*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
I am running to serve a second term as a River Forest Village Board Trustee. I would like to continue serving our residents in making River Forest a place where our residents feel safe and can continue to enjoy economically and socially living here. River Forest is a wonderful community comprised of great schools, historic homes, green scenery and neighborly residents, all of which attracted my wife Annie and me to join this community.
In my experience working with public bodies, I convened public meetings, listen to many people, and balance the needs of the varied positions and viewpoints expressed at these meetings. I regularly deal with issues that are quite personal, emotional and controversial. In dealing with such issues, I am approachable, patient, a good listener, a good communicator, and a consensus builder. I find these innate traits to be helpful in reaching a balanced and measured decision that benefits a community. I am committed to continue to do the same for River Forest. I would be honored to serve the River Forest residents and I hope you will vote for me for Village Board Trustee on April 6th.
How will recent discussions on equity inside village hall affect your approach to hiring a new village administrator?
Equity is the fair and respectful treatment of all people and provide fair access to information and resources for all. Diversity is the recognition and respect of everyone’s unique qualities and attributes. Inclusion means building an environment of belonging, so all individuals feel respected, accepted, and valued. [Terms collectively known as “DEI.]
I have been supportive and have been an advocate for DEI early on in my life. I became involved in District 90’s Inclusive Advisory Board (IAB) since 2016 before recent events and discussions in the larger community. Although I welcome the larger discussions in the community, I am saddened of the negative and violent events that sparked these discussions. However, I support the Village Board’s direction in pursuing the following DEI initiatives:
- The Village has approved a mutually beneficial partnership with Dominican University in collaboration with Concordia University to assist the Village in creating a community committed to racial and social justice. The partnership will build on the work of the university’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) initiative. TRHT is a nationally recognized, community-based initiative for racial justice. Dominican is one of the first universities across the country to be designated as a TRHT Campus Center by the American Association of Colleges and Universities.
- The Village is in the process of creating an advisory group that would review the removal of barriers that prevent the participation, engagement, and welcoming & equitable environment for all of residents, business members, visitors, and employees in municipal services, community, and civic engagement.
- Both the Village of River Forest and the Village of Maywood unanimously approved the Twin Village Covenant committing both Villages to the principles of humanity, equity, and inclusion.
Additionally, I would focus on the search and replacement of our Village Administrator (VA). Our past VA, Eric Palm, recently left, leaving a key position to fill. We currently have an Interim VA who is doing a terrific job; however, we will need to fill the VA position permanently. It is important that the Village Board conduct a search for a new Village Administrator that is qualified to serve and meet the needs of our residents. The Village Administrator is an important position as it is usually the initial contact with our residents. As such, the Village Administrator will need to understand government, possess positive management skills, be an efficient and effective problem solver and know how to communicate and work with residents. I also support having more diversity in our Village administration, police, fire and public works departments.
Why are you seeking this office and what qualifications do you have to serve in this capacity?
I would like to continue to serve the best interests of our River Forest residents since there is more work to do (see my responses below).
Regarding my professional background, I have the following experience in both the public and private sectors:
- I am an attorney and I have focused my practice in education/school law.
- Served in the public sector for a total of 18 years including:
- Serves as In-House General Counsel for Elgin Community College.
- Served as In-House General Counsel for Illinois State Board of Education and City Colleges of Chicago.
- Served as Illinois State Superintendent of Education.
- Served as In-House Counsel for Chicago Public Schools.
- Served as an attorney for the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.
- Served in the private sector for a total of 16 years as a former partner at the private law firm of Franczek P.C. for 16 years, focusing my practice in representing public elementary & secondary schools, community colleges and state universities.
- Acknowledged as one of the Most Influential Minority Attorneys in 2017 by Crain’s.
Additionally, I have the following community service in River Forest:
- Serve as Village Trustee for River Forest 2017-2021.
- Serve as Chair of the Age Friendly Ad Hoc Committee for the Village of River Forest.
- Serve on the Inclusive Advisory Board for the River Forest District 90 since 2016.
- Serve as Pronouncer/Judge for the River Forest District 90 Spelling Bee since 2017.
- Served on the Imagine Group for the Oak Park River Forest High School 200 in 2017-18.
- Participated and completed the Oak Park Foundation Leadership Lab 2017-2018.
I am hoping to bring my positive experiences to the Village Board in serving the best interests of our River Forest community.
Do you think there is a need to control the deer population in River Forest? If so, what measure 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 do believe that there is a need to address the deer population in River Forest. I supported the creation of the Deer Management Ad Hoc Committee with the mission and purpose of investigating and providing the Village Board with a written report containing short and long term recommendations regarding a spectrum of deer management options. Most recently, I was saddened to hear that some of the committee members resigned, feeling that their viewpoint was not heard or represented in the pending written report to be released. I welcome the written reports from any and all committee members who would like to submit recommendations to the Village Board. I commit to reviewing each report before voting on any of the deer management recommendations and options.
River Forest has used piecemeal approaches to economic development projects, such as Lake and Lathrop, how would you improve the development process?
Our Village has the following challenges:
- The Village is landlocked and limited to our current Village boundaries.
- About ½ of the real estate property in the Village is not taxable due to the tax-exempt properties (i.e., universities, religious institutions, not-for-profits, etc.).
- There is limited real estate property available for commercial development.
Despite these challenges, the Village has successfully completed economic development projects such as:
- Town Center on Lake & Harlem.
- Fresh Thyme on North Avenue & Lathrop.
- Sheridan on Chicago & Harlem.
