1) What experience makes you the best candidate to serve as trustee?
My wife and I have lived in Oak Park for 28 years, as renters and as owners. I am a professor at the University of Chicago's Business School and a partner in a female-owned consulting business. My expertise is in organizational change and management decision making—skills that are certainly needed on the Village Board. Co-founder of two community groups advocating for the people of Oak Park (Coalition for Appropriate Development and VOICE), I have testified to the Plan Commission and to the Village Board in support of development that respects the unique character of the village, its neighborhoods, and the environment, and in favor of greater transparency and fiscal responsibility in Village government. I also served on the Park District Citizens Committee.
The people of Oak Park deserve a Village government that listens to its citizens, inviting our input well before decisions have been made. We deserve a Village government that bases its decisions on real evidence of what's best for all the people who live here—a Village government that actively promotes the vision of an affordable, inclusive, integrated, equitable, and welcoming Village with sound environmental practices. To achieve this vision, we need trustworthy leaders who are prepared, progressive, and pragmatic. I am
- Prepared, with a track record of working diligently for more appropriate development throughout our Village and for a Village government that is more transparent, fiscally responsible, and citizen-oriented;
- Progressive, committed to an inclusive, democratic, equitable community, where all kinds of Oak Parkers can afford to live together as neighbors;
- Pragmatic, with a career as a professor of management at the University of Chicago's Business School, I know how to make things happen in organizations.
2) What do you consider the top three issues of concern in Oak Park and how would you address them as a trustee?
There are four top issues, as proposed by the community action group VOICE Oak Park. As a trustee, I will work to:
- ·Build a transparent and democratic government in which the people of our village decide the future of Oak Park.
- ·Fulfill the promise of our reputation as a truly equitable community.
- ·Advance policies that support the economic diversity of our community: home owners, renters, and local businesses.
- ·Advocate development that will bring Oak Park into the future without sacrificing its character, its values, or the environment.
How to address the first three of these priorities is answered in the questions below. Therefore, the remainder of this answer will elaborate on the final top issue, appropriate development. There is a detailed statement of my development policy on the website KlaymanForOakPark.org. This is a brief summary of key points.
Oak Park, like all towns, needs to encourage appropriate development in order to thrive. Appropriate development provides new housing opportunities for people at all different income levels (see also Question 3) and new opportunities for local businesses and jobs, while respecting and enhancing the unique character of the village and its neighborhoods and protecting the environment. Appropriate development should take place throughout the Village and not just be concentrated in and around downtown Oak Park. Citizens—particularly neighbors and local businesses—must be included in the entire design and selection process, not just at the end, and any development beyond established zoning must provide solid evidence that it will have a positive impact on the quality of life of its neighbors and of the village at large. Developers claim that massive high-rise developments help keep taxes down. But Oak Park's own experience and research by economists and urban planners show that such massive developments do not accomplish that goal. We need to think about revitalizing different parts of the Village, we need to think about housing for middle-class and working-class residents, we need to think about attracting a variety of businesses and good jobs to our village, and very importantly, we need to keep this a truly integrated town.
Development decisions also have major impact on the environment, and environmental issues have not been getting the attention they deserve in the current campaigns, or in Village government. It is neither environmentally sound nor in keeping with the character of Oak Park to authorize development that diminishes the already limited green spaces we have in our Village. But avoiding harm is not sufficient: Each project should enhance the local environment by contributing to green space and by adhering to tough standards for energy efficiency and sustainability. I fully support the resolution recently proposed to the Board of Trustees on January 28 by the Oak Park Climate Action group, which included an appropriate timeline for the Village to move toward 100% clean, sustainable energy sources by 2035.
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?
We need more affordable housing in Oak Park in order to maintain our village's diversity. One key action in creating the affordable housing we need in Oak Park is to enact an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance (IZO). An IZO requires that developers include a certain percentage of affordable units in new residential developments or else pay "in-lieu-of" fees--a set amount paid into a fund for building affordable housing elsewhere in the village. The trustees and Village staff deserve kudos for initiating the effort toward inclusionary zoning and especially for bringing this preliminary proposal before the public while it is still being developed. The work of creating an effective inclusionary ordinance will continue for the new Village Board. Here are some key issues that I will focus on as trustee:
We must focus not just on the number of affordable units, but also on where those units are located. It sometimes makes sense to allow developers to pay in-lieu-of fees rather than include affordable units in their buildings. But an ordinance that encourages developers to build luxury apartments in one part of town while paying to build affordable units in a different part of town risks undoing decades of work to create a village where all kinds of people live together as neighbors. As trustee, I will work for incentives for developers to create buildings and neighborhoods that are integrated racially, economically, and by family structure.
