*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
I have lived in River Forest for approximately 8 years with my wife, Emily, and my two children Henry (10) and Caroline (7). Both Emily and I are active in the community and volunteer much of our spare time to help benefit the village. Emily volunteers on the Willard PTO, Willard Yearbook Committee, provided design services to improve the Willard Library, just to name a few. I have been on the Park District Board for the last two years, volunteer at Willard Science Fairs, Pancake Breakfasts and many other community events. We are involved in many Park District and affiliate programs and utilize Park District offerings extensively. I have an undergraduate degree in Chemistry from Saint Louis University and hold a Master’s in Business Administration and Master’s in Computational Finance from DePaul University.
I have spent the last two years on the Park Board working with all stakeholders to improve facilities, park conditions and communication with the community. I brought forward creative ideas to add greenspace, beautify the parks and advocated to improve the field conditions for youth sporting programs.
Additionally, I advocated for posting recordings of Park District Board meetings to allow for greater transparency. I pride myself in always being responsive to concerns raised by individuals in the community and seek to hear alternative viewpoints. Like many of you, I have a budget conscious mind and look to maximize the investment return of the community’s tax dollars.
If re-elected, I will seek to further improve park amenities, increase accountability within the Park District and make better use of tax dollars. There are numerous opportunities for the Park District to provide more services and programs to the community. I am confident that, with your support, I can make River Forest an even better place to live.
What challenges face the park district in the near future and how will you as a commissioner address them?
There are multiple potential projects on the horizon that need to be pursued by the Park District including the Keystone East Revitalization Project, Priory Baseball/Soccer Field Improvement Project and procuring indoor space for programming. Park District projects are slow and expensive. Most projects require architectural drawings, engineering studies, review by the Midwest Water Reclamation District, public hearings, minor/major amendments to the intergovernmental agreement with the Village and public bidding. Much of this must occur in series and cannot be done in parallel. By law, government agencies must pay prevailing wage and/or have agreements with vendors that agree to pay prevailing wages.
The “red tape” for vendors is significant and drives some potential bidders away. These factors contribute to slow and expensive projects. Historically, Park District projects have occurred in series. With the number of potential projects on the horizon, I feel the Park District needs to pursue them in parallel to make significant progress and efficiently serve taxpayers. I believe the funds are available in the Capital Improvement Fund and staff has the capacity to make this a reality with a creative Board.
Why are you seeking this office and what are your qualifications for holding it?
I have lived in River Forest for approximately 8 years and believe we have a thriving, tight-knit community. Besides schools, people move to River Forest for the beautiful parks and public facilities. I have two children (7 and 10 years old) that enjoy many offerings provided by the Park District and affiliate programs. Both my wife and I spend lots of time in our parks and know how other families use the parks and Park District facilities. With two years of experience in office, I feel I have a lot more to give and can be even more effective as a leader in our community. I want to do my part to make River Forest an even better place to live.
What aspects of the park district, regarding services and community engagement, need improvement and how do you plan to make such improvements?
Park District does a nice job communicating program offerings via email, their website and the seasonal Fun Guides. I believe there needs to be better communication with the community after each Board meeting. In my experience with the Keystone East Turf Project and the proposed Keystone East Rehabilitation Project many residents form opinions without having all the facts.
While Board materials and minutes are available online, people rarely take the time to read them or search for details. They form opinions based on what they hear through engagements with neighbors, who often do not communicate all of the facts or are biased to some degree. I feel we should post highlights of the Board meetings and/or send monthly or quarterly communications to the community to enhance transparency. Additionally, I believe recordings of Board meetings should be posted on the Park District website.
What can the park district do to increase environmental sustainability and equity of all forms within the community?
I believe the Park District does a good job of recycling, composting, minimizing the use of pesticides, using renewable energy and seeking new ways to be environmentally friendly. Due to the land-locked nature of our community, it is difficult to expand greenspace.
However, shortly after taking office, I proposed closing Keystone Avenue between Central Avenue and Lake Street. This would join Keystone East and West and potentially create space for a dog-park as well as other scenic areas. This would require significant resources to determine the feasibility of such a proposal and was therefore tabled until a later date. I believe we can take some steps to assess the feasibility without large expenditures to see if this could be a reality and if the community would support the idea. In order to expand greenspace, the Park District Board will need to be creative.
I believe that taxpayer dollars should be used as sparingly as possible for things that only benefit a certain group of people. That said, there is an overall benefit to the community from having organized groups or leagues that have proper facilities. In cases where organized groups have requests, I believe they should have some “skin in the game” such that taxpayers are not subsidizing projects that benefit only a small group. I believe projects should be prioritized based on a combination of need, the number of people who would benefit from the project and the cost per beneficiary. I believe all three of these need to be evaluated to determine project priority.
What part does the park district play in the reconfiguring of the River Forest Community Center?
Recently an engineering study was completed that evaluated the River Forest Community Center facility that resulted in a different outlook for the facility than what was originally expected. The engineering study showed that the building is in relatively good shape for its age and there is significant useful life remaining. I believe in the short-term there are opportunities for the Park District to work closely with the Community Center to better utilize the Community Center facility. The Park District needs indoor space for basketball and other indoor programming.
There are ways for the Park District and Community Center to align and provide more value to River Forest taxpayers. Long-term, I believe the building will need a complete renovation at some point. I believe all River Forest agencies should collectively work together to come up with a solution that would likely be spearheaded by the Village as they have the most financial resources to allocate to such a project.
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 the communication from the Park District regarding platform tennis has been insufficient since the program began. There are many in the community who believe this is a private club on public land. That is simply not the case as this is no different than any other Park District program. Anyone can play so long as they pay the fees. This is no different than virtually any other Park District or affiliate program. One cannot participate in baseball, soccer, hockey, swim in public pools, etc. without paying a fee.
For those in financial need, the Park District has a program to make Platform Tennis accessible at significantly reduced fees. Many public facilities (Park Districts and Forest Preserves) have similar business models including Oak Park Tennis Center, Paul Hruby Ice Arena (Ridgeland Commons), numerous park district golf facilities, and community pools. If you are looking to see if this is a sport for you, there are non-prime hours that you can play (first come, first serve) to try it out. I believe the need for more platform tennis courts is compelling.
Last year, there were 257 season pass holders. This year, the Park District has seen this grow to 381, with kids and adults of all ages participating. Manufactures recommend that there is 1 court per 50-60 players. Currently, River Forest has approximately 95 passholders per court. Courts are regularly booked one week in advance and many passholders are unable to get the court time they desire. I believe the Park District should delay any action on the multi-purpose facility that is included in the feasibility study to gauge support from those who would pay for it; platform tennis season pass holders.