Johann Buis

River Forest Village Trustee Candidate

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*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies

I am a long-time River Forest resident, with 23 years of River Forest community advocacy, always drawn to working in service of the greater community. I developed fluency with village operations, collaborated and negotiated with outside government and commercial entities including Union Pacific Rail, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, Jewel-Osco Supermarkets, and more. I have led macro and micro discussions, I am currently a Traffic and Safety Commissioner, I have served on the Flood Task Force, lead Metra Third Rail expansion negotiations, been a District 90 Diversity Committee member, and a former Condo Association President for the betterment of RF community. I look forward to continuing to use these skills for the entirety of River Forest.

I am in my 19th year as an Associate Professor of Musicology, Wheaton College, Illinois where I founded the Black Faculty and Staff Organization and have been a leader in Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion. While teaching at the Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College Chicago, I started 22 seasons of lecturing at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), when River Forest resident Henry Fogel was their President. I am also a former Fulbright Fellow and a Rockefeller postdoctoral award recipient.

My platform is three-fold: Vision, Integrity, and Advocacy. We must address pressing issues of infrastructure, fiscal responsibility, and environmental sustainability in our land-locked village. My long-term vision is to address flood containment, put in place plans to contain the risk of hazardous material disasters along our rail lines, and modernizing our zoning codes to improve our village. These steps will allow our village to adapt more readily to climate change and avoid placing undue financial strain on our taxpayers in the future. The time to address these issues is now and creating cohesive plans for implementation will benefit us greatly as we move forward.

As a village trustee, I will put the needs of the residents first, keeping our operations lean and making choices with integrity. I see myself as a steward of our shared resources and will carefully listen and balance the needs of the citizens and village. I will make sure to proactively seek out residents who may be impacted by upcoming board issues, engage and be available and listen carefully. Everyone deserves a voice in our community and a transparent decision-making process. I will work to build bridges between our citizens and carefully balance the needs of the whole community and those of impacted groups in areas like floodwater management, aging in place, and equity. I hope I will have your vote on April 6. To find out more about my campaign, visit​.


How will recent discussions on equity inside village hall affect your approach to hiring a new village administrator?

Leadership is power ​with​ people, rather than power ​over​ people. Therefore, the Administrator, working to serve the Board and the residents, brings professional skills, insights, and consultative judgments for the common good of the village. Fiscal responsibility, long-range planning, and interpersonal relations are simultaneously challenges and opportunities for the incoming village administrator. 

In transitioning from a long-term administrator, we lose institutional knowledge, a task of cardinal importance for the village Board. My long experience and institutional knowledge in the village—having worked with three administrators–will benefit us all as we hire and help our new administrator navigate the learning curve. 

A careful Board will be able to share power with the new administrator and guide them in their role while appreciating their expertise. After all, the Board must value the new village administrator’s role as the lynchpin in administering the village. For most of my time as a River Forest resident, I noticed that the ethnic diversity of our village (about 7% Black American residents and about 7% Asian-American residents) is not evidenced among the 72 village employees. Equity in village hall enhances the diversity of perspective and sensitivity in communication. I will expect that the new village administrator should have intentionality towards equity beyond racial inclusion, but also differently-abled persons, age sensitivity, and more. 

I will seek out candidates who have experience with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as well as the management skills necessary to run our village. Equity of racial minorities, gender, differently-abled persons, age sensitivity, and similar matters, exist when the dominant group treats a non-dominant group in the same manner as the first group. The dominant group ensures equity when the non-dominant group has the resources they need. There is increasing openness in the village to examine racial and other equities among the residents. 

For me, racial and related equities have never been an abstract concept. I grew up in apartheid South Africa, the son of a black father who taught me to always reach beyond the status quo and despite those circumstances we could not change, to build bridges rather than burn them. For me, the real enemy is not my fellow human, it is hate. If my father and the great Nelson Mandela can build those bridges under the circumstances they faced, what can I do but follow in their footsteps? Therefore, a new Village Administrator should display a sensitivity of matters of divergent equities. This posture of the future Village Administrator is a non-negotiable requirement in my book. 

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite” –Nelson Mandela.

Why are you seeking this office and what qualifications do you have to serve in this capacity?

