*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
Vicki Scaman, candidate for Oak Park Village President, was elected Village Clerk in 2017, winning in a five-person race and on a platform that emphasized her deep belief in the democratic system and governmental transparency. Before becoming an elected official, Scaman had a solid reputation as a community leader known for building collaborative relationships and working successfully with governmental partners, nonprofit agencies and neighboring villages and Chicago communities.
As Village Clerk, Scaman fought successfully to retain the Clerk office’s oversight of the Village’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process. She also increased the office’s transparency and collaborated with members of the Citizen Involvement Commission to increase diversity on village commissions. Scaman is a tireless advocate for residents seeking information and connection to resources. Her knowledge of government practices and policies helped her improve communication with residents seeking assistance with bureaucratic processes. In 2020, she was elected president of the North and Northwest Municipal Clerks Association.
From 2015 to 2017, Scaman served as the Oak Park Township program coordinator for the Positive Youth Development Coalition. In that role, Scaman applied her expertise in identifying funding sources that resulted in her helping to secure a combined $1 million in state and federal resources to support community programs and strategies to reduce underage drinking and drug use.
In 2011, Scaman was appointed to the Village’s Liquor Control Review board, then chaired the commission from 2013-2017. Drawing on her own experiences running a large restaurant, Scaman provided policy recommendations to loosen laws to allow for outdoor dining, expanding hours for restaurant services, creating a more equitable liquor license fee schedule for smaller restaurants and permitting for Downtown Oak Park events.
Scaman’s extensive community involvement also includes volunteering with the Law Review Committee of IMPACT, an OPRF parent organization, for which she helped to evaluate how laws in Oak Park and River Forest comparatively affected young people when they were caught with drugs or alcohol. She’s a member of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the Chamber’s Women in Business Committee. Scaman simultaneously served as the co-chair of the Data and Education Committee for a coalition, West Garfield Park Community Stakeholders, and taught restorative justice practices.
An Oak Park resident since her early teens, Scaman graduated from Oak Park River Forest High School and earned a degree in arts education and social sciences from the University of Illinois-Chicago. She began her professional life as a teacher in south suburban Dolton-Riverdale, becoming several years later the executive director of a non-profit music school in Oak Park. Her commitment to serving all of her students regardless of their family’s resources led her to host for several years an African drumming program in her home and mentor many students in Oak Park Public Schools.
A lover of all the arts, Scaman supports numerous area arts organizations, youth development programs and social service agencies. Outside of work and professional activities, Scaman is an avid cyclist. She is the mother of two adult children.
COVID-19 has detrimentally affected the village’s finances. In detail, explain how you will lead the village and its residents and stakeholders to financial recovery without increasing the property tax burden?
Of every $1 you pay in property taxes on your home, business or through your rent, the village government receives fifteen (15) cents to fund services such as police, fire, and public works. We all know the cost of living and the cost of government rarely go down. It’s commendable that recent village budgets increased at the rate of inflation or 3%. But, in 2021 the village board significantly depleted the reserves to balance the village budget. This is not sustainable.
As Village President I will lead a Board of Trustees in prioritizing our shared goals and living within our means. The Village Board Finance Committee did not meet during the 2021 budget process. This created inefficiencies in the budget process and it led to a lack of understanding of the budget by community members. I will restart the Village Board Finance Committee for greater transparency and efficiency. I will direct staff to align budget items with our clearly defined goals and work with Village Trustees to make informed decisions based on what investments will provide the greatest long-term impact for achieving a goal and work with other taxing bodies and partner agencies so that every dollar spent is collaborative, thoughtful, and not contributing to redundancies.
There is opportunity to find efficiencies with better use of technology, clearer contracts with partner agencies, and reaching across our borders for greater impact on climate change, racial equity, and economic recovery from COVID-19. I believe we will have the opportunity to pursue Federal grants and the ability to demonstrate partnerships increases our eligibility and potential outcomes. As chair of the Liquor Control Review Board and co-chair of the Law Review Committee of IMPACT I identified $1M worth of grants for Oak Park Township.
