*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
Eric Davis has lived in Oak Park for 21 years. He and his wife Suzanne have two children, both of whom attended Hatch Elementary, Brooks Middle, and OPRF High schools. Eric is an architect, currently serving as Deputy Director of the Cook County Department of Capital Planning and Policy.
Eric first served the residents of Oak Park Township as a member of the Youth Services Committee. He was then elected to serve as a Trustee in 2005 and re-elected in 2009. During his second term, Eric received the Elected Official of the Year Award from the Illinois Townships Association of Senior Citizen Service Committees for creating a unified information resource for seniors during periods of extreme and dangerous heat or cold, and the Trustee Award for Excellence from Townships of Illinois for helping to create the new Oak Park Township senior center on Oak Park Avenue.
After the completion of his second term in 2013, he was appointed to serve as a Commissioner of the Oak Park Housing Authority and as a member of the Cook County Zoning Board of Appeals. He was elected to a third term as a Township Trustee in 2017.
Eric has previously also served as the Board’s Liaison to both the Youth Services and Senior Services committees. Currently he is one of the Township’s representatives to iGov, the Oak Park intergovernmental collaborative. In that role, he was one of the organizers of the iGov forum in 2019 about the Future of Taxation, in response to rising residents’ concerns. He has consistently voted for holding the line on levy increases and to cap the Township’s TIF participation.
Eric’s goals for the next term are “to support the Township’s role in healing our community, as the pandemic hopefully subsides, to seek greater intergovernmental cooperation and coordination, to provide more support and better alternatives to the justice system for at-risk youth, and to increase both equity and transparency in Township proceedings and operations.”
Outside of campaigning to serve as township trustee, what experience do you have working or volunteering with the township?
Prior to being elected as a Township Trustee, where I have served now for twelve years, I served as a volunteer member of the Township Youth Services Committee.
What areas of service provided by the township need expansion and how do you intend to carry that out, while keeping taxation reasonable?
This to me is the key question for the next four years at the Township. As I outlined in my letter in the Journal on 12/30, I have proposed what I have referred to as radical collaboration, starting with the Village and Township boards meeting jointly and publicly to consider this question at a policy level. Clearly, the pandemic has already resulted in increased need for mental health services, for residents of all ages.
As the fiduciary for the Community Mental Health Board, and the body that appoints their board, the Township is a critical part of delivering mental health services to Oak Parkers and their families. In addition, experts are expecting a sharp rise in cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as people deal with the long-term impacts of the isolation, job loss, and other effects. At the same time we are seeing increases in substance abuse; the Township’s Preventative Services department clearly has more work it can and ought to be doing, but that too will require more resources. Similarly we are seeing increased needs from our seniors and from the at-risk youth in our middle and high schools.
At the same time, there is a significant segment among our residents who want to change the ways our society deals with the challenges of law enforcement. As an elected official, it is incumbent upon me to help all voices be heard. While I am not in favor of defunding the police, it is worth evaluating, again at a joint Village-Township board conversation, whether there are resources the Village currently allocates in their law enforcement budget that would be better spent, in terms of positive impacts on people’s lives, if the Village was a more affirmative partner with the Township in delivering and expanding the social services we provide.
It was unfortunate that during the term of the current Village board they chose to leave a long partnership among all of the Oak Park taxing bodies to support the impactful and effective Township Youth Services interventionist program. It is my hope that the next Village board is of a mind to move back toward greater partnerships, to helping us fund expanded social services without the need to raise taxes. The Township during my terms has a strong record of fiscal responsibility and I want to continue that tradition.
How as trustee can you help the township address and overcome the novel challenges of operating mid-pandemic and post-pandemic? What are those challenges?
As I noted earlier, I think the Township has a critical role to play, both in addressing our residents’ needs during the pandemic, and also planning for and executing what I expect will be increased need for our services as the pandemic ebbs. Our outstanding Senior Services Department, aided by other Township staff, pivoted quickly when the opportunity arose.
We have worked with the Oak Park (Village) Department of Public Health, to help them connect with and deliver additional doses of the vaccine to seniors, whom we are in contact with, so they don’t go to waste at the end of each day. The Board has provided the resources to help our expert staff at Senior Services step into that role. So far, the Township has helped over 1,000 seniors get the vaccine this way. Our ability to responsive, flexible, and pro-active will be key to adapting to what the world looks like in the future and the ways we may need to adjust how we do what we do on behalf of so many of our community’s most vulnerable residents.
How will you increase community engagement and awareness of township services?
In addition to proposing the joint Village-Township board policy discussion, which I expect would focus residents’ attention more on what we do, I have also proposed that the Township Board start holding our meetings, once the pandemic ebbs, at places outside our building, like at the middle schools, and at some of the senior living facilities in Oak Park, to bring us closer to the populations we and our staff are serving. I also think that what we have learned during the pandemic, in terms of Zoom meetings, should continue, so that those who may not be able to get out to an in-person meeting can still participate.
At a personal level, I think it is incumbent upon us as elected officials to make ourselves more available to the various community and civic groups, who typically only ask us during election cycles, to speak with their members on a more regular basis. The more listening we can do, the more our residents will also be able to hear about what it is we do.
I should note that I have also done this during my current term; as one of the Township’s representatives to iGov, it was my suggestion that was acted upon and which become the public forum on taxation, held at Julian Middle School, with County Assessor (and Oak Parker) Fritz Kaegi, our own state Senator (now Senate President) Don Harmon, and my colleague, Township Assessor Ali El Saffar. It was excellent, if I do say so. I had been hearing residents’ continuing concerns about taxation, a system that is undergoing significant changes, and I felt it important that iGov bring key players together to speak to our residents about the current and future picture with taxation here and across the county and state.
How can the township increase the equitability of its services, considering the many different facets of equity?
Equity is a critical lens through which all elected officials, agency staff, and indeed all of our residents, need to see what we do as a society. It is a complex but necessary challenge, and there are no silver bullets for it. It requires an ongoing commitment. I am proud of my fellow Board members and our Township Manager in that we have engaged an outstanding consulting firm, based here in Oak Park, to help us improve.
The first step is to see the reality, to hear the truth, and to acknowledge the need, the costs, and the impact. That process is underway and ongoing. It has already resulted in some changes, and there will be more. Another way is to make sure that all voices are heard. That is one reason I chose to run for re-election with my friends and colleagues who make up the Community Service Party slate. Together we provide a vision that looks like Oak Park; we reflect a community that includes women and men, people of color, residents who are LGBTQ+, who have been renters as well as homeowners, younger and older members. That is deliberate.
So I think you need to listen, you need to be open, you need to do the work, to not be afraid to ask uncomfortable questions, and to walk the talk in terms of representing all facets of our community. I also think that sends a clear message not just to the public but also to our Township staff, that the Board is strongly on the side of equity.
How can the township improve its reach and grow its service offering without increasing the tax burden on citizens?
I believe my answer to question 2, coupled with my answer to question 4, covers this in more detail. I would just add that my focus for our next four years is on increasing collaboration. While I oppose the effort by our current Village President to eliminate the Township, along with the park and library boards, a move which offered a fake economizing that didn’t pencil out, I do agree that we can achieve more effective services at lower cost to taxpayers by what I refer to as radical collaboration. Since it is just human nature for staff to be more resistant to reducing their own range of functions, it will take more direct board-to-board interaction – more joint meetings – to find the ways to do more good for less. There is much that the Township does well and more we can do with targeted support and teamwork with our sister agencies, not to mention with the help of engaged and informed residents.