I seek the common good for all River Forest residents. I see myself as a bridge-builder across opposing viewpoints. I believe we must find solutions by building bridges of understanding. 

●As a current Traffic and Safety Commissioner I have worked on individual and village level issues, including safe walking routes to our schools, installing safety signals, and helping to develop a major parking study. I understand the dynamics of how our land-locked village functions and how people live in and travel through it. 

●As a former Flood Control Task Force member, I have lived through, and been personally impacted by the flooding of 2008. I know that this will not be the last major flood we will experience, due to ever-increasing climate change. I have the knowledge and experience to guide the upcoming flood plan and would be the only member of the Board, if elected, to have been on that task force who lived through the experience. I care about maintaining the safety of the homes and businesses in River Forest as we face climate change; and I know that for our village, water management will be key to how well we face the future. 

●With my long experience in community advocacy, I feel compelled to bring my unique background and skills to bear for the benefit of our village. I have lived in River Forest for 23 years and I understand the value of finding ways to improve our village, finding points of commonality, and promoting the well-being of River Forest. 

●As an immigrant and naturalized US citizen who grew up under ​apartheid​ rule in South Africa, I’ve learned the value of reaching deeper to find solutions, standing up for my fellow citizens, and of deeply respecting the humanity of every person I meet. These qualities help create growth at the Board table. 

●My experience in the community will help us make wise decisions based on our shared values as well as stretch our thinking in innovative directions. 

●My experience teaching in the arts will be a valuable asset as we navigate the difficult issues the Board must decide, carefully balancing the needs of the community. 

●As a west-side resident, my neighbors include the residents of Maywood. We share the Des Plaines River. I believe it would benefit our Board to have a Board member who has lived experience in the south and west parts of the village. Currently, all the trustees and trustee candidates come from the northern portion of the village. While I will represent everyone, I understand the nuance of living on a major street and near the river.

Do you think there is a need to control the deer population in River Forest? If so, what measures would you support to do so? If not, how would you respond to those who have experienced property or foliage damage as a result of deer in the village?

The deer population in River Forest is certainly of concern to many citizens. I take seriously the need to reduce deer-related traffic accidents and the potential for Lyme and other diseases associated with deer. During this pandemic, we need to be fiscally minded in all things, so we must engage in a multi-pronged approach to deer management. Beginning with partnering with the Forest Preserve of Cook County to understand how other municipalities are addressing their forest-edge dwellers and educating our population to refrain from feeding the deer and to help them maintain a healthier distance from people and yards. 

I would take seriously both proposals presented by the deer committee and former members of the deer committee and not make any final decisions until those pieces of evidence have been presented. The village president has indicated an unwillingness to approve an expenditure for culling at this point and given that, we will need to look creatively at all solutions available to us. 

Many of our deer-related issues are also related to flooding, which is a key point of my platform. Flooding in our community changes the environment for both humans and deer, bringing us into closer contact. I live near Thatcher Woods and the Des Plaines River and will consider the impact of our upcoming flood prevention plan on the deer population as well. I will think creatively and holistically to support a multi-pronged approach towards deer management based on the needs of the floodplain and the needs of our citizens.

River Forest has used piecemeal approaches to economic development projects, such as Lake and Lathrop, how would you improve the development process?

Improving our economic development projects begins with modernizing our zoning codes and creating a plan to attract complementary businesses. By modernizing our zoning codes, we can simultaneously ease the development process for developers and homeowners alike, address affordable housing (the “missing middle housing plan” for the middle class), and reduce the use of variances for development. Our piecemeal approach has led to areas with a density that lacks sufficient parking or green space, as well as projects that take too long to complete or are given variances beyond what may be reasonable. 

As a small, land-locked village, we need to make sure that we are making the best, most balanced use of our land. We need to work with our developers to best identify price points and help them maintain schedules so we are not left with projects that remain unfinished with significant clawbacks, as we see at Lake and Lathrop. 

The use of the Lake Street TIF was significant in revitalizing the east end of Lake Street and I am hopeful that we can bring that vibrancy to Madison Street and North Avenue while maintaining the character of our village by supporting complementary businesses and meeting the needs of the residents in and adjacent to those TIF areas, though it will be some time before either of those projects come to fruition. 