A related issue is that the currently proposed ordinance applies only to two narrow corridors around the el lines. The unintended effect could be to encourage developers to build away from transit, where they can avoid paying for affordable housing. As trustee, I will guard against the risk that such a limited ordinance might unintentionally work against the goals of transit-oriented development and affordable housing.
Let's also consider the definition of affordable housing. One standard in the proposed ordinance is that housing should be affordable for a family earning $67,000 per year. Yes, we need affordable options for middle-income families like that. But are there sufficient incentives for developers to also provide for those who make $47,000 or $27,000? As trustee, I will assure that there are.
The current proposal allows some developers who contribute to affordable housing to exceed established zoning limits. I would not allow inclusionary zoning to serve as an indirect way to undermine whatever controls remain on height and density for new developments.
Inclusionary zoning is the tool with the most potential to improve the affordable housing situation in Oak Park, but not the only one. As trustee, I will keep my eye on the larger picture, investigating additional possible approaches to affordable housing, such as modifying real-estate fees to favor affordable and mixed-income buildings, and having developers pay into a fund for direct rental subsidies. I will also champion support for the Oak Park Housing Center. The Center needs to modernize its approach to promoting racial and economic diversity and integration in the Village, and as a specialist in organizational renewal, this is something I want to help make happen, as trustee and as a concerned citizen.
4) How would you work to ensure greater equity and diversity in the village?
Quoting Linda Francis, Director of the Oak Park and River Forest Success for All Youth program: "Equity needs more than good intentions. It needs intentional actions." Equity requires finding the obstacles that are holding some people back, doing the hard work of removing those obstacles, and then making the extra effort to help those people catch up. Equity requires recognizing that policies and actions affect different people differently, and that no one person can fully anticipate all those different perspectives. People who feel disenfranchised may not show up to say, "Hey listen to me." As trustee, I will push to implement active outreach, in which Village decision makers seek out underrepresented people, treating them as equals, actively listening to them, and taking their perspective into account. Racial equity is a primary concern, but I will also emphasize equity in terms of gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, renters vs. owners, different language communities, and so on.
I will work to promote training, including racial equity training for all Village staff and elected officials. I will also push to reform processes and institutions that create inequity: when and where meetings are held and how they advertised; how the Village communicates with citizens and how citizens are empowered to affect the outcomes; how decisions are made and by whom.
I live in a small condo building near downtown Oak Park. Twelve people live in our building. Three are African American, 4 are White, 5 are Hispanic/LatinX. They are a single parent with a small child, two seniors, two empty nesters, two single people, and a two-parent family with kids in Oak Park schools. Next door on one side is a single family home; on the other side is a rental building. This is what living in Oak Park should be like for everyone. I will work hard to make Oak Park a place where all different kinds of people can afford to live together as neighbors, by increasing equity (see above), controlling taxes and fees (see Question 5), promoting affordable housing for middle-class, working class, and low income residents (see Question 3), and upholding Oak Park's dedication to integration by race, economic status, and family status.
5) What should the village do to help ease the tax burden in Oak Park?
High property taxes are a key issue for Oak Parkers, pushing out some residents who would otherwise like to continue living here. High taxes and fees are a major impediment to keeping Oak Park economically and racially diverse. Neither austerity nor gentrification is an acceptable response. Even though the Village controls a relatively small portion of the tax burden, it needs to show leadership in managing its finances responsibly. To that end, we need budget reform, realigned priorities, and more appropriate revenue sources.
Budget reform will require that the Village set a limit for total expenditures in a given year, with increases at less than the rate of inflation, and then prioritize programs within that limit. The budget process must be more transparent, so that trustees and the public can see clearly what is being spent on which program. Priorities should be based on what helps the broadest range of residents, what helps those with the greatest need, and what helps people most directly. In looking at the effects of affordability, we must also look beyond property taxes, taking care not to shift the burden to fees and fines in a way that places a greater burden on those who can least afford to pay.
