The Wednesday Journal sent questionnaires to each person running for public office in 2023. The Journal’s questions are in bold and the candidate’s responses are below.

Cory Wesley

Name: Cory J. Wesley

Previous Political Experience: Runner-up in 2019 Village Trustee Election

Previous/Current Community Involvement: Current trustee, Oak Park Village Board; co-president, Southeast Oak Park Community Organization (SEOPCO); board member, Oak Leyden Developmental Services; mentor, OPRF Business Incubator; former chair, Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, former two-term commissioner, Civic Information Systems Commission (CISC); former board member, Oak Park Pro Bono Network; former volunteer mentor, Austin Career Education Center; former volunteer mentor, Hyde Park Academy High School

Occupation: Software consultant/entrepreneur

1. How would you define the role and responsibilities of a village trustee?

Technically, to create policy for the village of Oak Park and provide direction to our only employee, the Village Manager, who executes the will of the Board.

But also, to provide leadership to the Village as a whole, to provide a voice for those who feel less empowered to express it, and to leave behind a village that is better than the one we inherited.

2. In what areas do you believe that the current village board has been successful and in what areas has it been less successful?

The current village board works together very well and has been successful at collaborating, at compromising, and at making good decisions that directly lead to good policy, and doing all of that while maintaining a frenetic pace at the Board table.  This Board has also excelled at community engagement, prioritizing sustainability, and delivering social impact to our community through the use of targeted ARPA fund grants.

Individual successes since I joined in October of 2022 include passing a 0% levy through our 2023 budget process. Approving a community-wide DEI assessment. Receiving the Berry Dunn report and creating a task force that’s helping shape the future of Policing & community safety in Oak Park.

If elected, I plan to drive a larger focus on technology and innovation in government. Our village manager’s review, for example, will be conducted using paper forms – in 2023. Our police department operating system didn’t have an option to record Hispanic folks in their data for years until recently. Our OpenData initiative was delayed due to COVID and will need to be restarted before it can be discussed at the Board table and so much more. Technology remains the untapped resource of government efficiency and an area where I hope to push Oak Park into a leadership position.

3. As a village trustee, how do you plan to effectively tackle the growing rate of gun violence in Oak Park?

We need to remember that we’re a part of Chicagoland. Crime is up regionally, in part owing to the aftermath of the pandemic. As all our residents know, Oak Park is not immune to area crime, and so public safety is the highest priority for everyone on the village board.

At the same time, Oak Park remains one of the safest communities in Chicagoland because we’ve always taken public safety seriously and because of the leadership of our police department.

President Biden recognized that when he nominated our previous chief, LaDon Reynolds, to serve as the US Marshal for Northeastern Illinois. And our Village Manager recognized that when he promoted Chief Johnson to be the first Black woman police chief in OPPD history after an extensive nationwide search.  Chief Johnson has 20 years of experience in our community, is well known and involved in Oak Park, and brings a desire for community safety, trust, accountability to the job.

Another factor that makes OPPD so effective is the trust it has built in our community, and that trust is something the village board must zealously protect and build upon. As a Trustee I recognize that a community can not exist without safety, I also recognize the ways that community safety depends on fairness, equity, and justice for all.  No one in Oak Park should ever have to worry about bias, injustice, or unequal treatment, but to get there takes hard work, transparency, and accountability and my focus as Trustee is to deliver a police department that can keep us safe without creating injustice.

As a Trustee today, I’m working to make Oak Park the first municipality in Illinois to enact the ACLU’s model CCOPS ordinance, which creates a transparent process with public hearings to safeguard the community trust if Oak Park needs to investigate new policing technology in the future. We must learn from the public outcry around Flock and implement these processes to ensure that the community’s voice is heard in any future matters of surveillance technology.

Finally, I’m proud of the work we’ve done on the board to convene task forces on public safety based on the BerryDunn assessment. These groups are made up of Oak Parkers with diverse backgrounds and experience, and are working diligently to recommend things like alternate calls for service (getting professionals other than the police to respond to mental health calls).

