James Thompson

1) What experience makes you the best candidate to serve as trustee?

I’ve spent my entire professional career working in government, teaching about how public organizations are managed and/or conducting research directed at learning how those same organizations can achieve greater levels of efficiency and responsiveness.  I believe that knowledge and that experience would provide advantages as we seek to achieve those same results at Village Hall.   My service on the Village’s Transportation Commission has provided me with particular insight into transportation-related issues such as parking, traffic and pedestrian and bicycle safety to which I would assign high priority were I to be elected to the Board.

2) What do you consider the top three issues of concern in Oak Park and how would you address them as a trustee

I consider property taxes/affordability to be the highest priority issue facing the Village.  I have heard over and over from residents who find the current property tax burden to be financially crushing.  The issue is especially challenging for the Village Board given that the Village government accounts for less than 20% of the overall tax levy.  Notwithstanding that reality, residents want to know that those who they elect to positions of responsibility within the Village are aware of the extent of the problem and will be constantly alert for ways to mitigate the tax burden. 

Identifying a balanced way forward on issues of development is a second key issue.  I have found opposition to the high rises that have been constructed in downtown Oak Park in recent years to be widespread.  My perception is that members of the Village Board have not done a good job of explaining to residents why they think these developments are in the long-term interests of the Village and its residents.  Accordingly, I have called for a two-year moratorium on the construction of buildings over 8 stories high in downtown Oak Park pending an expanded dialogue on the costs and benefits of these facilities: What are the tax and economic benefits? What are the service costs?  Have the traffic and parking implications been taken fully into account? Have the aesthetic implications been taken fully into account? What alternative and less intrusive forms of development can be accommodated?

A third issue on which I would place priority relates to climate change.  I believe it is incumbent on officials at every level of government to press forward in the most urgent manner to combat global warming.  At the local level, I believe we could do more to increase the proportion of waste that gets recycled or composted.  The composting of food waste presents a particular opportunity in this regard.  I support a reduction in the compost bin fee by one third to encourage a higher level of participation.

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?

The Village Board has a good record of promoting the development of affordable housing units within the Village.  The most recent example in this regard is the Community Builders project on South Oak Park Avenue which will result in an additional 30+ units of affordable housing.  The Grove on Madison and the New Moms project on Chicago Ave. serve as other examples. 

The Community Builders project was made possible by funds contributed by developers to the Village’s Affordable Housing Fund.  I would support an inclusionary zoning ordinance such as is now under consideration by the Board whereby developers would be required to either incorporate some minimum percentage of affordable housing units in any development of a certain magnitude or, alternatively contribute an equivalent amount to the Affordable Housing Fund. 

4) How would you work to ensure greater equity and diversity in the village?

I am in favor of the application of a racial equity lens to issues coming before the Board.  As a member of the Transportation Commission, I gained first-hand experience with how such a lens could be of advantage. As part of our deliberations over the new Parking Pilot Program, the Commission hosted two public hearings at which residents, mostly from multi-family buildings in the area, commented on the challenges that the Village’s parking rules pose.  In part as a consequence, the Commission recommended that the overnight parking rules for the pilot area be loosened in order to make more parking spots available for renters, a recommendation that was not accepted by the Board.  My perception is that the application of an equity lens would have highlighted the extent to which those who live in these buildings are disproportionately members of historically underrepresented groups and to whom the Commission’s recommendation would have provided benefits.

5) What should the village do to help ease the tax burden in Oak Park?

As a general guideline, I endorse the Taxing Bodies Efficiency Task Force’s recommendation that tax increases be limited to 3% per year going forward.  Additionally, I would endorse a multi-pronged approach to the tax problem, one element of which would be promote economic development and thereby increase the overall tax base.  Consistent with my comments above, this should be done in a way whereby considerations of building size and value are balanced against those of aesthetics, service costs, and traffic impacts.  A second element would be to seek out alternative sources of revenue.  Thus, for example, I would support a tax on recreational marijuana should the state proceed to make it legal.  A third element, which stands in tension with the first is to remain cognizant of those features which make Oak Park an attractive place to live and for which residents are willing to pay a tax premium.  Here I reference not only the high quality of services provided but the strong sense of commitment to a set of common values as well as a rich tapestry of cultural organizations and activities. 

6) What would you do to ensure greater cooperation between the Oak Park’s various taxing entities?

I would like to see a greater degree of cooperation among the taxing entities around the issue of climate change and sustainability.  For example, the Park District has a strong record on the use of renewable energy at its various facilities.  Many schools actively promote low and/or zero-waste programs.  The Village is moving forward on its own renewable energy program.  The knowledge and expertise from all these various initiatives should be pooled and shared on the presumption that greater progress will be made if we proceed collectively than if we proceed individually.

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?

I have found Village government to be generally transparent.  That said, I strongly supported having the Village Clerk retain responsibility for oversight of Freedom of information Act requests.  This arrangement avoids any possible conflict of interest whereby Village administrators have to make decisions about the release of information that could portray the Village in an unflattering light.  As a customer, I like knowing that the FOIA system is governed by an individual who has no particular stake in the outcome.    


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