*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
I am running for one of two open seats on the River Forest Park District Board this spring. As a longtime RF resident and someone who is involved in many Park District programs including coaching and sponsoring with RFYBS and RFYS, volunteering and actively participating in many others, I am excited to get involved and improve the process by which the Park District’s facilities and programs grow and expand. I believe the residents of River Forest would benefit from increased transparency and a long-term vision and plan from the Park District.
My wife, Liz Parolin, is a native of River Forest and we, along with our three young children, ages 10, 8 and 4 have planted deep roots in the village with a long-term commitment to the community and its programs. This isn’t about my preferences for any one program…but about how the Park District Board can be an asset to all programs and residents. I am engaged, involved and passionate about seeing this community maximize its potential in a responsible and inclusive way.
Maintaining an objective outlook has helped me throughout my professional career when the time came to balance differing or opposing agendas. My goal is always to understand the ‘Why’ behind every issue. And once you can get everyone involved to understand everyone else’s ‘Why’ you can truly arrive at an acceptable outcome for all. This process is hindered when involved parties feel defensive about their position and resort to misrepresentation and misinformation. There are ways to set priorities for both sides and find ways to meet in the middle to fulfill long term objectives. Common sense, fairness and objectivity. When there is a balance of those things then we can ensure that all voices can be heard, not just the loudest voices. Everyone has a say.
This is a unique town with a lot of pride and resources that we can use to our advantage toward the future. Our park spaces are sacred spaces. And now more than ever they need to be protected, cultivated, and sustained. Transparency and communication with members of the community is key in order to advance all Park District initiatives, and this board should be engaged and proactive toward that cause. I believe in using the principles of common sense, transparency, and communication as guidance. I will evaluate each situation that comes before the board with the desire to find the common sense solutions.
I am seeking this office because I believe there is an opportunity to add an objective voice to the leadership of the parks. This is an opportunity to act on my commitment to service and give back to this community. Nobody is more involved or engaged with the River Forest Park District. I have a passion for seeing the programs and facilities maximize their potential for the overall benefit of this community. My intentions are pure, my qualifications are numerous and I am the right person at the right time for this job.
What challenges face the park district in the near future and how will you as a commissioner address them?
A lack of proactivity, long-term vision, and communication with the residents. There is also a narrow focus on singular issues that lead to a more reactive, unproductive approach to the growth and development of our facilities and programs. We need to establish a long-term vision and relay that along with the associated budget back to the residents. Have a plan and share it with the constituents. I will also perform a SWOT analysis of the Park District and its affiliated programs. Identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in all areas of the Park District’s operation.
Why are you seeking this office and what are your qualifications for holding it?
I am seeking this office because I believe there is an opportunity to add an objective voice to the leadership of the parks. I believe in a life of service, and because of the current circumstances, I have the time to devote to improving the process by which we run our parks and affiliated programs. This is an opportunity to act on my commitment to service and give back to this community.
Nobody is more involved or engaged with the River Forest Park District. I will be coaching three RFYBS teams this season and sponsoring a team as well. My wife will also be coaching two RFYS teams. I am involved in many other park district programs and have a passion for seeing the programs and facilities maximize their potential for the overall benefit of this community. My intentions are pure, my qualifications are numerous and I am the right person at the right time for this job.
What aspects of the park district, regarding services and community engagement, need improvement and how do you plan to make such improvements?
The Park District can be an asset to our village for all residents. We must find a way to connect with each and every resident to find out what is important to them. Being an open-minded, active listener who works to understand all perspectives before drawing any conclusions or making decisions is the key to succeeding at the local level. Throughout my two-decade long career, I have achieved success by being objective, collaborative, and thinking about long-term opportunities. Building authentic professional relationships, that are more like friendships, is something that I am proud of and I believe that will directly translate to the vision and compromise needed to achieve our goals at the local community level. We need to unify the voice of the community and not continue to divide it.
What can the park district do to increase environmental sustainability and equity of all forms within the community?
There are some simple first steps as it pertains to clean-up and recycling. But this is a broad topic that merits more research and likely some investment. There are obvious campaigns and efforts that can be widely promoted within the community. There is a lot of pride and heritage in River Forest and we have the resources to in invest in its preservation. Park spaces are sacred spaces the sustainability of green space is a top priority. Public outdoor gathering spaces are critical to our sense of community and to our need for recreation and wellness. I will concentrate on sustainability opportunities to ensure that our parks provide an outlet for generations of River Forest residents to come.
One of the things I love most about River Forest is being able to get out and be active in our outdoor spaces. This is important now more than ever. Whether it’s running and hiking through the forest preserve trails, playing co-ed softball with friends on Thursday nights at Keystone Park, keeping my kids active and social, or taking our dog on long walks around the Priory, I find that there is so much to offer for physical and mental wellness in our community. There is also room to expand those offerings and ensure that every RF resident is able and welcome to enjoy all we have to offer.
What part does the park district play in the reconfiguring of the River Forest Community Center?
There is an opportunity for collaboration on a facility that is badly in need of rehabilitation. Relocation is most likely not an option, but we can pool our resources and help initiate a fund-raising campaign. There are also partnership opportunities with other entities in and around River Forest.
As you see it, why has the issue of platform tennis become so heated? As a park district board member, how would you recommend navigating this issue to come to a decision that would satisfy all stakeholders?
I believe this has become a heated issue because there is a perception that there is a very small pie from which each of the Park District programs and affiliated programs can pull from. Added to that, it has been represented that the platform tennis advocates are wishing to jump their place in line in order to get access to that pie.
The reality is that the growth in the popularity of the sport is commensurate with the need to expand their facilities. Expanding their facilities would allow for greater revenue channels for the Park District and increase spending on other programs as well. No RFPD programs or affiliated programs or facilities would be negatively impacted by the expansion of the platform tennis facilities under the current plans.
In order to navigate this issue we need to more effectively communicate the plan and financial implications with all residents. Conversations on social media can often be barriers to a productive, inclusive process and are very divisive. I am not involved on social media, but I believe I have personally been unfairly categorized as a “paddle candidate” in an “us vs. them” campaign. I do more for RFYBS and RFYS than paddle but it can be easier to polarize and fear monger rather than dive into the facts. I do not want to be involved in that and don’t believe in fear as a leadership tactic. I will push back on false narratives to find the truth. This has devolved into a hot-button social media issue because the RFPD has not adequately shared the long-term vision of what this means for other programs and for the community at-large.