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?
Running for Village Board was a decision I did not take lightly and took me time to evaluate. Since being elected to the Oak Park Library Bard in 2017, I’ve gotten a crash course in Village politics, tax levies, building consensus and much more. I’m proud of the work we’ve done on the Library Board and was hesitant to leave my amazing fellow Trustees. Ultimately, what it came down to for me was the board needed more diversity now. I truly felt the board needed younger voices, more people of color and more renters. As a 28 year old, African American renter that grew up in Oak Park and owns a service based business in town, I thought I could bring a unique perspective to the challenges the Village and the board are facing. In addition, the issues facing the board weren’t going to wait for me to be ready or finish my term. I want to be at the table as crucial decisions are being made over the next two years. I believe the work of building a more affordable and diverse community starts with having individuals from multiple diverse backgrounds coming together to think of creative solutions for our issues. I believe my voice, and experience on the library board will add tremendously to these discussions and I am excited to be running for the Village Board.
2. What do you believe makes an effective Trustee?
An effective Trustee must be able to do many things including building sustainable relationships, bringing up ideas in the right way and building consensus. When I was elected to the Library Board, I realized after my first few meetings I needed to work on the way I proposed ideas at the board table. There is a methodical approach to bringing up ideas in a way that fosters collaboration and not contempt. Moreover, if your fellow Trustees don’t care for you, they will discount your ideas before you’ve even spoken them. Therefore, a Trustee must be able to create meaningful relationships with other members of the board. Lastly, a Trustee must be able to build consensus. Building sustainable relationships helps this cause, proposing ideas in the right way helps too, but most importantly building consensus is a muscle. It’s something you must work on and improve over time. I am excited to bring my experience of building consensus at the board table from the Library Board, The North Avenue District Board, The OPRF Chamber of Commerce Board and the Associates Board of H.O.M.E to the Village Board table.
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 is at a base level an advisory board. In a Village manager form of government the elected Trustees are tasked with evaluating the Village staff and the Village managers recommendations and providing the necessary direction and input for staff to move forward. That being said, in order to give proper direction, many times Trustees have to do their own research in order to make the best decisions. Also, it is important to realize that each Trustee, each new board and each Village manager will interact differently and have different relationships. That being said, the board and Village staff must operate in a transparent fashion so that citizens know what’s going on in their government.
4. When in your experience have you had to balance competing interests? What process did you use? What did you learn?
Everyday in my business we must evaluate competing interests. Customers want certain things, our field staff wants certain things and my office staff want certain things. Often their demands do not align and I found the key to balancing their competing interests in managing expectations on all side. As a Trustee you have to be clear to all constituents of what they can and can’t expect and be prepared to tell people no and deal with the consequences. This is not an easy task, but it is the work of democracy and leadership.
5. What does transparency in government mean to you? How would you put it into practice?
Transparency is important to me and crucial for a democratic system of government. Moreover, transparency is essential in a Village Manager form of government where many functions are completed by staff between board meetings. As a Trustee I would advocate for a streamlined board packet that is easier for residents to understand. I would demand that local residents have input in the development process from the beginning, before a development has been proposed. Lastly, I would ensure that I am available to all residents by phone, e-mail and face to face meetings.
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?
Elected officials should communicate with their constituents in ways that feel comfortable to them and engage the community. In order to engage with the breadth of the community, one must be an active participant in the community. This means more than just going to board meetings and attending events while you are campaigning. I have been involved with the OPRF Chamber of Commerce, mentored businesses students at OPRF, served on the board of the North Avenue District, helped create a group to target some of the inequities in our education system called Zingela Ulwazi, served on the Oak Park Library Board, served on the associates board of H.O.M.E and much more. The experiences I had growing up here and living here as an adult have allowed me to interact with a wide variety of community members. I pledge to remain active after the election in April and become even more engaged in the community as a Village Trustee.
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)?
I have often said that I wanted our Oak Park library to be a place where people were comfortable and comfortable being uncomfortable. What I meant by that is the library should be a safe space where people can learn about diverse viewpoints that are different from them. I feel the same about our community at large. I have always tried to put myself in situations that allow me to interact with people that are different from me. I volunteer for an organization that helps low income seniors, I’ve mentored students at OPRFHS, I’ve tutored kids in the Lawndale neighborhood of chicago, I attend church in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood of chicago, I have friends and immediate family that have different sexual orientations then me and friends who are of all different races and economic backgrounds. I will continue to build relationships with diverse populations as a Village Trustee and make sure everyone's voices are heard.
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?
The citizen commissions are experts in their respective fields who’ve had much longer to mull over specific issues and offer advice than Trustees. In addition, the members of the commissions are Oak Park residents. With all that in mind it is very important that the Village board values and utilizes the expertise of the citizen commissions. There are some commission’s recommendations that the board immediately approves and others that the Trustees are more hesitant to approve. The commissions must be utilized to bring the voices of active and engaged citizens to the table, and I am excited to get more familiar with the commissions as a Trustee.
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?
