DANIEL J. NOVAK
CANDIDATE FOR FOREST PARK COMMISSIONER
1. What motivates you to seek this office? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the Commission, and why would those contributions be valuable to the Village of Forest Park?
As a lifelong resident, I am seeking re-election to serve the community that raised me and where I continue to raise my family 41 years later. As a successful leader, I know that working in a positive manner and keeping the best interest of the community in mind when making difficult decisions is extremely important. Close to twenty years of public service experience has allowed me the opportunity to manage, produce, provide, and positively impact others in the community in which I work. The last four years serving as Village Commissioner has provided invaluable experience and insight. I enjoy making a difference and serving others and look forward to the positive impact I can continue to make on my hometown of Forest Park. I have no agenda, no forced loyalties to members of a slate, but strong loyalties to our village and its success and growth.
2. What are Forest Park’s greatest strengths? What are its greatest challenges? What is your vision for Forest Park?
Forest Park’s greatest strength is its hometown feel and its community. When I was growing up in this town anyone would give you the shirt off their back. Neighbors supported one another no questions asked. The greatest joy the last few years is allowing and having Forest Park look out for my children just like when I was raised.
Our greatest challenge right now is financial. We are operating at a deficit and we need to be an efficient and effective place of public service and business to ensure excellence for our residents and business owners. We have issues we need to resolve and work towards such as fiscal responsibility, infrastructure and business development. At the same time, we provide core services to our community and need to continue to seek ways to do things better and smarter yet still offer a high level of service to our residents and business owners.
I am a huge proponent of positive change and innovation for this village, as I believe it is the way we continue to grow and adapt, remain sustainable, and make Forest Park a great place for all to live, work, play and call home.
3. What does transparency in government mean to you? Give one example of an action you would take as Commissioner to reflecting your views on this topic. How would you evaluate the Village’s record on transparency?
Transparency is important in government now more than ever. I truly believe it is crucial for our Village to continue to strive for. Being transparent does not mean people will take advantage of the information available and educate themselves with it. I do think as a Village Council and Staff we need to work to put information in residents and business owners’ hands that is consumable. If I did not work in a government agency our reporting and financial documents maybe confusing or hard to read. I hope in my next term to work with staff to create an annual report or resident update that is easy to understand. Residents and business owners are our customer and there is always room to increase communication.
I think we need to continue to strengthen our open-door policy. I cannot tell you the number of residents that I have received phone calls from or have met in person that are initially very upset, but by taking the time to listen I am able to help them with their issues. Communication is a two-way street and the culture set by the Village Administration is key. We need to create an environment where community input is always welcome and community/stakeholder education is continuous.
4. What steps will you take to enhance community engagement with the Village and the Village Commission? What is your view on how local elected officials should communicate with and respond to constituents?
We should aim to be a village where residents of all ages and business owners are engaged and satisfied. As someone who was once a young resident of Forest Park; 41 years later I want to make sure we are engaging residents of all ages to invest in our future. Hopefully many of the children in our sports programs, schools and after-school programs today will be in my shoes someday, raising their families here.
I pledge to encourage more community involvement with our citizens, fostering a positive community spirit by continuing to offer residents an open-door policy. It is important to create an environment where residents and business owners are comfortable, and the Village is a welcoming and open forum for our constituents to express concerns as well as celebrate successes.
In my professional career I have learned that the main reason people do not get involved or volunteer is that they were never asked. This community is filled with individuals who truly enjoy making a difference and have a vested interest in Forest Park, we must tap into that resource. As part of my platform, I plan to encourage more community involvement and input from our citizens, while fostering a positive community spirit.
5. In what ways have you sought to better know and understand the experiences, concerns, and needs of residents outside your demographic group?
In the last four years I have made a conscious effort to listen. I spend every Wednesday reading the Forest Park review not only the print copy but combing through online editorials to see what is being discussed and what concerns are being voiced. In addition to reading and keeping up with social media platforms, I do my best to follow up and respond personally to any citizen concern or request. It is about customer service. Residents and business owners are your customers when you are an elected official and ensuring their satisfaction is my pain priority. Often addressing one residents concern has brought to light larger issues we could resolve. For example, the Village added a crossing guard and stop for pedestrian signage last year on Jackson and Hannah near Garfield Elementary. Open-door policies, listening, and ensuring ALL residents are heard is key.
6. What do you believe is the biggest challenge to the Village's financial situation? What specific steps would you take as Commissioner with regard to the Village’s budget shortfall?
The Village of Forest Park is and has been operating at a deficit. Our expenses and cost of serving our community far outweighs the revenue we bring in. Our reliance on the tax dollar is more than 100%. In my last four years the Village Council has been making strides to address this issue, but there is still more work to be done. The Village Administrator and Department Heads have been receptive to the Village Commissioners feedback during our annual budget workshops and discussions and have cut spending in the last four years without affecting core services. We have also examined rates, fees and fines that have not seen increases in many years and made changes to assist in offsetting some of the costs associated with these areas of business or services provided. Experience handling government budgets and planning is the strongest tool a potential commissioner can bring to the table. In my current role with the Wheaton Park District I manage a three million dollar plus budget in the black utilizing little to no reliance on the tax dollar. My professional experience of more than 20 years in government service and nearly four years of experience with the Village makes me a great asset to the 2019-2022 Council to continue to work towards fiscal responsibility and financial sustainability.
