Sustainability head runs for River Forest trustee

This is Kathleen Brennan's first try for elected office

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By Nona Tepper

After serving as head of the River Forest Sustainability Commission, and as a member of the River Forest Parks Foundation, Kathleen Brennan is now setting her sights one of three trustee seats open on the village board come April. Brennan is one of five who have thrown their name in the ring. 

She is passionate, she said, about the issues of public safety, development and keeping the village affordable and inclusive. Over the past year, she has attended several of the River Forest Police Department's quarterly crime meetings and called them "a hidden gem," because of all the crime prevention tips she picked up. 

"One thing I've learned through these meetings is that 50 to 100 percent of River Forest burglaries are preventable," Brennan said. "It's unlocked homes, unlocked cars, unlocked bikes, unattended purses. The police department has done a great job at these meetings talking about preventive measures, like cameras, smart doorbells. Residents need to be exposed to all this great information." 

But at the last quarterly meeting, she said there were more presenters than attendees. Brennan believes the location of the meetings should be rotated and that talks should be livestreamed, so interested participants can still watch and submit their questions as they arise. She also believes the slide decks should then be retained and posted publicly. 

If elected, Brennan said she would support the police department by keeping training and technology up to date. 

"We've done a great job of applying for and obtaining grants on the sustainability side, and I'm sure these exist on the secure communities side as well," she said, adding that she has talked with Police Chief James O'Shea about looking into grants for electric squad cars and bicycles. 

About two years ago, Brennan helped create the Village Sustainability Commission. In that position, she has collaborated with the Park District of River Forest on several projects, as well as creating a resident task force to focus on how the village can be more bike-friendly. The village is currently developing a bike plan, which will be published as an addendum to the comprehensive plan.

"Millennials are definitely prioritizing and expecting municipalities to be looking out for pedestrians and bicyclists, and I think this is potentially going to elevate River Forest for millennial homebuyers," she said. 

If elected to the trustee post, Brennan said she would collaborate with other taxing bodies in the same way she has as a member of the Sustainability Commission, naming redevelopment of the River Forest Civic Center — several taxing bodies have signed an intergovernmental agreement to study its future uses — presents a great example and opportunity for collaboration. 

"We need to collaborate between the taxing bodies and make the most inclusive, efficient, cost-efficient governments for our residents," Brennan said.

She was inspired to run for office by the development of the Civic Center, as well as the five-story development at Lake Street and Lathrop Avenue, the senior residence at Chicago and Harlem avenues, the new tax-increment financing (TIF) district on North Avenue, and more. If elected, she said she would survey residents about what types of businesses they'd like to see come to River Forest and then work to recruit them to the village. 

"River Forest is pretty landlocked and pretty built out, so we're not going to have many opportunities like this," she said. "Most residents are very concerned about taxes. The majority of our taxes go to our schools [and] many of us moved here for the excellent schools, so we're not going to be able to avoid our taxes. But what can we do to control them? Well, we've got this development going on, so it's sort of a sweet spot to make the most of it, and I want to make sure we do it thoughtfully."

A native of Glen Ellyn, Brennan now lives and operates her law practice in River Forest. She was appointed to head the Sustainability Commission, and likewise appointed to her role on the park district foundation. This is her first time running for elected office. Brennan said she has about 10 people who are helping run her campaign.

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

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