Susan Buchanan

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

I've lived in Oak Park for 20 years and I love this community for its progressive values and commitment to diversity. I want to play a role in keeping Oak Park on the right path to an equitable and environmentally sustainable community.  I bring skills to the position that come from my fulfilling professional career as a family physician and public health specialist. I've cared for patients struggling without health insurance, taught vulnerable workers how to improve their health and safety on the job, and become an expert on the health effects of environmental pollutants. I understand the importance of studying problems in depth while listening to and addressing the needs of my patients and the communities I serve. I will bring the same work ethic to the challenges facing Oak Park and our village's residents.

 

2) What do you consider the top three issues of concern in Oak Park and how would you address them as a trustee?

1. Climate change is one of the most important issues we face as a country, and village government has an important role to play in combating the further degradation of our environment. I support using evidence-based approaches to do as much as we possibly can as individuals and as a community. I support the PlanItGreen sustainability plan, and as Village Trustee I will make sure we are following through on the initiatives recommended in it such as incentives and financial tools to encourage energy efficiency, investment in renewable energy, water efficiency, stormwater management, native landscapes, and promoting food scrap composting and construction debris reuse.

2. Affordable housing – please see my response below.

3. Many Oak Parkers are concerned about the sudden appearance of high-rise buildings in our downtown business areas. The increased congestion, lack of parking, and interference with our green spaces are real issues resulting from this building boom. While some people believe these developments will help stabilize our property taxes, urban planning research does not necessarily support this assumption. On the other hand, locating multi-unit buildings near transit hubs is the environmentally sustainable answer to our housing needs.

After numerous meetings with Oak Park residents, small business owners, architects, urban planners, and environmentalists, I've come to believe that building residential developments near the Metra, Green line and Blue line can contribute to the vibrancy of our downtown areas if it is planned, implemented, and managed in a thoughtful manner that respects the architectural heritage and character of our village.  Specifically, this means:

  • Requiring developers to follow environmentally sustainable metrics
  • Height restrictions so buildings do not block our green spaces and architectural treasures
  • Provision of adequate parking spaces, set-backs, and affordable units

As a Village Trustee I will support these requirements for developers. I will also ensure that a variety of residents' voices are solicited and considered when new developments are planned. Placing multi-unit residential buildings near our public transportation arteries can help support racial and economic diversity, environmental sustainability, and our small business owners.

 

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 ability to rent or own a home in Oak Park makes us a diverse and welcoming community. But an analysis of fair housing published in 2010 reports that Oak Park is losing affordable rental units, especially for those on the lower end of the economic scale, and that opportunities to purchase homes here are limited for African Americans and Hispanics. Housing prices and rents are increasing in Oak Park because we are a desirable community for both households and developers. The Village Board should support the Housing Center, a key resource in our Village for those looking for affordable housing options. I support passing an inclusionary housing ordinance. It should be robust, requiring developers to pay impact fees to cover the cost of increased village services and requiring up to 20% of units to be designated as affordable over the long term. I would also encourage the development of affordable units with at least 3 bedrooms located near transportation hubs to accommodate working families. To promote economic diversity in Oak Park we need housing that is affordable to larger families that is within walking distance of the CTA stations. 

 

4) How would you work to ensure greater equity and diversity in the village?

Racial equity is an important issue in Oak Park. We pride ourselves on being a diverse community, but many people of color feel that this village is not for them. The village board should play a role in assuring that Oak Park is a village where people of color can thrive by offering services and consideration to those for whom success is a challenge because of a history of racial barriers. To decrease racial inequities in Oak Park, the village board needs to should actively seek out and recruit minority residents to fill seats on our commissions, elected boards, and government staff. Also, the leadership and staff of the village should reflect the racial makeup of the village they serve. Hiring practices at the village should assure that civil service exam scores and the felony box are not impediments to employment. The Village of Oak Park should become a member of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity which would show a good-faith effort towards racial equity and would provide learning and training opportunities for village staff and leaders. Finally, village government should adopt a structured process for considering equity in all initiatives and decisions.

 

5) What should the village do to help ease the tax burden in Oak Park?

High property taxes are brought up by most of the residents I speak to. Recent increases have been caused by the village's commitment to increase contributions to the police and fire pension funds, which have been neglected for decades, and by the approval of numerous referenda. There is not much the village board can do to ease the tax burden as long as the state formula for education funding remains the same. I support keeping tax increases to the level of inflation and minimizing the use of referenda. Budgeting should be carried out with these goals in mind.

 

6) What would you do to ensure greater cooperation between the Oak Park's various taxing entities?

Better communication and transparency would go a long way toward better cooperation between our taxing bodies. I-gov was created to foster this cooperation. More emphasis should be put on I-gov's role in communication, cooperation, and transparency, and this should be prioritized by the village president, board members, and village manager.

 

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 is critically important to the governing process, especially in a community like ours in which residents want to have a voice in how things are run, beyond the ballot box. In my meetings with residents and village leaders, I've heard a lot about the current lack of transparency in village government. The village board, manager, and staff should recognize the importance of transparency and implement the infrastructure, procedures, and culture that promote it. This same approach should also take place within and among the village government structure and personnel.

As a trustee I would insist on transparency pertaining to the basis for decisions made by the village president and village manager. I will want to know details such as background information, stakeholders whose interests are prioritized over others', and outside consultants' input, all of which may have influenced decisions and policies.

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