As a single mother, small business leader, and nonprofit executive I have made hard decisions to prioritize spending. I have worked in village hall, with our governmental partners, and neighboring communities. The keys to a fiscally responsible budget are well defined goals, clear direction to staff, and accountability. Living within our means and working to serve responsibly all residents of Oak Park will require the concerted effort of all taxing bodies, partner agencies, and the private sector. We must work to build trust with more transparent communication and genuine desire to collaborate with all of our expertise and willingness to share resources.
What makes you qualified to lead the village through the continuing pandemic and the associated economic crisis while balancing the future and current needs of residents, in such areas as climate change and equity? Consider that equity encompasses age, cognitive and physical ability, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, income level and religion as well as race.
I have a unique history of service in our community that has provided me with acute insight and expertise working inside and outside of village hall, with our nonprofits, our schools, park district, library, small business, and neighboring communities – each time for progress and specifically for equitable policy change for more than twenty years. I have the needed experience and relationships to bring partnerships together so that we can make progress for racial equity policy, implementing an impactful climate action plan, and responding for economic recovery from COVID-19. My candidacy for Village President is about what Oak Park needs now.
Community discussions that I have led have followed a framework with an equity component that pushed for inclusion of voices with varying perspectives so that the problem at hand is fully understood and informs culturally relevant strategies. The framework (Strategic Prevention Framework) is applicable to all government policy areas. As chair of the Liquor Control Review Board (LCRB) I presented a more equitable fee schedule and removed barriers for hours of operation and policy permitting outdoor cafes. As co-chair of the Law Review Committee for IMPACT I presented policy to the village board that decriminalized possession of cannabis for young people and linked families with therapeutic resources.
I have served as the co-chair of the Data and Education Committee for West Garfield Park Community Stakeholders since 2014. As the current co-chair for Multi-Chamber Women in Business Collaborative in partnership with Berwyn, Forest Park, Maywood, Oak Park and River Forest we are hosting honest conversations to understand why Black and Brown owned businesses may feel less welcome or supported in Oak Park with the intention of breaking down those barriers and informing potential policy change. As a teacher I designed music programs for individuals with disabilities and taught all ages piano on a sliding fee scale with the mission “to share the joys and benefits of music with students of all ages regardless of financial circumstances”. My extensive experience has led me to this time and place of being uniquely qualified to lead thoughtfully so that our village makes the needed progress in shared community goals; racial equity, climate change, and economic recovery.
Beyond your love of Oak Park, why do you believe you are fit for this position and what experiences and perspectives do you bring?
My vision for Oak Park has our taxing bodies working together to improve trust and transparency in government decision making, so that we can effectively implement our shared goals for sustainability, equity, and fiscal prudence. It’s a vision of Oak Park where we value trustworthy and efficient government, we celebrate our breadth of viewpoints, and we come together to solve problems.
I realize board decisions are rarely supported by 100% of all citizens. As a proven leader in our village, I have the ability to listen attentively to opposing viewpoints for understanding, build consensus, and help lead the board to thoughtful decisions. This requires us to look at innovative communication techniques to ensure community members feel connected to the vision, and that their voices are heard and respected.
Navigating Oak Park as a single mother with modest means and a humble background, consistently fighting for fairness and often putting the needs of others above my own, working closely with parents and families to break down barriers to resources and information, never looking for credit, always listening to understand and learn from others, and thoughtfully thinking before I speak – pair that with all that I have accomplished in pushing through policy change that did lead to progress and my understanding of how our government works I am exactly what Oak Park needs right now to ensure that we actually make real progress.
