Cory Wesley

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1) What experience makes you the best candidate to serve as trustee?

I'm a problem solver and solutions driven candidate. I've spent over 20 years building solutions to complex problems. My day job as a software consultant and small business owner is to solve complex problems for others through conventional and innovative solutions - this experience would translate directly to the problems that exist in Oak Park. Second, local government needs a dose of innovation. We move slowly which means that problems impact the village longer than necessary and cost more as a result. From my IT background, I bring values from the Lean Startup methodology. This methodology advocates experimentation, continuous improvement , iteration, and validation of ideas. The outcome is a very lean organization that can attack problems quickly and pivot to solutions
inexpensively. This means that residents experience less impact and the village spends less money per solution. Finally, as a black man from the West Side of Chicago, I'm no stranger to adversity. I've overcome it every step of the way in my life. From a successful IT career starting at age 18 to now being the founder of a successful software consulting firm. The fact that I'm here is no accident. It's a combination of intelligence, hard work, dedication, and skill - all qualities that would make me a great Trustee.

2) What do you consider the top three issues of concern in Oak Park and how would you address them
as a trustee?
Property Taxes. Equity. Government transparency. I apologize in advance for the lack of brevity in this answer, I condensed as much as possible but these are complicated issues that deserve a thorough answer. Taxes have to be attacked head-on. It's a fallacy that the state government will rescue us, nor should we trust them to do so. Through corruption, inaction, and incompetence, they've created a bankrupt state and pushed their own issues down to the local level. Why should we trust an entity that has made our problems worse rather than addressing these issues ourselves? We shouldn't.
Our 6 government bodies must cooperate to bring relief to the village. Two examples: 1)Our property taxes can be reduced by 10% over the next three years if we exclude dollars generated by new properties in levy requests. The Township already does this. The main impact would come by having the schools commit to it. 2)Encourage further diversity in our homeowner demographics. Two Numbers: 53, 1,000,000. Keeping 53 seniors in their home opposed to selling to a family with 2 school age kids saves a minimum of $1,000,000/yr in school tuition(costs) over having those kids in a D97 school. The village board can influence the demographic makeup of the village, but once done, it requires the school boards to hold costs steady - specifically keeping class size ratios static, otherwise the cost savings just end up applied to paying for new teachers as the teacher to student ratio decreases. Equity. A diverse village cannot claim success unless it is also equitable. I'd propose several initiatives to fix this: The village should invest in equity and bias training for all employees, staff, contractors, and vendors or anyone who accepts cash or consideration from the village.
The village should mandate that developers who accept a variance or consideration from the village also take this training for anyone who will interface with the Oak Park community. The village should make this training free for everyone in the village and encourage everyone to take it. The village should implement use of this training as the backbone of a Diversity 'certification' provided free from the village to businesses in the village. Businesses who pass the certification would receive a sign that signifies certification as well as be listed with other certified businesses on a website, marketing, etc.
The village should do the same for landlords, renewable annually, and require it to the extent possible, rather than make it optional. The village should create a minority and Women-owned Business Procurement Program similar to Chicago's, set a target percentage for minority-owned businesses that work with the village, implement a plan to meet that goal, and report on it quarterly.
Lastly, the most important thing that we can do to improve racial equity in Oak Park is to put people of color in positions of leadership.
On Transparency, a few thoughts below. Information Availability - I've already accomplished a portion of this solution as the Clerk has implemented an email list distribution for the Board agenda. This was done at my public suggestion. I'd also like to see the minutes sent to the same people when available. Fireside Chats/Q&A Sessions/Mailbags - Of these I'll emphasize the mailbag here. Communication with the board has to be a two-way affair. A mailbag of the comments with a Trustee response would create engagement and a dialog with the people. People speaking in the direction of the Trustees is not transparency, having the Trustees respond - can be. Remote Engagement - Public comments, are biased towards those who have the time to attend in person. We should change this by allowing the submission of video comments from home. Thus increasing the engagement and equity of those who are typically left out of the process. I have a transparency platform published on my website that discusses this in much more detail: www.corywesley.com/transparency

3) What is your position on affordable housing in the village? Is more or less needed? Why? How would
you address this as a trustee?
The definition of affordable housing must be expanded to include affordability and therefore homeowners as well as renters. The village has increased the level of affordable housing from 18% to 22%. I think that's incredible. In the same period of time, property taxes have outstripped inflation by several orders of magnitude putting intense pressure on middle-class homeowners and constructing barriers at the low end of the market for ownership. We need to keep property tax increases to the rate of inflation, typically 0-3%. We need to aggressively pursue additional revenue. We need to explore innovative solutions, like the one I proposed above in cooperation with the school districts. If we do not do these things, and more, the village will be reduced to just affordable housing and rich homeowners with no one in the middle. I find that thought unacceptable.
Further, I fully support expanding affordable housing at the bottom of the market which is where the research shows that it's most needed. The Oak Park Residence Corp has shown great leadership in this area and as Trustee, I would support them in initiatives to expand affordable housing for the 'at-risk' class of people, which are typically those near the bottom of the income scale and most at risk to suffer homelessness without intervention.

