candidate for 2019 OAK pARK VILLAGE TRUSTEE
1. What motivates you to seek this office? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the Board, and why would those contributions be valuable to the Village of Oak Park?
I have been an Oak Park resident since 1994. In that time, I have developed a love for this community’s people, history, and vibrant civic engagement.
For over 20 years, I have worked as an accountant in the movie and television industry. The level of financial oversight and relationship management that I employ with hundreds of people would, if I am elected, be of great value as I manage my role as Trustee.
Oak Park needs leaders who are willing to ask tough questions in order to understand the full, often-complicated picture. Our community deserves leaders who exercise flexibility and courage in decision-making—not single-issue candidates or those confined by an agenda of rigid ideologies. I would be such an independent, well-rounded leader.
If elected, I would earnestly seek to help Oak Park chart a creative, fiscally responsible course for the future that honors and builds on our past.
2. What do you believe makes an effective Trustee?
At the heart of being an effective Trustee is keeping the big picture in mind: asking questions, actively listening to the answers, and exercising flexibility and courage in decision-making. I would bring passion, balance, independence and a fact-driven approach to my deliberations as a Trustee.
3. What is your understanding of the purpose of the Village Board? What do you see as the appropriate relationship between the Village President/Mayor, the Board of Trustees, and Village staff?
The Village Board sets policies, approves the budget annually, and over the course of its meeting schedule renders decisions on a wide spectrum of policy and financial issues. I support the Village Manager form of government: the only employee over whom the Board has hiring and firing authority is the Village Manager, who oversees the day-to-day operation of government services and programs
4. When in your experience have you had to balance competing interests? What process did you use? What did you learn?
Every day is a balancing act, on countless decisions—as a parent, as a wife, as someone responsible for properly compensating 400+ people weekly, and in so many other roles.
One example dates to 2003, when our children were born. My husband and I had been living in a 750-square-foot third-floor walk-up condo for nine years. Although strapped for space, my decision to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom meant that we could not afford to buy a single-family house—something that well-meaning family members and friends pushed us to do.
Finally, in 2013, we bought a more affordable townhouse rather than a detached home (which some friends advocated). At the time, I was nearing the end of a six-year homeschooling period made possible by our decision to live within our modest means and on only my husband’s earnings.
A major motivation throughout has been our desire to be fiscally responsible. We prioritize not being stretched financially, because we know that it would result in enormous sacrifices of time with family that so many others face.
Now, in 2019, a key benefit of this fiscal discipline: I am fully equipped to invest the time required to be an effective Trustee.
5. What does transparency in government mean to you? How would you put it into practice?
Transparency in government, in a nutshell, is being candid about what factors are driving decision-making and conducting the business of the community in the open. This often means having “messy” conversations where space is provided for respectful disagreement.
It is inevitable that elected officials, in one-on-one conversations, will need to have an ongoing dialogue about various issues. However, that should never veer into three or more trustees holding conversations related to public business.
If elected Trustee, I would commit to holding true to this principle, which also happens to be a law, as spelled out in the Illinois Open Meetings Act. That Act prohibits behind-the-scenes discussions by three or more members of a seven-member body, unless it relates to categories permitted in Executive (or closed) Session, such as real estate, litigation, and certain personnel matters.
6. As more of our local discourse happens in social media, what is your view on how local elected officials should communicate with and respond to constituents? How will you engage with the breadth of the community, and not just the voices that are loudest or easiest to find?
If elected, I do not plan to maintain a Trustee page on Facebook or on any other social media platform. However, I would continue to monitor discourse, in any places where it may occur, to be as informed as possible on a wide spectrum of viewpoints.
Elected officials should be open to communicating with all constituents in a respectful manner, not only those who are the loudest or easiest to find. A Trustee is to represent all 50,000+ residents, and business owners. I would communicate with constituents via email, phone, and in person.
7. In what ways have you sought to better know and understand the concerns and needs of residents outside your demographic group (specifically the demographic groups of race, religion, ability, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status)?
My entire life, I have been open to input from everyone, regardless of race or any other characteristic unrelated to the content of someone’s character. This is how I was raised, having grown up in a racially diverse family and being parts of groups/communities that have been rich in diversity and inclusivity, including race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and socioeconomic status.
A current example is my church in the Austin neighborhood, where we have an almost precisely even split among whites and people of color. It’s important to be aware of the difference between diversity (which can still fall into mutually exclusive cliques) and inclusivity, which embraces and values all members of a larger group.
