Patty Henek

River Forest Village President Candidate

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*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies

Like many, life experiences formed my value system.  I grew up in the Austin community of Chicago and attended Trinity High School before graduating from Eastern Illinois in 1989.  My professional career — from Hephzibah Assistant Daycare Director through operational and leadership positions at local Non Governmental Organizations — has been in service to the community.  I am a married mother of two, a 20-year village resident, and a steadfast advocate for River Forest.  

You may know me through my leadership as a LemonAid co-founder, the Holiday Food & Gift Basket program director, a Lincoln/Roosevelt PTO president, and A House in Austin board member.  I’m proud that while LemonAid started as a way to model for children that dark days can turn bright by service to others, 20 local organizations have been transformed by our responsive community fundraising. My experience with the programs I served led me to run for the Village board where varied community concerns could be addressed.

During my 4 years as village trustee we began to address many big issues: economic development and zoning, the Comprehensive Plan, the Affordable Housing Plan, the Twin Village Covenant with Maywood, establishment of the senior commission, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives.  More work is needed and I am the person to lead the effort.

But what does my engagement mean for the community?  The common thread in my experience is community building from rigorous preparation and constructive curiosity; full examination of issues; and a willingness to bridge-build between differing positions to craft more representative outcomes.  I welcome input from others because everyone’s lived experience is different.  I am running for Village President because I value the importance of good governance, transparency and accessible and inclusive public deliberations, and we have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to mentor our new Village Administrator with these values.  

The Village Board has a single employee, the Village Administrator, a professionally-trained municipal manager who functions as CEO to oversee staff.   The administrator manages the day-to-day responsibilities, overseeing finance, public safety, public works, human resources, planning and zoning, and general administration. I look forward to working with the new Village Administrator to achieve measurable progress.  

  • After 11 years, we are still looking at an empty lot at Lake & Lathrop.  Can we risk the same on Madison or North Ave.? Can we afford another debacle like Lake and Lathrop?
  • It took 17 years to be minimally compliant with a state law requiring an affordable housing plan.  How is this acceptable?
  • It took 5 years for the Village to join Dominican’s Racial Healing initiative when racial justice issues are not new.  In 2021, how can we delay true progress?  

We are at a critical moment where bold steps, not hopeful actions are needed.  We deserve more than status quo. Under my leadership, together, we will achieve real gains on economic development, financial transparency, diversity, sustainability, and much more.

If you want a results-oriented leader who models inclusion, integrity and transparency, please vote for me on April 6.


In your time on the village board, what are your biggest accomplishments and how did those accomplishments work to benefit the entire community?

I am not one to singularly own Board accomplishments.  Effective leadership to me means inspiring engagement at all levels, both inside the administration and within the community and credit belongs to the collective. As a Board, I am proud to be a part of the following Village initiatives: new Village Comprehensive Plan; Welcoming Resolution; creation of the North Avenue TIF; Madison St. TIF property acquisitions; Twin Village Covenant with Maywood; partnership with Dominican University on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI); and, balanced Village Budgets. Combined, these accomplishments have laid the foundation to stabilize taxes; broaden engagement across neighboring borders; ensure inclusion of all residents, and deliver financial stewardship.  But more is needed. Status quo cannot be acceptable.

Building on this foundation to advance real change demands intentional planning and implementation. I will bring residents into the solutions by creating a culture and system that values and recruits input from all. Together, we will achieve real gains on economic development, diversity, sustainability, and much more.   

I am equally proud of the instances in which I have demonstrated principled independence by voting NO on: the Lake & Lathrop project extensions (a lack of confidence in developer’s project management and unwillingness to support existing businesses); the minimally compliant Affordable Housing Plan (the need for a more robust goal); and, the Red Light Camera Program (the lack of requested data to make an informed decision).