I ran for Village Clerk four years ago with the intention of helping others without need to be front and center. I believe my skills and leadership style are now needed in the role of Village President. I will be a village president that will be present in our community, listening for learning, and engaging community partners to close gaps in service and reduce redundancies that will demonstrate how we can actually work together to attain our goals as a community responsibly and effectively. We all want equity; we all want to leave our earth safe and liveable for our children and grandchildren; we all want to be able to afford to stay here and hope that our children can stay here.
Navigating the next four years will not only require policy experience, demonstrated ability to balance a budget, and knowledge of our government processes but understanding of our communities history, relationships to build bridges, and the ability to bring people with differing views together. I can do that. I have done that, and I am prepared to do that again.
How will you address affordability of living in Oak Park for all residents, not just homeowners?
We need to begin with smart and thoughtful budgeting and building trust with governmental partners to work together better to attain community level goals so that we can limit tax increases across our community. I am coming into office with the relationships to begin doing that on day one.
I plan to direct the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation to aid with business retention and work with the Chamber of Commerce to help inform on the needs of the business community. We must also engage Visit Oak Park to increase tourism dollars and work together to create a more resilient community for a strong recovery from COVID-19, and pursue all options for federal recovery grants. We have an opportunity to plan for the future and do the hard work to retain and welcome more honestly Black and Brown owned businesses. We need to increase transparency in decision making across our village and communicate long-term goals so that we know we are not missing out on opportunities to share resources.
We will have an opportunity to use inclusionary zoning funds to pursue a request for proposals (RFP) for affordable housing. We need to set firm data driven goals for those funds. I will want to understand what population is most in need of affordable housing; seniors, families, or possibly people with disabilities. I will strive to lead a board that makes thoughtful and informed decisions to meet the needs of our community to address affordability for all sectors of our community.
How will you facilitate fair discussion, while navigating disagreement, to increase board productivity?
As Village Clerk I have had a front row seat to some of the challenges that have led to unproductive dialogue. There has been a lack of leadership in addressing friction before it gets in the way of work as a Village Board. I will facilitate conversations that share insight so that we can respect a breadth of viewpoints and grow together as we embrace dialogue that makes us all better elected representatives for our village.
The current board is not operating with shared goals, nor a clear understanding of how to direct policy under a Village Manager form of government. I will ensure we each understand and respect the unique roles of the Village President, trustees, and staff.
I do believe that each person on the current board loves and cares for Oak Park. Some on the board are lacking the ability to build consensus, some wish they didn’t need to waste time building consensus, and still more remain too defensive to listen to a differing view for any level of learning. I am able to listen for what is being said and not be distracted by how it is said.
I will work individually and collectively with Village Board members to understand and value the goals we each have for residents and other stakeholders. Information gathered for board consideration must be transparent, equitable, and factual. I’ll facilitate discussions to provide clear direction to the village manager and eliminate unproductive dialogue which distracts from progress. I will work to build trust in the consistency of a transparent process.
What does community policing in Oak Park mean to you and do you believe the village should spend less, the same or more on policing and police facilities?
I plan to lead an open and transparent process with my colleagues and village staff to identify what changes need to be made in policing. I take very seriously the fact that not every person feels safe in our community. My view is that refusing to host this conversation has only contributed to harm. This is a national conversation that has to be had everywhere. My commitment to fairness and transparency has been unwavering and evident in my behavior and life accomplishments.
We have a collective responsibility to review all programs that serve our community, including policing. I would lead a process of reviewing policing responsibly, with all relevant partnerships and stakeholders, so that we can come together as a community with a shared understanding for needed changes that provide for more people feeling safe and have a sense of ownership and belonging in Oak Park.
As Village President, I will listen for understanding and use my knowledge of our government and need for improved data collection to advance policy reform that is responsive and fair. Together, we can realize a vision for Oak Park that lives up to our values. As a restorative justice practitioner I know that our community is better when we all feel heard and affirmed.
***I really appreciate the opportunity to answer these questions. To send me a question or to learn more about my vision for Oak Park, please visit www.VoteVicki.org. I can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org .