1) What experience makes you the best candidate to serve as trustee?
I love Oak Park! Like many young families, my wife and I moved here 14 years ago when our children were ages two and five. We sought out Oak Park for its great public education and shared values of diversity, inclusion, and equity. As an ethnically mixed family, this was particularly important for us. We have raised our children and been deeply involved in many facets of family life in Oak Park, and I am motivated to pursue village board service as a way to contribute to the greater good of my community, and particularly to help advance our community’s values, affordability, and opportunity for people from all walks of life to live within and benefit from Oak Park. I have a proven track record of prior experience (District 97, 2013-2017) and a unique approach to board service. That approach is centered on leveraging facts and evidence plus building relationships and alignment to help create a high-functioning board that is able to identify and prioritize the most important issues, and actually get something positive accomplished on those issues.
My background with D97 also gave me a strong firsthand understanding of how the taxing bodies interact, how governmental finances work within our particular circumstances of Cook County and Illinois, and multiple touch points through liaison and committee roles covering finance, facilities, D200, IGOV, and the Collaboration for Early Childhood.
I believe these skills, experience, and approaches are needed at the Village. We have precarious balancing act to manage between many competing interests, and sound, data-driven governance is more important than ever.
2) What do you consider the top three issues of concern in Oak Park and how would you address them as a trustee?
1. Capture better data on housing stock and costs of living, beyond just those units that meet the Federal definition of “affordable.”
2. Organize the multitude of agencies, committees, and resources under a comprehensive affordability strategy that is underpinned by data and targeted toward populations of lower, moderate, and fixed-income households.
3. Mitigate the overall tax burden (see question #5 below) in a pragmatic manner that advances our values and way of life
B. Advancement of Oak Park’s values of equity, diversity, and inclusion
1. Revitalize the Community Relations Commission for greater citizen input and to help drive efforts, including CRC’s previously proposed participation in GARE
2. Support the Housing Center’s strategic plan revision to support intentional integration and in combination with A.2 above
3. Continue the Village’s contribution to the Collaboration for Early Childhood
C. Smarter approach to development
1. Establish clear goals and metrics for OPEDC that helps to expand the commercial tax base and focus development efforts in other areas of Oak Park besides downtown
2. Improve transparency and community engagement around development that helps people understand the purpose, process, and expected payoffs of major development projects in Oak Park.
3) What is your position on affordable housing in the village? Is more or less needed? Why? How would
you address this as a trustee?
Affordability means more than just housing – it’s total cost of living for individuals and families across lower and moderate income levels. We meet the technical HUD definition of having “enough” affordable housing (~22%), but this omits other income levels that also may be challenged living and raising a family in Oak Park. Right now our data in this area is incomplete – see question 2 item A above as a way to address this strategically and comprehensively.
4) How would you work to ensure greater equity and diversity in the village?
See above – question 2 item B
5) What should the village do to help ease the tax burden in Oak Park?
This is a complex problem with deep structural roots and cannot be addressed by any one solution. There are no silver bullets or easy answers. It requires a fact and evidence-driven multi-front approach: A. First, confront the brutal facts on some root cause issues
1. Illinois’ worst in the nation state funding of education has created a dependency on local property taxes as the primary mechanism for school funding. This is why D97 and D200 make up about 68% of the tax bill.
2. Meanwhile, although taxes are painful everywhere in Cook County, in Oak Park they are particularly painful due to a lack of diversity in the tax base. Our tax base is about 90% residential; only Wilmette has a higher dependency on residential for its tax base. To mitigate this, we need more commercial but Oak Park is landlocked with limited ways to grow the size and mix of the tax base.
B. The development front (revenue)
1. Take a smarter approach to development that emphasizes commercial expansion and in all areas of need in Oak Park (i.e. North Avenue, Roosevelt) besides downtown.
2. Continue to support transit-oriented development that helps create demand for local businesses (which both supports a diversified tax base and additional sales tax revenue) and is consistent with the Envision Oak Park 2014 comprehensive plan, but in other areas of Oak Park besides downtown and without projects that adversely impact green spaces or cultural treasures.
C. The expense front – Village
1. Although exempt from PTELL (tax caps) as a home rule jurisdiction, the village could adopt and live by those rules
2. Formation of a Citizen’s Financial Oversight committee for the purpose of establishing common financial assumptions and projections, providing analytical resources, and improving education and communication around village finances
3. Evaluate the Center for Tax & Budget Accountability’s level dollar approach to Oak Park’s police and fire pension funding
4. Change budgeting process to an outcomes, project-based, or priority-based budgeting approach that is more directly tied to village goals, rather than just “turning the dials” on the prior year’s budget.
D. The collaboration front
a. Have the Citizen Financial Oversight committee be a village-wide resource, with representation from all the taxing bodies. This would help ensure common financial assumptions, create coordination for levies and referenda, provide analysis, act as an enforcement filter for collaboration before major expenditures are undertaken, restore some level of lost trust, and break down the “silos” in a way that IGOV and COG have failed to do.
b. Develop a consolidated Oak Park village budget to help identify opportunities for savings and improve visibility on total village costs
c. Advocate with one Oak Park voice at the state level for fair taxation and school funding (root cause issues).
6) What would you do to ensure greater cooperation between the Oak Park’s various taxing entities?
See above- question 5 item D.
7) What are your thoughts on transparency in the village? Is more or less needed or is the village
currently striking a good balance on transparency?
This is a mixed bag. Although there is a great deal of information on the village website, it’s difficult to search for discrete answers. I would like to create a village dashboard with clear measurement against our most important goals and metrics. And, as noted above there are improvement opportunities around communication and outreach on development and finances. I also believe that elected officials should hold listening tours in different parts of the village so that those who can’t make it to civic events can still have in-person access to their elected representatives.