Throughout an interview with Wednesday Journal, attorney and first-time River Forest village board candidate Ken Johnson said several times that, while he had some priorities and opinions, he was always willing to learn and listen.
“I won’t say ‘I want that change’ without knowing all the facts,” he said. “And I think that one of the things that I’m seeing is just the need to gather all the facts, because I also don’t want to be one-sided in my approach.”
A resident of River Forest for the past 15 years, Johnson decided to run for the village board because he believed that his experiences raising a family in River Forest, along with his professional experience, will help the village. His major priorities would be encouraging community development, expanding affordable housing options and making sure the village is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said that he would focus on being transparent, listening to as many people as possible and trying to remove any barriers residents may face in their day-to-day lives.
While Johnson never ran for public office before, he said that his experience as a resident, a managing partner at Johnson, Blumberg & Associates, LLC would be valuable for the job.
“Having participated in the River Forest community for so long, and having my children grow up in the area, I thought I could enhance an already strong board by bringing my legal experience and my [contract negotiating skills],” he said.
When asked what he felt were the major issues facing River Forest, Johnson pointed to rising property taxes, public safety concerns. He also said that the village could do a better job of letting the residents know what it’s doing and give them more opportunities to provide input.
“I believe that, as a trustee, you have to be a liaison, you need to help the community residents get heard,” he said. “I also want to make sure that [community development] allows River Forest to be a place where anyone can come and live, that there are no barriers, that people can enjoy our River Forest.”
Johnson said he supported affordable housing, for the sake of both new residents that otherwise wouldn’t be able to live in River Forest and existing residents, especially seniors, who would otherwise be priced out.
He praised the services and programs River Forest offered to help residents and businesses struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The only thing he would do differently, Johnson said, was do more public outreach, so that more residents are aware the programs exist.
In October, River Forest entered into a partnership with Dominican University to work on creating a “community committed to racial and social justice.” Johnson said he supports the partnership, because he believes that it’s important to ensure that everybody has access to the same opportunities and services, and that all residents are treated fairly. He also supports making the village’s workforce more diverse, saying that it has the additional benefit of bringing in more perspectives.
When asked about concerns over disparities in how police officers interact with the community, Johnson said he will follow the data — some of which, such as traffic stop information, is already publicly available.
“I heard from residents, concerns about [whether] African-Americans are being more targeted,” he said. “I believe that not everything is totally unfair, but if we take a look at [the data] we find out that there’s a disparity, and once we see this disparity, we need to work so that it doesn’t happen.”
Johnson added that the transparency about “how people are treated, how things are tracked” and whether the village workforce reflects the community would go a long way.
River Forest is currently in the process of hiring a new village administrator. Johnson said he would want the search to reach as widely as possible, and he would want someone who is “willing to take a look at what the other communities are doing and how we can work to implement those things as well.”
Johnson said that, while it isn’t possible for the village to please all of the residents, he believed that creating a consistent process for gathering public input that trustees would take time to consider would make residents feel that they were heard.
“If you’re going to be a true liaison, you have to listen to the opinions,” he said. “It has to be a discussion. It can’t be just — I state my piece and walk away. I would work hard to communicate with all sides. And that, combined with ensuring that we understand the process, I think that, at the very least, we’ll understand each side, and we will continue to learn and progress toward change.”