and services to the community and bring new residents to Oak Park that help sustain our businesses and create a new market for our real estate. Therefore, I absolutely am in favor of the recruitment of development to Oak Park and am happy that there are exciting new businesses coming to town. Furthermore, I find it encouraging that the Village has turned over nearly all of its long held land to developers and these properties will soon be tax producing properties. Some general thoughts on development include the following:
- Oak Park’s Comprehensive Plan (Envision Oak Park) should be used as a tool as development is recruited and as redevelopment agreements are negotiated. Urban planning concepts and community needs should be at the forefront of all decision making. Highest and best use and maximum return on investment should be considered, however, should not be the guiding principles of development. Development should enhance what already exists, rather than overwhelm or detract from what is already in place.
- All developments should have specific plans in place for integration, sustainability practices, architectural excellence and fulfilling community needs.
- Oak Park should feel very comfortable negotiating with the strengths of our community as development is recruited. We are the closest suburb to downtown Chicago, have an amazing housing stock, affluent residents, thriving businesses and great transit options. Developers and businesses should be motivated to come to Oak Park based on these strengths more than any incentives that could be offered.
- There is opportunity to have some design and appearance standards for new construction in our Village. We are a town filled with architects and urban planners that could contribute to this effort.
- Development should be recruited and promoted throughout all of Oak Park. Opportunities for development should be identified and local developers should be engaged in the development process.
- Small scale development should be valued and recruited. Small successes lead to big gains.
- Both the positive and negative impacts of development must be considered as development is recruited. Hidden costs of development must be factored in to decisions. These include impact on schools, increased use of infrastructure and impact on existing residents and amenities.
Crime is at historic lows in Oak Park, but there is a perception that the village is unsafe. What are your thoughts on safety in the village and the perception of safety? What initiatives would you pursue to improve safety in the village and improve the perception of safety?
Nearly all Oak Park residents that I have met that have been victim to a crime are very impressed with the response by our police department. Our officers are quick to respond and thorough in their investigation of crime in our Village. The Village Board needs to set policy that ensures that our police officers are working in a healthy environment so that they can perform their duties with a high degree of job satisfaction. Constant attention and evaluation needs to take place to ensure that areas in our Village with a higher likelihood of crime are sufficiently patrolled to deter criminal activity. Furthermore, staffing levels and deployments must be regularly analyzed to ensure that the police force is operating with maximum efficiency.
I also feel that it is useful to have a hiring policy that promotes the hiring of Oak Park residents and encourages our police officers to live in our community. Oak Park is a unique village and I feel that it is beneficial to have a police force that reflects the values of our residents and understands the unique attributes of our Village.
I think there are also opportunities for the Village to promote east Oak Park. There is too often a stigma attached to real estate that is east of Ridgeland. The perception that east Oak Park is more dangerous or less desirable than west Oak Park is not only untrue, but also damaging to our Village. Promoting and celebrating neighborhoods and businesses on the east side of Oak Park would help alleviate these inaccurate perceptions that are too often perpetuated.
What is Oak Park’s role as it concerns the Chicago neighborhood of Austin, if any?
We live in a time where there are many old problems that need new solutions. Oak Park’s complicated relationship with Austin falls in to this category. In the past, Oak Park has kept Austin at arms length as a way of ensuring that the segregation that Austin experienced would not spill in to Oak Park. However, we are now in a different time in which Oak Park should feel comfortable that our community will not be harmed, but enhanced by embracing our neighbor to the East.
Many local organizations such as the Community of Congregations, Suburban Unity Alliance and The OPRF Community Foundation are doing great work in promoting relationship building with residents in Austin and addressing complicated issues with new approaches. The Village of Oak Park needs to be a partner in these efforts and ensure that these organizations have the support they need to effectively advance and promote their efforts. Any initiatives that promote interaction and a cross community effort to address community issues should be embraced and supported.
The Village should pay special attention to property and business districts along North Avenue, Austin Boulevard and on the East side of our community. These neighborhoods and business districts should continue to be revitalized and given the opportunity to contain businesses that serve residents of both Oak Park and Austin.
Transparency has been repeatedly noted by candidates and residents as an issue with the village. Do you believe Oak Park has a transparency problem, and how would you address it?
Increased transparency and increased availability of information should always be a goal of local government. Any measures to improve transparency are worth the effort. I have found that governmental bodies have a resistance to openly publicize information and Trustees must always be cognizant of this natural inclination and promote increased communication with residents. Citizen participation and an informed population promote good government, rather than detract from it. A few specific ideas to increase transparency and citizen involvement include the following:
- Citizen commissions should be empowered and residents should be actively engaged and encouraged to join one of the dozens of commissions. The role of the Citizen Involvement Commission in appointing members to commissions should be strengthened to ensure that all commissions have diverse backgrounds and independence in thought. The workloads of commissions should be meaningful and members should be challenged to contribute their expertise in issues that are considered.
- Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests should be publicized on the Village web site. This will allow citizens the opportunity to see what documents are being requested, increase understanding and ideally eliminate multiple requests for the same information.
- Any efforts to increase transparency and understanding of the operations of the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation (OPEDC) are worthwhile efforts. I believe there is much confusion throughout the Village on how development is recruited and what commitments are being made behind closed doors before developers are even chosen as the preferred developer for Village-owned parcels. This perception has been heightened since the Village Manager, President and one Trustee were given a voting right at the OPEDC level. The OPEDC was established in 2014 as an independent organization that recruits development to Oak Park. Votes by Village personnel appear to go against the intent of reorganizing Oak Park’s development organization to be a professional organization that works independently from Village Hall.
Residents frequently note the high property taxes in Oak Park and have argued that rising taxes are making the village less affordable and, therefore, less diverse. The village’s portion of the property tax burden is roughly 15 percent (the rest is from other governing bodies – schools, library and park district). How would you address the rising property tax burden and how would you work with other taxing bodies to reduce the tax burden in Oak Park?
The Village of Oak Park should always strive to do better in fiscal responsibility, reducing debt and engaging in better long term planning. Additionally, the Village must always recruit new revenue via thoughtful development and new businesses. Partnerships with neighboring municipalities and increased communication with elected state officials can also lead to increased efficiencies.
Arguably the greatest impact on the tax burden can be made through the intergovernmental forum (IGOV). Since its inception in 2011, IGOV has morphed in to more of an informative body, rather than one that meaningfully collaborates to lessen the rate of tax increases on homeowners. I believe that Village Trustees have the opportunity to take a leadership role in promoting action that could result in the six taxing bodies working together in the best interests of the community.
For example, at the end of each year every taxing body should report on how their annual operating expense increases have compared to the consumer price index (CPI). The goal should be to have operating expenses as closely in line with the CPI as possible. Areas for reducing the rate of operating expense increases should be identified.
Furthermore, at the beginning of each year every taxing body should report on any significant capital improvement projects that are on the horizon. The goal would be to get feedback and gain support for these projects from the other taxing bodies. Too often, capital improvement expenses are only considered from the perspective of the taxing body making the improvement. Discussing capital improvement projects from the perspective of each taxing body would ensure that large projects are considered from many different perspectives and would result in increased collaboration and projects that are in the best interests of the entire community.
Finally, any taxing body that is considering a referendum should get feedback from the other taxing bodies. Ideally, the other taxing bodies would vote on whether they support or oppose any given referendum question. This would be extremely useful for voters who are trying to determine how they feel about referendums that are being proposed. On top of that, it would motivate taxing bodies to be as reasonable and honest as possible when going to voters for more money.