Our small businesses are our lifeblood and along with the addition of new business, I would like to make River Forest a local center for the arts and for sports by working with our Chamber of Commerce, neighboring municipalities, and the other taxing bodies within River Forest to fill the need for arts and sports in the near western suburbs. As a Traffic and Safety Commissioner, I’ve been intimately involved in some of the unintended consequences of development and I would work with the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Development Review Board to modernize in a thoughtful way that will benefit our economic development.

In a community best known for its affluent housing, what are the economic and social benefits of increasing affordable housing in River Forest?

While the community is known for affluent housing and historic architecture, it is important to remember that, according to the River Forest comprehensive plan, 31% of River Forest Residents live in multi-family or single-family attached housing. I myself live in a townhome. 

First, our affordable housing stock is below the 10% state minimum, and second, a significant number of River Forest residents are also significantly housing cost-burdened, both of which are housing needs we must address proactively. We need to better track our housing stock and protect our existing affordable housing stock as well as work to develop ways to support our housing cost-burdened residents. The last thing River Forest needs is a wave of foreclosures in the wake of the pandemic. 

We are a community that cares about one another, and affordable housing (the “missing middle housing plan” for the middle class) doesn’t just benefit the poor; equitable housing also benefits the middle class. The teachers, lawyers, nurses, artists, paramedics, fire, police, and village employees who want to live and work in this community, the returning young adults, and the aging seniors–these are the people who will utilize our affordable and moderate-income housing. They are of benefit to us all. 

By first maintaining and then expanding affordable housing and the homes of our moderate-income residents, we all benefit by being home to a vibrant and rich community with skills that are then volunteered in our village and in our community. Affordable housing does not decrease the property values of the surrounding homes, it improves the quality of schools by increasing diversity, and it builds on our strong village character. 

From a development perspective, affordable housing can be made desirable to developers by the modernization of our zoning code and the addition of density bonuses for affordable housing. We can track and protect current affordable housing so that when projects that include current affordable housing make it to our development review board, we have the knowledge and plans in place to support positive decisions for the community and for developers. I appreciate the large and gracious homes that line so many of our streets, but I see just as much to be proud of in our townhomes and apartments. We need all of them to make River Forest a thriving community.

If you are an incumbent, what accomplishments are you proud of most? If you have not served on the village board, what is the primary goal you would like to accomplish if elected?

I have three major goals I would like to accomplish as a Board member. My first goal is a forward-thinking, long-range disaster management plan. The first step will be our upcoming water management plan, it must take into account the likelihood of increased flooding in the future, as climate projections predict additional rainfall and risk of flood for our region. We must aim for robust flood containment. As a former Flood Task Force Member, I understand what that will take. A second step is creating a long-range and more defined rail and transit disaster mitigation and containment strategy, working with our neighboring communities who share the rail lines with us, with Metra and with Union Pacific and Canadian North, and our regional response network. We need to make sure our police and fire departments and municipalities have what they need to contain the hazardous materials that come through our community. As a leader negotiating safety with the Union Pacific/Metra Third Rail expansion, I am prepared to continue that work. My work as a Traffic and Safety Commissioner has only brought home and underscored those needs. 

My second goal is the modernization of our zoning code. Former Village Administrator Eric Palm underscored the need to modernize our zoning code and in doing so we can ease the administrative burden on homeowners and local businesses, create a better climate for development in line with our comprehensive plan and create a system of bonuses that offer the village and developers win-win solutions to creating affordable housing while fostering the character of our village. 

My third and final goal is strengthening our relationships with our neighbors and developing additional collaborative agreements and shared resources, including human and economic resources. Collaborative agreements can benefit cooperative buying power. Strengthening our Twin Village Covenant with Maywood is the first step along that path. We can develop relationships that create synergies in our different departments, which build on relationships that already exist and that offer positive benefit to both communities. Arts and sports-related tourism and cultural celebration days are a wonderful place to start. According to some estimates there is a $19 return on every $1 spent on arts events.  

I intend to work with the other taxing bodies, our neighboring communities, Dominican and Concordia Universities, and our local service organizations to bring about innovative and positive relationships. I envision shared maker-spaces, SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT volunteer tutoring, as well as celebrations of local legends like John Prine, Doc Rivers, and so much more. 

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