1) What experience makes you the best candidate to serve as trustee?
As a business owner and CPA, I've brought a skill set to the Village board that includes an analytical approach to problem solving, a commitment to consensus-building, and a watchful eye on the bottom line.
Beyond my tangible skill set, I've found in my public service experience that less measurable qualities and experiences are equally important in providing me a good foundation for representing the residents of Oak Park. First, one of the most important qualities is that I'm a keen listener, whether I'm meeting with a resident or sitting at the board table— and I always listen intently to what others have to say. I learn something new every day, and it helps to listen carefully and give others your full attention. I always try to treat everyone with dignity and respect, which is how I'd like to be treated if the roles were reversed.
I think it's also important to keep an open mind on every issue that comes before us. Because trustees set policy that can have far-reaching effects for many Oak Parkers, it's vital to thoughtfully consider all perspectives and never prejudge. One of the great pleasures of being both a Township and Village trustee is how I've been exposed to so many different perspectives of our residents. I think I've definitely grown as a trustee, and it's been an enriching experience.
Finally, as a board member, it's important to not forget that I represent only one vote of out seven board members and that nothing gets accomplished without board consensus. No matter how great an idea or plan, we need to work together to accomplish our goals or Oak Park will not move forward. To that end, I have a good working relationship with the entire board as well as staff. That's allowed me to work on a wide range of problems facing the village and craft solutions, while at the same time building consensus and buy-in from the board. As an example, we recently passed a revised Special Events ordinance that had virtually unanimous agreement and support from all trustees, staff and the business community.
2) What do you consider the top three issues of concern in Oak Park and how would you address them as a trustee?
I believe one of the biggest issues in Oak Park has to do with balancing the needs and wants of an engaged and progressive community with the financial realities of our very high tax burden. The quality social programs and municipal services provided by the Village come at the price of higher taxes borne by residents. Many decisions made as a trustee require seeking a balance between providing a program or service that is valued by the community and our ability to pay for that program or service. We are faced with trade offs every day, with the common denominator being reliance on the judgment of individual trustees to ultimately do what's best for the community as a whole. The single biggest way I've addressed this issue is to slow the rate of Village levy increases in the past two budget cycles. I advocated early on for keeping our FY19 levy at 3% or less and through a focused discussion with my colleagues we were able to meet that goal. Moving forward, we need to maintain a laser focus on our year-over-year levy growth rate and keep it as low as possible.
Public safety is also a concern for many Oak Parkers. Generally, our crime rates have continued to moderate, and we have a very responsive police force. But when crime happens to you, statistics don't matter. In my time on the board, we've pursued a police over-hire policy which has helped eliminate gaps that occur when there are retirements or reassignments of officers. Also, in the past 2 years, we've hired 5 additional sworn officers to bolster the department. However our greatest strength lies with our community policing strategy which has been very effective and successful over the years. Resident beat officers, citizen involvement and promoting quality of life are all part of an established policing method that continues to provide security to our residents and neighborhoods throughout the Village.
Racial equity is also a big factor that we clearly need to continue to work hard on as a community. I think the best way to keep residents of all perspectives engaged is for the Village board to adopt a racial equity framework that can be employed for all board action. I have publicly supported a framework discussed at a Village board study session called Government Alliance on Race and Equity and have joined my colleagues in calling for the Village board and staff to undergo training so we can implement this framework soon. As a white male, I acknowledge that I have blind spots but I always work to listen and engage ALL stakeholders— and I highly value the perspectives they give me to consider. Equity is also about socio economics, gender, disability, age, religion and culture—and we need to consider all of these factors in our decision making as a board.
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?
Affordable Housing is something that I feel is a clear community value and important to maintain the character of Oak Park. I represent a diverse and engaged community that emphasizes both inclusiveness and equality. We are a welcoming community and seek to include those that bring different perspectives to our everyday living experiences, and affordable housing is a key factor to advancing that. I'm proud of my record as a trustee, and here are some of the initiatives I've supported and voted on to advance affordable housing in the Village: through negotiating with property developers, the village has built the Affordable Housing Fund to $1.5 million. I voted in favor of using $500,000 of that money to give a grant to Community Builders for a 37-unit affordable housing development. I also voted to grant Housing Forward $500,000 out of the Affordable Housing Fund to create a rental assistance program at the Raymond Showalter Residence, 324 N. Austin Boulevard. As a Township trustee, I consistently voted to fund the general assistance program for people who are in financial need or who are in need of job training. In the coming weeks I will be voting in favor of an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance which will help guarantee socio-economic diversity all throughout town while creating a self-sustaining mechanism to support affordable housing moving forward.