Inclusivity is a core value of mine: all voices in our community are relevant and I want all residents to feel they are an integral part of Oak Park.
8. To what extent should the Village Board rely on the expertise of its citizen commissions? Do you feel the balance has been correct? What do you see as the appropriate responsibilities of the Village Clerk?
Having attended or watched over 100 Village Board meetings over the past six years, I have observed many commissions as they report to the Village Board. Citizen commissions are a vital resource that the Board should continue to see as a great aid in its decision-making process.
It would be speculative, and a mere opinion, for me to comment on whether “the balance has been correct.” I focus on facts and would give weight to commissions’ recommendations and findings in proportion to the quality and thoroughness of their fact-finding process, as well as how their recommendations mesh with the Village Board’s goals.
The Village Clerk is a full-time employee, who is an elected official. With a Village Manager form of government, it is critical that we have a full-time elected official at Village Hall. The Village Clerk answers to the residents of Oak Park. The Village Clerk is an ombudsman of sorts, the connection between the residents and Village Hall and the Village Clerk’s responsibilities should reflect this.
9. Oak Park has a history of racial and ethnic as well as economic diversity. How would you engage marginalized communities in the political process? How can we maintain economic diversity in the Village with rising real estate prices and taxes?
I believe Oak Park is truly at a crossroads, and the community needs bold leadership that honors our inclusive and innovative heritage while continuing to explore creative ways to attract residents and businesses well into the future.
Over the years, I have paid close attention to the workings of local government, particularly the Village Board of Trustees. More than ever before, our community needs to elect leaders who are committed to having an honest dialogue, backed by action, about how to slow the rate of levy growth. Our economic and cultural diversity, our affordability, the rich heritage that Oak Parkers have labored to create for decades—it’s all at stake.
10. How do you define equity? Do you favor implementing a Village-wide equity policy, and if so, what specifics should that policy include? Have recent discussions in the larger community informed or changed your thinking?
Equity is giving people what they need in order to succeed. All residents should have equal access to governmental services and resources and be given equal opportunity to thrive in our community.
A village-wide equity policy is currently under discussion, so this is a very timely question. An important starting place is to look at what other communities have done with regard to equity policies, and to see how elements of those policies may or may not be appropriate for Oak Park.
Related, though clearly not the same thing, is Oak Park’s Diversity Statement, which I wholeheartedly support. It is a hallmark of our community. And with each newly elected Board, at their installation, this Statement is read, as they reaffirm and recommit to its precepts.
11. Why have property taxes assessed by the Village (as distinct from other Oak Park taxing bodies) increased so substantially over the past 10-15 years? Can the Village continue without additional tax increases? How?
The Village’s piece of the levy is currently 16.5%. A third of that (5.5% of the total Oak Park levy) is pension obligations. And unlike all the other taxing bodies, because Oak Park is “home rule,” the Village can increase the levy beyond CPI (Consumer Price Index) without going to referendum. As a result, rather than reining in spending in areas where the Village does have control, the Village has simply increased its levy beyond the rate of inflation.
In addition, as our tax base grows with new development and other sources of revenue, the Village has opted to spend that new pot of money. This is a pattern followed by most of the other taxing bodies, rather than allowing the new growth to relieve the tax burden across Oak Park.
It is unrealistic to say the Village can continue “without additional tax increases.” However, even with the pension obligations, we most certainly can slow the rate of increase by making thoughtful decisions based on facts and not feelings. That decision-making should be focused on outcomes, not good intentions—in terms of both spending as well as generating revenue.
12. What impact can a municipality such as Oak Park have on climate change, and how will you prioritize that work among other issues? Do you think Oak Park should implement a Climate Action Plan, and if so, what specific elements should it include?
Climate change is real and local government must engage in meaningful sustainability initiatives. It’s part of a literally universal effort, and we all have a moral obligation to do our part.
Oak Park should consider implementing a Climate Action Plan by building on PlanItGreen’s 2011 Environmental Sustainability Plan for Oak Park and River Forest. A possible partner may well be Seven Generations Ahead, which has been instrumental in that plan. In addition, the Shedd Aquarium has offered assistance to Oak Park to become a zero-waste municipality.
On a personal note: when I moved here 25 years ago, my 20-unit condo building had no recycling. Within a few months, I saw to it that we had a recycling program. For decades and increasingly over time, my purchases have been based, at least partly, on the amount of plastic and other packaging in products. More than a few times, my family has brought our silverware to restaurants offering a plastic-only utensil option. We have installed almost all LED lights at home. We are a one-car, three-bike family. And three of the four of us are vegetarians, with the other’s meat consumption minimal. In other words, we are mindful of our carbon footprint.
