*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
My name is David Wick, and I am running for reelection to the position of Park Board Commissioner on April 6, 2021. I am currently on my second term with setting sights on one more and final four-year term. Over the past seven plus years I have been honored and blessed to serve as one of your commissioners on the board. We have seen some much-needed improvements to our park system, and have faced some difficult choices in order to ensure the success of the entire organization.
Here is a little bit about me. I have lived on the north side of Oak Park my entire life (Taylor Park is my home away from home and where my picture was taken). I have always been a very active user of our beautiful park system, and Park District programming, since I was a little boy. Some of my favorite activities that the Park District offers include softball, volleyball, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Run. I have served on the Hephzibah Auxiliary Board since 2011, and am currently the President of the Board. Beginning in 2020 I have volunteered on numerous occasions at the Farmer’s Market. I also volunteer with the Cook County Forest Preserve where I clean up the stretch of Thatcher from Chicago Avenue to North Avenue. There is a reason I am a life-long resident. I love this town and all of its unique characteristics, as well as the people who I consider all my neighbors!
I am committed to serving my Oak Park neighbors by serving on the Park Board, and will look to make the best decisions for all of us. I am honored to say that in my almost eight years on the board I have only missed one meeting (due to illness). I take my role as Park Board Commissioner very serious, and always strive for what is best for the Park District and all residents. I consider it an honor and privilege to serve each resident, and take to heart all comments, ideas and concerns that are presented to me. Thank you for considering voting for me on April 6th!
What challenges face the park district in the near future and how will you as a commissioner address them?
There are two primary challenges that come to mind. First, returning to financial stability following the pandemic. In 2019, the ratio of revenue to tax monies, to support the Park District, was almost 52% versus 48%. That is saying that we are able to rely on revenues via programming to support the Park District more than taxes. Prior to 2018 this had never been the case. But, in 2020, our programming took an obvious blow from Covid-19. In the end, we experienced a major decline in revenues. Fortunately, the Park District had fund balances in place to help mitigate most financial losses. Now, as we see a slow recovery back to the “norm” the Park District will look to return to where it was in 2019 and to return our fund balances back to their necessary levels. The Park District is coming out of the pandemic in a solid way financially-speaking. And, we will have opportunities to strengthen our position.
The second area will be to increase awareness of equity and inclusion with all that the Park District does. We continue to review our policies around equity, and look to ensure that we are inclusive to all Oak Park residents with our programming and various offerings. Over the summer of 2020, the board, as well as the Park District Leadership Team, met with Reesheda Graham Washington (owner of L!VE Café) to discuss the current state of social equity and what we can do to make sure that the Park District is doing all it can do to address any inequalities that may exist.
We do have an equity policy in place to help guide the Park District in its decision-making process. We have reached out to many residents regarding the potential construction of a community recreation center to get their input on how to ensure that the needs of all residents will be addressed with the facility. The Park District continue to learn as we go and always welcome the input of our neighbors throughout Oak Park to keep equity and inclusion in the forefront with all that we do.
Why are you seeking this office and what are your qualifications for holding it?
This will be my third term as Commissioner of Parks. There are three primary reasons why I am running. The first is to see us through the financial issues that we face due to the pandemic. Like I mentioned with the previous question the Park District is doing well to weather this storm. But it will take more work to return to the pre-pandemic level of depending more on revenues versus taxes. Second, I am fully committed to the creation of the Community Recreation Center (CRC). This much-needed facility will bring a host of opportunities to all residents to enjoy many recreational opportunities. We are committed to use mostly private funding for the site.
We will have used some tax dollars that we have in our coffers. But we will not be going to a referendum to ask for additional tax dollars to create the site. The planning of the CRC has been simply extraordinary. We have had multiple virtual meetings about it and have addressed many concerns and ideas for the facility. We are still a ways off of where we need to be to get the shovel in the ground. The Parks Foundation is handling the fundraising component. I am confident that we will start construction in the near future.
And, finally, I am on several committees with the Illinois Association of Park Districts. The Park District of Oak Park is a leader in the state when it comes to many aspects of running a successful park district. I wish to continue the dialog I have had with many commissioners on the committees for which I serve, and to share ideas to make our park district even greater. Networking with them can be extremely rewarding for our community.
What aspects of the park district, regarding services and community engagement, need improvement and how do you plan to make such improvements?
I know that there is always room for improvement with all aspects of our local government. The Park District is no different. As previously mentioned, keeping a keen eye towards equitable programming for all is one for us to continue to focus on.
The Park District just upgraded its registration system and has received lots of good feedback. We are looking at upgrading the web site as well to provide even better information for all. I feel like the communication that the Park District presents is very solid and informative. For instance, when we have a master planning session for a specific park or center, we provide flyers to all local residents to attend and present their opinions and ideas. The Park District uses social media in a big way to get information out as well. Ensuring that residents receive timely communications, as well as engagement, are two of the strengths of the organization.
What can the park district do to increase environmental sustainability and equity of all forms within the community?
These are really two completely separate concepts. I have addressed the question on equity in the first question asked. As for sustainability, the Park District is The Leader with environmental sustainability with Illinois park districts. We have a keen focus on identifying areas where we can leverage sustainable practices. Honestly, there are so many examples that it is really hard to share them all.
I will say, if you have not done so already, please go on a sustainable tour with our parks and centers. The first stop needs to be The Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center to see sustainability in action. Then, head over to the newly reopened Carroll Center to see all that we have done there. If that is not enough, take a look at the roof top of the Ridgeland Commons Recreation Center, where you will notice the entire south side has solar panels providing huge savings for the Park District. To date, we are utilizing solar energy at 7 locations, created geothermal heating/cooling at 2 sites (with a third in Pleasant Home which will be coming onboard), and have installed cisterns at 4 facilities.
Along with this the Park District has been asked to speak both locally and nationally regarding our successful sustainability efforts. I can keep going, but I hope you see with these examples that we lead the way with environmental sustainability!
At this moment, how do you perceive the park district’s balance between passive park space and active park space?
I believe the balance is really good. Parks are meant to provide opportunities at so many levels. To be able to have a soccer game being played at Lindberg on the east side, while offering a quiet escape in the trial gardens at the west end, is a simple example of how we look to achieve the balance. Some parks are geared more towards recreation, like Barrie. Then you have Austin Gardens that is our own little gem in the heart of downtown Oak Park where you can sit, relax and escape the busy life for a moment. We are a landlocked community so we only have just over 80 acres of parkland available. What we do have the Park District makes great use of, and always tries to provide for the needs of all residents.
The park district is using donations to fund the proposed community recreation center instead of using tax revenues. Why is this project important and how will building it improve the wellbeing of citizens?
I have addressed some of this already. Like I mentioned, there will be some tax dollars used to help create this center. But we look to use no new tax monies to help build the CRC. There is a great deal of positives to take away with the facility. It will allow Oak Park residents an affordable option to exercise with state-of-the-art equipment, as well a walking track and a full-size gym. There will be enough space to host other activities, such as E-Sports, fitness classes, programming for all ages, and an array of other activities.
The Park District is partnering with various non-profit organizations to allow them to use the facility for their own programming. Other benefits include having a place for teens to go to after school, becoming less dependent on other Oak Park taxing bodies for space for the Park District programming, and having a central location where Oak Park residents can have their recreational needs met. The Park District is keeping a focus on inclusion for all with the new site. And, it is making great strides to bring multiple forms of environmental sustainability to the building. In my opinion, it is a thoroughly planned facility that will be a true recreational gem for all of Oak Park. I am 100% behind this project.