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.
Name: Simone M Boutet
Previous Political Experience: Oak Park Trustee, 2017-2021
Previous/Current Community Involvement: Assistant Village Attorney, 2001-2015; board member, Housing Forward, 2015-2017; volunteer attorney with the Pro Bono Network; co-founder of the Oak Park Climate Action Network
Education: B.S., Business Administration, Marquette University; J.D., DePaul University College of Law
1. How would you define the role and responsibilities of a village trustee?
A trustee’s job is to set policy for the Village, hire, fire and direct the Village Manager, adopt the annual budget to oversee how taxes are spent, and control the use of land though zoning. As the title indicates, we are entrusted to be stewards of public funds and to create a safe, vibrant, beautiful and affordable community.
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 board has moved the village forward on social issues such as racial equity, housing and climate action, but has been less successful in controlling the growth of the 2023 budget.
3. As a village trustee, how do you plan to effectively tackle the growing rate of gun violence in Oak Park?
Gun violence is a national, regional and a local problem. There is no magic answer. Scholars identify a “crime triangle.” This consists of: 1) a d esire of a criminal to commit a crime; 2) a target of the criminal’s desire; and 3) the opportunity for the crime to be committed. The Village should remove the opportunity as much as possible. Individuals should be educated on how to stay safe. A more visible police presence would help deter crime. Studies show that criminals are more deterred by the risk of being caught than by the potential consequences. I will prioritize filling vacancies in the police department with top quality candidates who embrace our community policing model.
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?
Crime and policing need to be addressed with a comprehensive strategy. Hiring and police presence is only one part of the equation. I will prioritize the following:
- Collecting and reporting impartial policing data to build trust and accountability.
- Providing a civilian response to non-emergency calls for service to reduce the use of sworn personnel. This is both cost effective and it matches the need for service.
- Enhancing the role of the Citizen’s Police Oversight Committee be more effective accountability partners to the Village board.
- Training 911 personnel in how to engage with callers who report a “suspicious person” to ensure they are reporting suspicious activity and not just a person.
- Finding a location for and building a new police station.
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?
I support the continued existence of the health department. I would like them to address maternal and early childhood health, chronic conditions like obesity, heart disease, asthma, and addiction, infectious diseases, food inspections, and to work with other community organizations to reduce health disparities between races.
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?
On February 13th, the board determined that the Village’s role in fostering clean technology job creation was to act as convenor and connector of regional partners in clean technology with those working on job training such as the high school and Triton College. I support this role.
I would not support the use of taxpayer funds to create a new facility or to take on a role of workforce training with Village staff.
7. What can be done to better serve those who live in rental units?
- Create more off-street parking where possible.
- Continue managing the budget to keep Oak Park affordable for all.
- Continue to use affordable housing funds to support the housing needs of low and moderate income renters.
8. How will you work with your fellow board members to ensure Oak Park’s affordability and diversity?
Because of the racial wealth gap, Oak Park’s racial diversity depends on affordability. In my previous term, I advocated for and passed the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance. The funds collected under this ordinance have paid for the creation of low income housing, and funded programs that address the housing needs of the most vulnerable. I will continue to focus on housing affordability in my next term. I also advocated to change zoning laws so that homeowners can create accessory dwelling units on their property. This provides additional housing options.
In my previous term, I voted to keep levy increases to a maximum of 3% per year. I will continue to do that to manage the tax burden in Oak Park. I will also look for grants to fund our social goals like the climate plan, and examine every expenditure to ensure it efficiently uses taxpayer funds to accomplish our goals.
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?
First, I would adopt an agenda template that requires staff to detail whether those impacted by a proposal have had input on it. Second, I would use technology to reach out to every Oak Park resident to open the door to engage.
10. What do you believe is the most pressing issue facing Oak Park and how do you intend to address it?
With four murders in eight months and reports of shootings becoming common, community safety is our top priority. Living a life free from crime is a human right. It is the duty of the Village to create a safe community for all who live here. This requires a multi-faceted approach – both short term and long term crime deterrence and prevention strategies. We have an excellent police department, but there is still a lot to do.
I would like to build a regional intergovernmental and community-based safety collaborative. The goal would be to address the root causes of crime, determine which agencies are provide services and where the challenges lie, with the goal of assisting young people to make positive life choices and avoid a life of crime.