Looking beyond Oak Park, I will also lobby the state to live up to its responsibility to be the primary funder of public education, as required by the Illinois constitution. Trustees must focus on local government, but our local property tax burden is due in no small part to the state's failure to fully fund our public schools. I have spoken with State Senator Don Harmon about this, and we have his support for this effort.
6) What would you do to ensure greater cooperation between Oak Park's various taxing entities?
To ensure real cooperation and collaboration among all the taxing entities, I will push for joint planning, cross-agency administration of programs, and sharing of common functions. It's hard work for different taxing entities to figure out together how to spend the citizens' dollars more efficiently and effectively. It's work I'm prepared to do. As trustee, I will involve our existing intergovernmental committee, IGov, in building processes for joint planning and coordination. I will promote reliance on multi-entity task forces to manage projects and issues that cross boundaries, such as safety, services to teens and seniors, homelessness, budgeting, capital improvements, affordable housing, and more. I will work hard to help all taxing entities find efficiencies in shared functions, such as purchasing and payroll.
None of these ideas involve "consolidation," a concept that makes a good soundbite and an attractive referendum when the words "property tax reduction" are attached to it. Some recent proposals for consolidation feel more like a hostile takeover by the Village than a real effort at coordination and collaboration. With cost savings being purely speculative and the legality of consolidation in doubt, the only group certain to profit from attempting consolidation is lawyers. Meanwhile, there is a real risk that consolidation would interfere with the crucial community services provided by the Township, the Libraries, and the Park District. I will work to keep that from happening as we work toward greater cooperation and collaboration.
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?
Yes, we need more transparency in the village. Even more important, we need more democracy in the village. Transparency implies that people can see what their government is doing. Democracy means that we increase the involvement of elected officials and citizens in what government does. To achieve greater democracy and transparency, we must improve communication and outreach, empower the Citizens Commissions, and enhance the role of the Village Clerk.
Improve communication and outreach
Our Village government should actively reach out to citizens, not merely make information available to those who already know what to look for. There are many steps that can be taken. Here are a few examples:
- Publish meeting agendas and links to relevant information at least 10 days ahead of meetings, and have them sent out via email and social media to contacts in local community organizations and to individuals who sign on to receive them.
- Establish regular Town Hall meetings in which officials truly interact with citizens to learn their concerns and gather their ideas.
- Actively reach out to underrepresented groups, including African-American, Hispanic, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, renters, seniors, low-income families, and any other subset of the population who might be affected by government decisions.
- Create Trustee "office hours" available for hearing from constituents, perhaps designating a particular trustee as the point of first contact for a particular issue, or for a particular geographic segment of the Village.
- Let the sun shine on the workings of the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation. This important, quasi-governmental agency includes the Village President, one other trustee, and the Village Manager. It has tremendous power over development decisions in our Village. And yet, its current practices and its designation as a private corporation shield it from the inclusiveness and transparency demanded of other parts of Village government.
Empower the Citizens Commissions
The Village Board should encourage and empower the Citizens Commissions to pursue the issues they think are most relevant and to bring forward new initiatives on those issues. The total annual expense of $25,000 to support the commissions is a very small cost for the remarkable expertise and dedication of the citizens on those commissions. Greater reliance on the citizens commissions can reduce reliance on expensive outside consultants. I testified on these issues at the January 14 meeting of the Village Board, where I also expressed concerns about the Village Manager restricting the scope of the commissions. To increase the independence and effectiveness of the commissions, all nominations for all the commissions should go through an independent Citizens Involvement Commission that screens applicants using established criteria for relevant expertise. This had been an established process in our village, but we have recently seen a shift toward commission nominations being made directly by the Mayor. That shift should be reversed.
Enhance the role of the Village Clerk
Village Clerk is an elected position. That democratic control is important because the Village Clerk has the responsibility to keep the public informed about what Village government is doing. The recent attempt to shift the FOIA process from the Clerk to the Village Attorney was very troubling. Attorneys are, by trade, concerned with where the legal boundaries are—not with how best to provide useful information. It was good news when many of the Clerk's responsibilities were reinstated, but the broader issue of preserving the authority of the Clerk remains a concern.
The Village Clerk should also exercise the vital role of serving as ombudsperson and initial point of contact for dealing with Village government. Having an elected official perform that role provides citizens with greater assurance that the person they contact puts the citizen's interests first.
Answer Book 2019
To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2019 Answer Book, please click here.
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