UIC professor campaigns for Oak Park trustee

Thompson proposes a two-year moratorium on tall buildings

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Oak Parker James Thompson, one of 11 candidates running for the Oak Park Board of Trustees in the April 2 municipal election, has made an impression due to his experience in government planning and his call for a two-year moratorium on construction of tall buildings.

Thompson, 68, is a professor of public administration at University of Illinois Chicago and has also served two years on the Oak Park Transportation Commission.

His academic career has focused on government management and related topics — teaching master's students and capstone courses — for more than 20 years, targeting government and civil service reform in his research.

His call for a two-year moratorium on construction of buildings over eight stories was prompted by conversations Thompson has had with Oak Park residents during the campaign.

"I've done a lot of door-to-door and talked to a lot of people, and that's one of the issues I've heard about most often," Thompson said, referring to the multiple high-rise buildings that have gone up in the downtown area over the last few years.

Most people "really dislike those high-rises" and neither the mayor nor the board of trustees has "made the case to the public why this is a good idea," Thompson said.

The moratorium would give local government time to hold a series of public meetings to discuss the impacts of the developments. Thompson said he's "less adamantly negative" about the buildings than some members of the public but also noted, "I agree with the people who say they look so out of place."

Thompson also has made reducing taxes a central focus of his campaign, calling on the village to adopt a three-pronged approach to reducing the tax levy: keep a lid on expenses; find creative sources of revenue; and enhance quality of life to such an extent that residents don't mind spending extra to live here.

The village needs to stick with the recommendation from the Taxing Bodies Efficiency Task Force — created last year by the Oak Park Board of Trustees to find ways to reduce the tax burden — which called on the village to maintain an annual 3 percent levy increase. 

He said unnecessary expenses like bluestone sidewalks downtown and $350,000 for wayfaring signs around the village illustrates to him that "somebody at the village hasn't gotten the message about taxes. I think we send the wrong message with this stuff."

Thompson believes the village needs to find innovative new sources of revenue, such as a possible tax on ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Environmental sustainability is a "really big" topic for Thompson, who said the village is not living up to its progressive reputation on recycling.

He would push for a more aggressive approach on the village's composting program, suggesting that Oak Park reduce the monthly cost of its compost carts by a third to about $10 a month. He would pay for the program by phasing out the village's leaf collection program, he said.

Thompson said he supports affordable housing in the village and would vote in favor of an inclusionary zoning ordinance that requires developers to include affordable units in their buildings or contribute to an affordable housing fund.

"I think I would start with a 15 percent threshold" on affordable housing for new developments, he said, meaning that all new buildings would have to make 15 percent of the units affordable.

"If that doesn't inhibit developers from building, then we could raise it over time," he said.


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Reader Comments

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Jason Cohen  

Posted: February 2nd, 2019 1:35 PM

@Alex, I haven't been to any of the candidate forums so you certainly could be right. All I can go on is this article where he does mention areas he wouldn't have spent money like those sidewalks. I also don't see where OP is losing population. I looked at the census data and it's staying pretty steady and it was only available through 2017 so none of these new buildings are reflected which will certainly add more people.

Robert Milstein from Oak Park   

Posted: January 31st, 2019 10:16 AM

Correction: Consolidate schools into one district

Robert Milstein from Oak Park   

Posted: January 31st, 2019 10:14 AM

We all agree taxes are high. Every department at the Village should start at $0.00 and identify every single necessity in a rank order. Attach a price for each ,and identify "why" it is essential for Oak Park's citizens. Then they identify everything they can do without or can reduce. You might argue this is what they do now...a budget. No, they do not start at 0 and do not have to justify every dollar. We begin not with innovative ideas ,but with reasons for every dollar's use. Then we ask, " Will citizens accept less service in some areas?" " Is that particular service really necessary?" Garbage and recycling pickup is a must; police and fire protection a must... all of you commenting... provide your ideas... cut costs? Where? New revenue...where? Most taxes are for our schools...what do we do there? How about we end property taxes as the soul basis of school funding and ask Gov. Pritzker to look at all possible alternative methods. of restructuring school funding. No, I do not have an answer. But I do believe there has to be other ways to make the taxing process work. So instead of just cut costs...what costs? By how much? Cut what services? And so on ....consolidation of schools into be district? Does that save money? Not an expert...any school funding experts out there who can reduce the generalities and give sound advice?

Alex Garcia  

Posted: January 30th, 2019 3:18 AM

Jason: In recent candidates forums, Mr. Thompson has spoken in favor of "aggressively" targeting new sources of revenue. Nothing about actually increasing the tax base; simply identifying new opportunities to tax, eg the Uber and Lyft tax. That's hardly original thinking in Oak Park and has been the mindset of too many state, county and village officials, which has led to the exodus of taxpayers here. If Mr. Thompson (and other candidates) would say that we need to ween ourselves off of increasing the existing tax burden on our businesses and residents and place our primwry focus on growing our base, THAT would truly be novel here. Meanwhile, Oak Park's population and base continues to decline.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 30th, 2019 1:09 AM

A fee on Uber and Lyft? That is not very exciting for a lot of people. He has made SAYING he is going to reduce taxes , but his so called creative sources are going to be the problem. Stick to reducing costs.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: January 29th, 2019 7:12 PM

@Alex, nice how you manipulate the quote to suit your ideology. The article goes on and on about how he wants to reduce the tax burden and you ignore that for some unknown reason. You also don't publish the whole sentence which fits. The actual quote is below. This is hardly a harsh tax levied on all residents. It's called an idea and wouldn't impact people's local taxes at all. Thompson believes the village needs to find innovative new sources of revenue, such as a possible tax on ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft. I don't know this person at all but certainly some of what he says seems to make sense.

Alex Garcia  

Posted: January 29th, 2019 6:05 PM

"Thompson believes the village needs to find innovative new sources of revenue, such as a possible tax..". Of course he does. What tenured state university professor hasn't seen a tax he likes?

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