The best way to engage marginalized communities in the political process is to make sure their voices are represented in our government. The current Village board does not embody the diversity of Oak Park. We need younger voices, people of color, the voices of women and renters the the Village Board table. As a 28 year old African american renter who grew up in Oak Park I can bring some of these perspectives to the table. In addition, I will encourage the board to use methods we’ve used at the library to hear and acknowledge the voices of people that don’t come to board meetings or post on facebook.
We can maintain an economically diverse community by controlling our tax burden, maintaining/creating affordable housing and making sure everyone can achieve in our schools and our community regardless of the color of their skin. Also, we as a Village must push our state officials to change the way schools are funded and reform our income tax system.
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 everyone what they need to achieve a desired outcome. Yes, the Village should adopt an equity policy. However, lip service is not enough. The board needs to adopt actionable steps and board goals surrounding the equity policy at the time of adoption. Recent conversations have made me realize how far we have come as a Village in the fight for equity and at the same time made me realize how far we have to go.
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?
There are many factors that have caused taxes to increase over the past 15 years including pensions, salaries, wages and costs in general. The Villages pension obligation is currently 50% funded and was less 15 years ago. As we’ve tried to get 90% of our pensions funded by 2040 we’ve had to increase taxes. Another factor is an increased number of police officers in Oak Park. Lastly, costs in general have gone up over the past 15 years on water, electric, road paving etc.
As I’ve learned on the Library Board, not increasing taxes is difficult to impossible. For example, let's look at the impact of a 3% yearly increase at the Oak Park Library, that has a much smaller budget the the Villages. A 3% increase keeps up with rising costs due to inflation and yearly salary increases. A 3% increase is roughly 250 thousand dollars, therefore in four years, at that rate of increase your taxes will go up 1 million dollars at the library. Knowing this I believe the Village will have a tough time not adding additional tax increases but we can try to slow down the increases. We must analyze discretionary spending, structure compensation packages carefully, work more cohesively as six taxing bodies and increase our sales tax revenues in order to slow the rate of increase at Village hall.
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 an important issue that already impacts us all whether we realize it or not. Climate change will be on the top of my priority list as a Trustee, not doing so would be a disservice to the next generation of Oak Parkers. The Village Board should implement a climate action plan that includes the exploration of how we can save energy, explore renewable and low carbon energy sources, minimize waste, encourage recycling and composting and reducing water loss. In addition, we must make it easier for people to bike/walk in the community, while better appreciating and utilizing our green spaces.
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?
Any new development must have three things. Affordable housing units (ideally) or fees in lieu of (less ideal), local resident involvement from the beginning of the process and the building must fit the context of the surrounding structures. All future developments must have these components for me to feel comfortable with them in our Village.
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?
Affordable housing means that every resident should be able to comfortably pay their housing costs each month. Ideally residents should spend 30% or less of their income towards housing costs each month. The Village should absolutely work to support housing affordability in Oak Park. Controlling our taxes is a big piece of affordability, supporting our Residence Corporation and Housing Authority is important as well. I would advocate for an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance that has a 5-20% affordable unit set aside rate, depending on the location of the development and proximity to transit. I would also, advocate for a $150,000-$250,000 fees in lieu of depending on the size of the development, value of the land and proximity to transit.
15. Describe a specific initiative you would undertake in collaboration with one or more neighboring communities.
I would like to work with neighboring communities who are also struggling with decreased state funding for schools to come together and advocate for state law changes. We need to stop funding schools through local property tax dollars and advocating for changes at the state level with neighboring communities will help that cause.
16. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
Jackie Fair- $999
David Harris- $1173.40
Bridgette Arnette- $500
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[The above answers were submitted on 2/13/19. For current financial information, please see Friends of Christian Harris financials at Illinois Sunshine. Illinois Sunshine is also a useful resource for identifying past contributions by individuals to political candidates and committees in Illinois.]
Village needs bold, progressive trustees (WJ 3/26/19)
These 3 will help 'Reclaim Oak Park' (WJ 3/26/19)
Three for economic equity (WJ 3/26/19)
Who you gonna trust? (WJ 3/26/19)
Oak Park Development Watch candidate questionnaire (Facebook 3/22/19)
Harris is 'all in' for Oak Park (WJ 3/19/19)
Candidate Profile (WJ 3/15/19)
Three candidates stand out (WJ 3/12/19)
Candidate Interview (The Doris Davenport Show livestream 3/3/19)
A VOICE for Oak Park (WJ 1/15/19)
VOICE candidates call for right-sizing development (WJ 1/15/19)
VOICE endorses three for Oak Park trustee (WJ 10/30/18)
Four to run for Oak Park Board of Trustees (WJ 9/18/18)
Urging more boys of color into a world of reading (WJ 8/29/18)
Meet Jacqueline Fair and Christian Harris of MaidPro Oak Park (Voyage Chicago 5/8/18)
Friends of Christian Harris campaign disclosures (Illinois State Board of Elections)
Friends of Christian Harris financials (Illinois Sunshine)
VOICE Oak Park campaign disclosures (Illinois State Board of Elections)
VOICE Oak Park financials (Illinois Sunshine)
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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)