13. Oak Park has seen a number of larger developments in recent years that have changed the physical space, particularly downtown. What is your philosophy toward development and the changes that it brings? What is your ideal vision for future development going forward?
These large developments have permanently altered our community’s physical space, as well as issues emanating from those developments. It remains to be seen—and will always be, to some degree, a matter of opinion—whether those changes are for the better or for the worse. I believe that change and evolution are imperative for a community to survive and thrive over time. And I support development that fills prioritized needs and is a positive addition to our community’s fabric.
That being stated, when it comes to the downtown developments which are still under way, it will be years before we have a clearer sense of their impact on not only that part of the village, but also the financial, infrastructure, social, school enrollment, and myriad other effects.
Going forward, I would be skeptical of approving anything remotely resembling the scale of these developments. Our zoning code exists for a purpose, and we must be measured in approving variances, if at all, depending on the context of a given project.
14. What does affordable housing mean to you? Do you feel that the Village should should work to support housing affordability? If so, what specific policies would you advocate? Would you support an inclusionary zoning ordinance?
The term “affordable housing” is a definable term, and not left to interpretation. Affordable housing is housing that is affordable (paying no more than 30% of income) to those earning 60% of the AMI (Area Median Income—half earn more than that number, half earn less) for renters, and at 80% of AMI for owners. A benchmark set by the 2003 Affordable Housing and Appeals Act is for a community to have 10% of its housing stock be “affordable housing.” Oak Park is at 22.6%, up from 18.4% five years ago.
Currently, Oak Park is exemplary in its affordable housing. I would support polices to maintain these levels. If that includes an IZ ordinance, then I would support one.
15. Describe a specific initiative you would undertake in collaboration with one or more neighboring communities.
Oak Park’s health is inextricably linked to the health of our neighboring communities. We are stronger when we grow closer with our neighbors. Our relationship with the Austin community, especially, has been neglected for too long and it’s essential that we bolster those bonds.
There are people and organizations collaborating often between Oak Park and Austin, and more effectively than a government-led initiative. So I would, as a private citizen, educate, encourage, and enlist folks who are interested to join me in “doing life” together with the people of Austin.
16. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
$500-resident on Elmwood
$500-resident on Kenilworth
• • • • •
[The above answers were submitted on 2/13/19. For current financial information, please see Citizens for Bridgett Baron financials at Illinois Sunshine. Illinois Sunshine is also a useful resource for identifying past contributions by individuals to political candidates and committees in Illinois.]
We need civil, sensible leadership (WJ 3/26/19)
Oak Park Development Watch candidate questionnaire (Facebook 3/22/19)
Pragmatic Solutions' endorsements (WJ 3/19/19)
Candidate Profile (WJ 3/15/19)
Candidate Interview (The Doris Davenport Show livestream 3/12/19)
Baron for Oak Park trustee (WJ 3/12/19)
Baron offers actual answers (WJ 3/12/19)
Baron doesn't base decisions on emotion (WJ 3/12/19)
Krause's critique is flawed (WJ 3/5/19)
Baron is the right candidate at a crucial time (WJ 3/5/19)
Baron is blowing smoke on taxes (WJ 2/26/19)
Oak Park trustee candidate would reduce spending (WJ 2/26/19)
Oak Park's Urgency: Reining in Excessive Taxation (WJ 2/19/19)
Citizens for Bridgett Baron campaign disclosures (Illinois State Board of Elections)
Citizens for Bridgett Baron financials (Illinois Sunshine)
• • • • •
SEOPCO candidate forum (Facebook live 3/19/19)
Bike Walk Oak Park Candidate Survey Results (Facebook 3/17/19)
Talking business at Oak Park trustee candidate forum (WJ 3/15/19)
Arbor West Neighbors: Discussion on aging (Facebook Live 2/25/19)
Taxes front and center at Oak Park trustee debate (WJ 1/15/19)
The campaign trail: Trustee candidates weigh in on Oak Park's tax burden (Oak Leaves 1/11/19)
Business retention, assistance on minds of Oak Park village trustee candidates (Oak Leaves 1/10/19)
Suburban Unity Alliance Village Board Candidate Forum Part 1 | Part 2 (Facebook Live 1/9/19)
Election a go-go (WJ 12/18/19)
Now up to eight in race for Oak Park village board (WJ 11/21/18)