4. Oak Park has received the results of a months-long police department assessment. What areas did you find most compelling and what still needs to be changed?

  • Of the kids (age 18 or less) stopped by police from January 2015 to June 2020, 97% of them were Black. That’s a red flag indicator of bias and this needs to be addressed immediately. 
  • The OPPD suffers from several technology issues that would help us solve cases better, deploy resources more efficiently, and provide more transparency to the public. This work needs to get started as soon as possible. 
  • The recommendation of the creation of an alternate Call for Service plan (non-emergency calls) was called out as a priority and the taskforce that we’ve convened is working on this issue already. 
  • We have Village Ordinances that have the potential for disparate impact for marginalized populations. Those ordinances have yet to come back to the Board. We should prioritize their return and modify them to remove that impact. 

5. As we move further away from the height of COVID-19, what role do you believe the Oak Park Public Health Department will serve in the future?

First, I think OPDPH under Dr. Chapple-McGruder did a commendable job of protecting the village during the pandemic, under the most difficult circumstances one can imagine for that job. 

I’m also mindful of the fact that OPDPH is just one of many resources our residents draw on. For example, Oak Park ran vaccination clinics throughout the pandemic, which were extremely valuable to parents, seniors, and other members of our community, but still a lot of our residents were vaccinated at area drug stores.

While I’m open to discussing OPDPH’s role, my priority is to ensure that we’re marshaling all of the resources we have available, public and private, village and county to provide the best possible health outcomes for everyone who lives in our village while avoiding the creation of duplicative service offerings and staff.

That said, one area that I really think the OPPHD can have a huge impact is in the administration of our eventual non-emergency Call For Service implementation. That organization should exist outside of the police department and will likely have a huge part in answering mental health calls for service, it may make sense to have this new organization report up through the OPPHD as it aligns with the mission of public health and service.

6. There have been discussions about creating a sustainability incubator in Oak Park that would combine clean energy advancements with job creation and professional readiness. It is not clear yet how much it would cost. Do you believe this is the role of the private or municipal sector and why?

The great thing about this question is that it was answered at the 2/13 Village Board Meeting. The consensus at that meeting was that the Village would collaborate with other organizations as we’re doing with entities such as C4, and use our increased reach to push workforce development options with local partners in the emerging (emerged?) field of sustainability and its adjacent industries. The report that we commissioned with a 3rd party validates this path and recommends no physical space or substantial monetary spend to support this initiative. 

7. What can be done to better serve those who live in rental units?

Oak Park has rental units that run the gamut on economics from affordable to ‘luxury’. Some of the things that we should do for some economic levels aren’t necessarily priorities for others. But for everyone, we should maintain our focus on making Oak Park a more affordable village, increase our parking and transit options, and increase services to help mediate tenant/landlord disputes.

We should recognize that a lot of our rental units exist on the borders of Oak Park and create programs and outreach to create a better experience that’s more similar to the community that exists in our single family home neighborhoods. To increase our racial and economic diversity, we should increase the availability of affordable units, both naturally occurring and intentionally created.

And for those who have chosen to live in downtown Oak Park, we should continue to invest in creating a vibrant Oak Park that has a pronounced and welcoming sense of place, an atmosphere that encourages community, and a village that is diverse in the experiences that it offers so that everyone, no matter the living arrangements that they chose, can feel welcome and enjoy their time here.

A diverse Oak Park means having the ability for different people to live alongside each other, experience the village differently, but still find it enjoyable and welcoming. That doesn’t change based on housing type and we should try harder to create this atmosphere across our village.

8. How will you work with your fellow board members to ensure Oak Park’s affordability and diversity?

I’ve been an advocate of an affordable and diverse Oak Park since I entered village politics in 2018. But diversity, while important, is just a statistic that measures how many. What’s more important is the experiences that we create for our neighbors and the focus we put on building welcoming and inclusive environments for everyone in our village, regardless of race, gender, orientation and more. If we do the work of creating inclusive spaces and if we truly work hard at making everyone in our community feel welcome, then diversity will follow, and the village as a whole will benefit.