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

“Affordable housing” as a phrase has recently become weaponized. To me, affordable housing:

  • ensures quality housing stock at varied price points (providing new and existing residents housing aligned with changing life needs);
  • fosters economic diversity and inclusion which enriches the village’s social fabric; 
  • allows households increased discretionary spending in the community; 
  • maintains intergenerational community ties without displacing residents. 

River Forest is in the bottom 4% of Illinois cities in providing affordable housing.  In 2003, the IL State legislature set a minimum benchmark for municipalities to maintain 10% of its housing stock as affordable housing and stipulated that a municipality below this minimum develop a plan to reach this benchmark.  It took River Forest 17 years to create a minimally-compliant plan, resulting in my NO vote.

I will vote YES on a more robust plan with actionable steps to reach higher compliance goals.   

Five years from now, how should we measure the success of the twin city covenant between River Forest and Maywood?

Success to me means ever- increasing interactions between our communities because there is synergy that can be more fully realized.  Oak Park and River Forest enjoy a cooperative relationship that seemingly continues naturally.  That relationship required intentionality, at first, and I see the Twin Village Covenant as the first step in a similarly-organic relationship with Maywood.  That could mean annual co-sponsored events, partnering to advocate for forest preserve improvements and programming, or implementing shared services or infrastructure projects that are mutually beneficial.  The greatest success, however, will be measured when residents in both communities see and treat each other as neighbors.

I personally see the forest preserves as a great place to foster these relationships.  For too long it has been a convenient barrier between our communities.  An event similar to A Day in Our Village could be organized to showcase what both communities have to offer.  Collaboration with boat launch activities or a sidewalk along Chicago Avenue to allow safe passage to Trailside would represent physical signs of the Twin Covenant.  The opportunities are endless.

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

The Village Board has a single employee, the Village Administrator, a professionally-trained municipal manager who functions as the CEO to oversee Village staff.  We have a terrific staff and the once-in-a-decade opportunity to hire and mentor the new village administrator with an emphasis on transparency and inclusivity, attributes I believe lead to good governance.

I am a big believer in a 360 degree review of all village functions.  I championed the creation of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Ad Hoc Advisory Group and believe it is the appropriate place to conduct a thorough review of internal and external initiatives, actions, and operating procedures to identify areas to revise in policy, training, and engagement for all village departments.  As the Village administrator is intended to co-chair this Group, I will look for an administrator with DEI experience and a thorough understanding of how to lead a community like River Forest forward. This person should have a clear vision of the importance of this experience and look to affect policy through this lense at all times.

How do you plan to support the local businesses experiencing economic uncertainty due to COVID-19?

My leadership philosophy is rooted in collaboration and inclusion.   After a November Economic Development Commission (EDC) to address local business support during COVID, I submitted ideas to the chair and village staff that included creating a “Business Spotlight” in the Village newsletter and having regular Facebook posts that highlight a list of local businesses; the ideas were quickly implemented. 

As President, I would engage the EDC and the OPRF Chamber of Commerce to promote businesses.  That might initially mean more digital, socially-distant promotions, adding in-person events as COVID regulations allow.  I would direct staff to draft a budget and recommended guideline to offer business grants for impacted businesses.  This Board review could also include consideration of the temporary suspension or reduction in business fees.  We learned from the Lake & Lathrop development process that equitable access to business support was missing and while some displaced businesses received financial support others did not.  I believe the development of consistent protocols is essential if the Village is to ensure fidelity across all business initiatives.

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?

I believe residents have multiple issues and varied concerns with the deer population.  I believe there is a need for a deer management plan, as supported by my research and by advice from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).

I believe there are multiple solutions to address resident concerns.  However, any resolution must include an active partnership with the Cook County Forest Preserves to be effective long term.  While it is possible that culling may be part of the solution, I believe answering the Journal’s question begs more investigation by a representative body.  Still needed in order to identify long term solutions are: a detailed baseline to assess the current situation; further review of community tolerance for deer; and an understanding of the IDNR and Forest Preserve roles in a deer management plan. 

When solutions are identified, the Board should consider them and their implementation in the context of the overall budget. 

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