I support enhancing commercial development as the taxable revenue source in lieu of increasing residential property taxes, providing relief to our residents. Additionally, I am in support of TIF districts and I do believe that they can be a good and effective use of taxpayer funds.
Because of the limitations above, the Village Board has focused on the two TIF districts on Madison Street and North Avenue. The Madison Street TIF was created in November 2016.
Funds from this TIF were used to move two businesses, “Skincare Company” and the “In and Out Fitness” from Lake Street to Madison Street. By doing so, the Village was able to keep these businesses in River Forest. Regarding the North Avenue TIF, it was created in August 2018. In Illinois, the life of a TIF district is for a maximum of 23 years so both of these TIF districts are in their early stages and I would encourage that they continue to provide economic opportunities.
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 contributes to significant economic impacts, including increases in local purchasing power, job creation, opportunities for economic development and new tax revenues. Affordable housing located near public mass transit can help residents save money, access better jobs, improve health and reach community services.
I supported the Affordable Housing Plan that the Village Board approved on June 8, 2020 and the Affordable Housing Plan action matrix that was presented and discussed on June 22, 2020.
- I agree with the Plan’s goals of:
- Protecting and enhancing the existing affordable housing that currently exists in the Village, primarily the multi-family residential housing along the Village’s perimeter corridors; and
- Concentrating attention on new multi-family and mixed-use buildings and providing developers of such buildings the opportunity to include affordable housing units.
- I would support moving forward with the following:
- Exploring possible TIF fund allocation guidelines for the Village to assist in the provision of affordable housing development and initiatives in River Forest, including development of new affordable housing and the improvement and enhancement of existing affordable housing.
- Exploring and identifying strategies and the means with which to preserve and enhance existing affordable housing in the Village, such as possible funding or programs aimed at assisting with upkeep, maintenance, and improvements to identify existing affordable housing properties.
- Explore amending the Village Zoning Ordinance, and possibly other Village regulations, to specifically accommodate “integrated supportive affordable housing.”
- Explore amending the Village Zoning Ordinance to accommodate Accessory Dwelling Units (“ADU”) as a conditional use in the R1 and R2 zoning districts.
- Explore amending the Village Zoning Ordinance, specifically the Planned Development standards (section 10-19-3) to identify consistency with the goals and policies of the Affordable Housing Plan as a standard of review.
- Explore amending the Village Zoning Ordinance to allow for taller and more dense development in designated commercial/mixed-use areas, consistent with the recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan, in order to better accommodate possible inclusion of affordable housing as part of new development.
- Identify processes to better track metrics related to affordable housing.
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?
The Village Board’s response to the COVID pandemic has been the most significant action taken by this Board for which I supported. This pandemic has negatively impacted our residents. I supported the following appropriate actions to assist our residents during this pandemic:
- Approved a flat (no increase) tax levy to provide some financial relief to our residents. The Village Board waived a possible increase of 2.3% permitted under the law as well as waiving any additional property taxes associated with new construction projects.
- Suspended restrictions on hours of deliveries to businesses in the Village.
- Waived business license fees for 90 days and provided businesses with a COVID-19 business kit.
- Approved waiver of late fees and parking fees and extended payment deadlines without penalties and extended adjudication dates.
- Creation of a River Forest COVID-19 Senior Task Force to support our existing services and provide volunteers to our community members to provide the following supports:
- Grocery and prescription pickups
- Dog walking
- Library returns or pickups
- Snow removal and other non-direct contact needs
- Assist with the registration and scheduling of vaccinations in the Village
- Coordinated with Village grocery stores to schedule times for seniors to shop.
- Vehicle stickers were delayed for all residents this past year.
- Enhanced communication related to COVID-19 through the development of a website page on COVID, sent out frequent Village newsletters on COVID updates.
- Serve as Chair of the Village Age Friendly Committee which was established by the Village on February 24, 2020. The Committee is tasked with:
- Conducting a baseline assessment of age-friendliness of the Village.
- Evaluating and preparing an age-friendly plan to be submitted to the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) for review and endorsement.
I feel that the following three (3) issues are the biggest issues facing our Village and how I intend to address them:
- Resident health and safety as we progress towards COVID recovery – Our residents appreciate living in a community that provides them a good quality of life where they feel safe. As I mentioned below, the Village has responded to the COVID pandemic challenges that arose this past year. I will support the Village to continue to provide frequent federal, state, and local updates on progress of COVID guidelines and steps towards recovery such as the availability, distribution, and scheduling of vaccinations. Further, I will continue to support the funding of our Police and Fire Departments. I will also continue to encourage our Village Police Department to continue its communications and availability to meet with residents including but not limited to having the Quarterly Community Police Crime Prevention Meetings and Policing & Social Justice Forums. I will support the expansion of on-street cameras in our Village.
- Diversity Equity Inclusive Issues – Recently, there have been increased awareness of national and local events relating to racial and social injustices and demands for police, legislative and social reforms. I will support the following initiatives:
- Police and Fire Departments accountability.
- Budget funding for police training that includes diversity, anti-racism and promoting the unnecessary use of police force.
- Increase the police force diversity. From the last five police officer positions, four of these positions were filled with persons of color.
- As mentioned below, I will support the TRHT partnership initiative with Dominican University and the creation of a DEI advisory group.
- Maintain the Village’s financial stability and resources – The Village Board has been a good stewart of its finances. As a result, the Village was not only able to weather through the COVID pandemic, but it was able to assist our residents by not increasing taxes this coming year as well as providing other financial relief to our residents and businesses (see my response below). The Village must continue to maintain its finances responsibly to continue operating efficiently with adequate financial resources in preparation of future unforeseen circumstances.