*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
I have lived in River Forest since the Fall of 1998. My wife Sheryl and I moved here just after the birth of our first of three kids. We moved here mostly because of the solid school system, but also to be close to my business. Homes in River Forest were still affordable back then.
We have three kids – Jake, Josh and Maddi.
The boys are in college and Maddi will finish up her high school career at OPRF this spring. Even though we will be empty nesters soon, we will be busy visiting the boys and following Maddi around during her college years as she will be playing college softball at the University of Louisville.
I own a business in town and it is essentially my fondest hobby. I really, really enjoy being in the office managing clients’ needs and doing it with my awesome staff team. Sheryl is a principal at a public accounting firm. Her clients keep her super busy. She could “run circles” around me given her business acumen.
Away from family and business, we are probably like most people in town. We have volunteered in the school systems, support many charities-mostly local, sat on various boards, stepped up to help with managing kids’ activities/teams and like hanging out with friends and neighbors. I am particularly proud of what was accomplished in my 37 seasons of coaching. Lots of fun, lots of memories created and lots of great connections with parents – many relationships that are still strong to this day. I greatly miss being away from the game and the kids. I liked teaching the game, developing good sportspersonship and also attempting to spark leadership skills.
Turning back the clock quite a bit more: I grew up in a small town, Hennepin, in “downstate” Illinois. It is really more West than South, but Chicago area folks pretty much call everything those directions “downstate”. Hennepin’s population has been stuck on 750 people for about 100 years. My high school class had 89 kids. My family ribs me – they say anyone could be a valedictorian in a class that small. After Putnam Count High School I attended Bradley University in Peoria. I received my BS in Finance in 1989 and followed up with an MBA in 1991.
What challenges face the park district in the near future and how will you as a commissioner address them?
The immediate need for the Park District is the need for a comprehensive, long-term Master Plan. The board needs to change and must consider community feedback. Current efforts have failed to do this. A major component and information source for moving into the future – the 2020 Community Survey results – are, basically, being ignored. One particular item, Youth Sports, the #1 most important item (on page 6) NEEDS to be explored and discussed. The community is owed a response. A long-term plan considers known needs (improvements/upgrade – “musts of what we have already) and then add community WANTS – the village’s wish list. Based on available capital, projects costs, park space, etc., all things come together to establish the plan. This plan is revisited often to implement change for unknowns and activity/program/camp performance. Currently, this does not happen.
A board member’s role is essentially the same as a business owner. I own and run a business. What I do at and within my business can be used in creating success. We need to ensure that the Park District’s offerings, budget and space sync with the community and our environment.
Why are you seeking this office and what are your qualifications for holding it?
I actually thought at this point in my life my focus could simplify down to family and business. Minimally, take a pause on other things for a bit…but not so. There will be no “riding off into the sunset” just quite yet. I have a passion for stepping up when there is a challenge and need for change and to make things better. Right now, we need to get re-focused on the community and our KIDS in particular. Specifically, there may be opportunities that might not come to fruition for park goers based on where funds might be allocated. (I will discuss this in my answer to Q#6.) Focus needs to be on ALL stakeholders to our parks – people that currently use our parks AND potentials as well.
I previously discussed one of my qualifications – running a business. I have also served on boards before – holding roles of treasurer, president, moderator, fundraiser and general director.
What aspects of the park district, regarding services and community engagement, need improvement and how do you plan to make such improvements?
Community Engagement – This topic is quite dichotomous. A Community Survey is conducted fairly regularly to engage the village. One was sent out in 2020 – professionally developed, sent out, received and tabulated. The survey was sound and received a valid response. The board engaged the community. Well done.
However, the board ignored and continues to NOT address the results. The survey contains significant, striking, and useful information. NO minor or significant initiatives are truly being considered around “Youth Sports”. Also, TWO-THIRDS (63%) of the village want NO MORE spending – $0 – on Platform Tennis AND massive amount of board time and Park District staff time over the last TWO YEARS, actually, has been involved in expanding this activity (that resembles a club to the community).
Again, I will address this in detail in Q#6. If this is so, but the board feels compelled to move in a direction AWAY from the community – let’s get back to the community and actually see what “no more” means! Based on current participation, pent up demand, an opportunity to change fees (survey current PT people!), application of financial responsibility (fiduciary duty to the community), the community may need another court or two. We simply do not have the information right now to determine this.
However, as I will state, that I firmly disagree with the building of a pricy “warming hut” – it does not serve the broad RF community. Additionally, even now, it communicates a sour image to non-participants. In the future, if built, it will certainly communicate a negative image to our neighboring towns. This may even erode what the village is trying to do in partnering with our neighbors. Our community will “win” if the board can work together and continually have the mindset of a fiduciary – in budget, in equity and in “green”.
What can the park district do to increase environmental sustainability and equity of all forms within the community?
Unfortunately, our park system is small in area – only about 30 acres. We have little room for error. Regardless of size, we need to thoughtfully maintain or implement changes to our grounds. We need to have the mindset of a responsible visitor and conduct ourselves from that perspective. Specifically, we have opportunities to improve our park system through smart planting, habitat establishment and conversion of equipment and vehicles to bio-friendly means.
What part does the park district play in the reconfiguring of the River Forest Community Center?
The RFPD was really in the “back seat” on this. However, the PD, along with seven other governmental entities and not-for-profit organizations, has been participating in the feasibility study conducted by the Village and Cordogan/Clark to assess the needs of each organization and explore the cost and practicality of potentially combining all of the needs in one facility. Preliminary findings of the Feasibility Study indicate a limited need for a new facility for several of the participating entities, including the school districts. Given the challenges presented by COVID, and the cost projections for a building to meet the various needs, at the end of the day, it looks like a combined facility will be cost prohibitive.
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?
Platform Tennis, indeed, is very controversial. It is a heated topic because, basically, a lot and money has been spent and even more could be on a small segment of our population. Money- Past costs and future spending could amount to about $2.5MM. Many residents are uncomfortable – to say the least – that almost $500K – $476K at this juncture, I believe, of the initial 4 court project from NINE YEARS ago, is still owed. Even though this idea – a “feasibility study” – for more PT development is not yet decided, this long, detailed planning process is very, very real. There is a risk that all of this could get voted thru INCLUDING the warming hut.
No other project in the past, present or into the foreseeable future has come anywhere near the bill for this sport. Participant Numbers – About 98% of River Forest does not play platform tennis – roughly 250 people do play. Land- Many residents also think that just the land use alone is not fair – whether the group is defined as a club or not. Funding- It appears that a major development could use a significant amount of PD capital – money that would not be available for other things.
Also, it appears that the “warming hut” may be funded and paid for via a revenue bond – debt signed for by the Park District – which could potentially be assigned back to the taxpayer.
However, we may have an opportunity, based on what appears to be a growing demand in this sport – to increase fees and accelerate money coming back to the Park District to pay down expenses related to platform tennis. As a board member, I would be open to explore reasonable alternatives to minimize the impact on taxpayers while balancing the needs of residents and platform tennis participants.
The Hut- This is truly the “elephant in the room”. Unfortunately, the goal to “satisfy all stakeholders” cannot be accomplished by having or not having the hut. One side will be pleased and the other will not. I will NOT approve a warming hut, for many reasons and perspectives already discussed.