4) How would you work to ensure greater equity and diversity in the village?
Equity and diversity are core community values in Oak Park— but we need to continue to work hard to improve our record and make real progress. In today's political climate, these values are in danger of being undermined.
I'm fully cognizant of the fact that inequality of opportunity and implicit bias greatly impede the progress of equity throughout the Village. I strongly advocate for racial equity training and believe the program offered by GARE would be very beneficial; I am fully committed to implementing this in the coming months. We also need to continue to be mindful of how equity impacts us generally as a Village in socio-economic, gender, age, culture and religious aspects of our daily lives. In addition, Oak Park also has a long tradition as a community that welcomes and seeks out racial diversity in our housing stock for the benefit of all. I've greatly enjoyed meeting residents from all backgrounds and it's been an incredibly enriching experience.
It's important as a trustee to support those programs that serve to advance interests of both equity and diversity in our Village. As a trustee, I've done the following:
— I have consistently supported funding for the Collaboration for Early Childhood Development
— I have consistently supported the responsible deployment of the Affordable Housing Fund for initiatives such as the Community Builders affordable housing development on south Oak Park Avenue and Housing Forward's rental assistance program at the Raymond Showalter residence on Austin Boulevard
— I have consistently supported funding the Youth Interventionist Agreement
— I have consistently supported funding for the Oak Park Regional Housing Center
— I support and will be voting in favor of an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance
5) What should the village do to help ease the tax burden in Oak Park?
Easing the tax burden over time can be accomplished in our Village- and I continue to work hard to do my part. The vast majority of our expenses to run the Village are non-discretionary and can be difficult to control. Our Village staff comprise the largest part of our budget, and much of the workforce is covered under one of nine different labor agreements, many of which are subject to binding interest arbitration. Our pensions have mandatory funding requirements which are subject to components which can fluctuate wildly from year to year, making predicting future funding amounts difficult.
The Village budget is comprised of many moving parts and it only takes a couple of them to get out of control to cause spillover effects on our financial ratings. We are fortunate to have a respectable and stable AA credit rating from S&P, which is 3 notches from the top. In an attempt to moderate the rate of property tax increases for FY19, our board came together and met a hard goal of keeping our levy growth at 3%. We went through an intense process of reviewing spending in every department to achieve savings. In the end, we met our goal.
The key in controlling the Village's portion of resident's property tax burden lies with slowing the growth rate of our levy. Gone are the days of double digit increases; no one can afford it. Setting lower levy rates will drive discipline in our budget process and help control future spending. Reasonable levy increases reflecting inflation and cost of living increases must become the norm, not the exception.
6) What would you do to ensure greater cooperation between the Oak Park's various taxing entities?
I would sincerely like to see greater intergovernmental cooperation among the six taxing bodies moving forward. As a former IGOV Committee member myself, I always felt there was value in getting to know my colleagues from the other taxing bodies. The problem was in the structure of the committee, which made it difficult to advance even simple ideas to the next level. In reality there are a multitude of good collaborative efforts that already exist, but many of them do not touch upon cost containment or cost reduction. If IGOV could be reconstituted and refocused in a way that could specifically address reducing cost across jurisdictional boundaries, it certainly could benefit residents throughout Oak Park. All public servants should be willing to reach out to the other taxing bodies to discuss ways to cooperate and become more efficient while still serving their board's fundamental mission. Currently, IGOV and the COG are the only vehicles we have where elected representatives of the 6 taxing bodies regularly meet to discuss topics affecting the community. I would welcome an opportunity to open a dialogue with my colleagues that could deepen the commitment for our 6 taxing bodies to work together to reduce spending.
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?
In one word, transparency is honesty. It means making decisions openly and justifying decisions openly. Village staff is made up of hardworking people who are committed to their jobs and the residents of Oak Park. They work there because they want to, not because they have to. Where I've seen transparency as an issue is mostly related to the complexity of government and not an overt attempt to keep information away from those seeking it.
One area I see that has the potential for improving transparency is in our budgeting system. Governmental accounting is incredibly complex— and it's taken me a couple of budget cycles to fully understand how all the pieces fit together. As a CPA, that tells me it's an overly complex process and begs to be presented in a way that residents could more easily understand. The same can be said for TIF reports that are presented on the Village's website. There are literally hundreds of pages of documents available, but much of the information is simply not helpful. We have an obligation to continually share clear and relevant information with residents to ensure openness and accountability in government.
Answer Book 2018
To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2018 Answer Book, please click here.
Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.
|Submit Letter To The Editor|
|Place a Classified Ad|