But none of that is possible without an affordable Oak Park.

An affordable Oak Park allows our Seniors to age in their community, maintaining the friendships and relationships that they’ve created over their lives and not feeling forced out of the place they love so that they can actually afford to retire. 

An affordable Oak Park respects our middle-class legacy, and ensures that the future of our village matches its esteemed past.

An affordable Oak Park respects the income disparities between races, provides a diverse set of entry points into our community, and works hard to create an environment where no one feels like they’re living on the edge year to year. We have a lot of work to do on affordability, but here are some of the specifics that I’ve done on affordability and diversity/inclusion since joining the Board.

As part of our 2022 Budget process, I voted for the 0% levy increase for our 2023 Budget. In an era of 7% inflation, where other Boards were taking 5% levy increases, I viewed this relief as respectful of the economic conditions of our community and giving the community the choice back on how to spend their money.

I voted for the community-wide DEI assessment, I’ve spoken up about the bias in our policing data that shows we disproportionately stop Black kids vs kids of other races, I pushed hard for our police force to adopt policy that prevents police questioning of students on school grounds without a parent present or a parent’s consent. I’ve been a strong voice for matters of equity and affordability in this village and if elected to another term, plan to continue that pattern of advocacy. 

9. Community engagement has historically been difficult, and the village board continues trying to improve its reach. How do you propose that the village board should more effectively engage residents, local businesses and other members of the community?

To increase engagement we must acknowledge that representation matters. 

One of the things I’m passionate about is getting more diverse voices engaged in the community from things as simple as answering surveys to more intensive involvement like running for public office.  In this election cycle, there are only 3 Black folks running for office. THREE. How can you get community engagement when the chances for community representation are so few?

We must also focus on creating intentional outreach, spaces that prioritize empathy and eliminate judgment, and empowering dissenting voices so that everyone feels welcome to share their perspective without fear of being attacked.

I’d also lean heavily on Dr. Walker, our chief DEI officer, to help us facilitate spaces where folks feel safe to share, to help us create board meetings that are welcoming and inclusive, and I’d use my own connections in the community to support and encourage folks to speak out on issues where they have concerns.

Finally, through data, what we’ve seen is that the folks who feel they have a stake in the community show up more, speak out more, and are all-around more engaged than others. So we need to focus on creating that sense of ownership and involvement in our community with everyone from renters to homeowners, from white folks to Black folks, and across the entire economic spectrum. Without that stake in the community, increasing engagement is near impossible. 

10. What do you believe is the most pressing issue facing Oak Park and how do you intend to address it?

Oak park is a complex system where all issues interact in various ways. Because of that, it’s near impossible for me to name the most pressing issue. Here’s my take on this question:

Why are Oak Park issues difficult to tackle?

Oak Park is a landlocked village with six different governments, bordering five different municipalities, with easy access to the highway, a diverse community of residents, and so much more. That means we have racial equity issues, community safety issues, affordability issues, sustainability issues, parking issues, mental health response issues, homelessness issues, intergovernmental cooperation issues, and they all intersect in various ways. Often, when addressing an issue at the Board table, I’ll realize that it’s much more nuanced than it seemed on the agenda and the complexities of that issue need to be discussed and worked through to address it properly. I’ve noticed this from issues as benign as a right of way issue to as complex as community safety.

Now that we know these issues are complex, how do I handle them?

I bring a solutions-driven methodology to the board. I do my homework by reading the materials provided by staff and doing outside research as necessary. I seek out opinions, especially those that disagree with me in an effort to alleviate blind spots and arrive at the best possible decision.

I listen intently to my colleagues, bring the lens of my life experience to my decision making, and ensure that I’m willing to compromise and collaborate to create the best possible decisions for the village of Oak Park.

Finally, I show my work, both before and after, so that the community understands how I think, how I arrived at my decisions, and has the ability to offer me insight.

I use that framework to solve every issue facing the village of Oak Park from small to large and will continue to do so if elected to continue serving on April 4th.

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