4) How would you work to ensure greater equity and diversity in the village?
Diversity depends on keeping the village affordable. That can not be done without controlling the tax levy. The village is not sustainable as is and in ten years, the demographics of Oak Park will look completely different unless we do something about it now. I speak to Equity in an answer above so that answer appears here as well. Equity. A diverse village cannot claim success unless it is also equitable. I'd propose several initiatives to fix this: The village should invest in equity and bias training for all employees, staff, contractors, and vendors or anyone who accepts cash or consideration from the village. The village should mandate that developers who accept a variance or consideration from the village also take this training for anyone who will interface with the Oak Park community.
The village should make this training free for everyone in the village and encourage everyone to take it.
The village should implement use of this training as the backbone of a Diversity 'certification' provided free from the village to businesses in the village. Businesses who pass the certification would receive a sign that signifies certification as well as be listed with other certified businesses on a website, marketing, etc.
The village should do the same for landlords, renewable annually, and require it to the extent possible, rather than make it optional. The village should create a minority and Women-owned Business Procurement Program similar to Chicago's, set a target percentage for minority-owned businesses that work with the village, implement a plan to meet that goal, and report on it quarterly. Lastly, the most important thing that we can do to improve racial equity in Oak Park is to put people of color in positions of leadership.

5) What should the village do to help ease the tax burden in Oak Park?
Lots of things, most already sprinkled through this document. I'll recap though and expand some: 1)Our property taxes can be reduced by 10% over the next three years if we exclude dollars generated by new properties in levy requests. The Township already does this. The main impact would come by having the schools commit to it. Why? Uniquely there are several buildings that are coming online as 'new' because they've been held in TIFs. That means we've already factored in all the expenses(police/fire/school/etc). Now when these buildings come online, if we spread the current levy across the existing property base PLUS those buildings, the tax bill decreases for everyone because more people are now paying the same expense. However, if we increase the levy to account for these new
buildings, then we don't make any gains.
2)Encourage further diversity in our homeowner demographics. Keeping 53 seniors in their home opposed to selling to a family with 2 school age kids saves a minimum of $1,000,000/yr in school tuition(costs) over having those kids in a D97 school. The village board can influence the demographic makeup of the village, but once done, it requires the school boards to hold costs steady - specifically keeping class size ratios static, otherwise the cost savings just end up applied to paying for new teachers as the teacher to student ratio decreases.
3)Hold the tax levy to the rate of inflation, typically 0-3%. This gives people at least a fighting chance to have their salaries keep pace with their property tax increases. 4)Increase revenue. I'd propose that any increase in property taxes has to be offset by correspondingdollars in revenue. If we need to spend $500k for a new program, then we need to find that $500k from existing spend or new revenue to offset. This helps us keep to that 0-3% range above. 5)Zero-based or Priority-based budgeting. Zero-based budgeting would remove the 'anchoring' effect so often seen in corporate and municipal budgeting practices(We have X last year so we need X + Y this
year.) Zero-based budgeting wipes the slate clean each year and spend is allocated only to items that are approved for that budget year, there is no carryover. Priority-based budgeting is similar, instead services are funded directly based on their value to the village rather than entire departments. This allows you to only fund the things that are most important to the village, regardless of where those services live inside of the bureaucracy.

6) What would you do to ensure greater cooperation between the Oak Park's various taxing entities? Partner & Show Results. No one likes a bully and no one likes someone who dictates change without doing it themselves. I think the village has earned a bad rep, and deservedly so, with the consolidation referendum. That requires building some trust back. To do that, I'd partner with the other taxing entities, through iGov and informally to create trust. I'd also demonstrate via policy our intention to cooperate. I'd pursue a public decree to be read into the record that the village is looking to cooperate with other bodies to work on all Oak Park issues of great import. And, of course, a lot of my ideas to limit the tax levy increase require the village to work well with the school boards. I'd use that work to build trust as well.

7) What are your thoughts on transparency in the village? Is more or less needed or is the village
currently striking a good balance on transparency?
Transparency can not simply be an intention, it must be an action that shapes every decision, every disclosure, every debate. It must exist despite the burden. It must persist even as it fights to take flight. Our elected officials, regardless of body, are entrusted with our Democracy, regardless of scale. They must answer to the people, not just once every four, but every day a decision is made, every day a debate is had, for every issue that is brought forth of public concern.
The village needs more transparency and through that transparency, more engagement and trust. Transparency is one of the village's three most important issues to be tackled as the lack of transparency has created a government where trust is absent between it and the people. Without trust, the Board will never be able to effectively govern as every decision will be subject to such intense scrutiny, debate, and lack of consensus that no path forward will be attainable. This is incredibly important now, as the escalating tax burden has created the beginnings of a local state of emergency. And how we move forward as a community will be decided by how well we work together to address this concern that affects the very fabric of the village. A lack of transparency, a lack of trust, will make this task incredibly difficult, if not impossible, and Oak Park will suffer because of it. Also, check out my fully documented transparency plan at my website: http://corywesley.com/transparency/ and I cover some of the material there earlier in this

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