7. What should the Village Commission's role be with respect to economic development and attracting new business to Forest Park?
Staff has put together an Economic Development Report with the assistance of Business Development, Inc. that has been reviewed by the Village Council over the last two years. There are some very feasible opportunities included in the plan, but bottom line, the Village Council needs to be active in seeking alternative revenue sources. The Village Council should encourage staff to create a strategic and master plan to implement some of these changes.
As for recruiting new businesses to town, the Village Council needs to work with staff to identify the areas in which business vacancies exist and what opportunities we offer to a potential business owner. We need to support the staff in this identification process and assist where we can with creating opportunities that are attractive to potential new businesses to move into town. The best tool the Village Council can provide is customer service. Current and future business owners are extremely valuable to our Village and we need to treat them the way we would residents. They are investing in our community and we should support their ventures from day one to encourage business development and economic growth.
8. The Altenheim property and future development alternatives are topics of much discussion in Forest Park. What should the next step in this process be?
I believe the Village Council should empower the staff to draw up plans for this property that would include demolition, construction of a walking path, landscaping of natural and native plants, and a simple restroom facility that could be locked for safety after hours or while area is not in use. It is important this property remains open and inclusive for those of all abilities. One of the elements we implemented in the strategic planning process I have been a part of in Wheaton is a continuous open space review process. Staff spends time on each area of operation/property discussing what could be improved or added and setting timelines and urgency for the improvements. We incorporate staff and community feedback. This process is a little time consuming initially, but it has created a valuable open space plan and eliminates projects sitting around such as the length of time we have been discussing the Altenheim property. I think we need to start small by creating a useable space and continue to monitor the area for use in hopes that as we grow as a community to possibly add a fitness element, community garden, or simple band shell to the property over the course of time to meet the ever-changing needs of our community.
9. The debate over video gambling dominated the recent midterm election in the Village, and while the issue has been resolved through binding referendum, there are still significant rifts dividing Forest Park. Do you think those rifts can be healed? If so, how? If not, why not?
The debate did divide the town, but at the same time it has shed light on the importance of transparency, education of the stakeholders and has engaged some residents who otherwise may not have gotten involved. I think we all need to work together to find the silver lining of how this debate strengthened Forest Park as well. I was very upfront about my support for video gaming. The Village needed additional revenue and video gaming was projected to provide a new and potentially substantial revenue stream for the Village. While I stand by my vote to allow this legal form of entertainment to take place in our Village as it does in so many other towns, I serve the people, so I respect the vote to overturn video gaming. A Village Council position comes with a lot of responsibility which sometimes includes making decisions for the greater good of the entire community rather than opinion.
The Village needs to continue to move forward in seeking other opportunities to generate revenue, they need to promote an open communication environment. The issue has passed and now we need to focus our efforts on why this is a wonderful place to live and raise a family. The essence of why Forest Park is a great place to live has not changed, and a vote for or against gaming should not take away residents’ support for our Village.
10. Do you believe Village Commissioners have a role to play in relation to District 91 and District 209? Why or why not?
It is important for us to continue to support and push for change in our school system. While we can advocate and support those who are committed to improving our schools – no one person is going to be able to waive a magic wand and change District 209. It is an issue we need to keep pushing for as it changes the scope and opportunity for the future of our Village. We need to support our 209 Together candidates, allow for contested races such as the one upon us for District 91, and we need to create a community of inclusion and culture that will one day overcome the stigma created by the school district. We are seeing families transfer their children out of District 91 as early as 2nd grade. When I was younger, we saw children remain in town or the public-school system until 8th grade. As a lifetime Forest Park resident, I know how few of us remain in town as adults, but how important our hometown is to those who grew up here. I think whatever investment we can make into the children of Forest Park will be returned to our community tenfold.
11. What do you see as the best role for Forest Park’s Diversity Commission? What challenges do you anticipate with regard to equity and inclusion in the Village, and how will you approach them?
Let me first start by saying how important citizen commissions are in local government. We should all value and empower these individuals as they are dedicating time to the betterment of Forest Park. As an elected official you are given the responsibility to not only represent the residents and business owners of your community, but to do your best by them. The most important thing to me is that people feel engaged in our community. A volunteer force like this is so valuable to our Village.
I would like to see the Diversity Task Force focus on inclusion, engagement, and celebration of the diverse offerings and residents of Forest Park. We need a government that welcomes our citizens, empowers our citizen commissions and their input, and puts the needs of the Village first. In a time of adversity, we should have residents dedicated to celebrating ALL our residents.
I envision challenges may come up, but I would put faith in those involved in the Diversity Commission and remind them that even a small change can be a big change. Creating this volunteer commission is a great first step in ensuring equity and inclusion in Forest Park.
12. What impact can a municipality such as Forest Park have on climate change, and how will you prioritize that work among other issues? Do you think Forest Park should implement a Climate Action Plan, and if so, what specific elements should it include?
“While it may seem small, the ripple effects of small things is extraordinary.” ~ Matt Bevin
No doubt that the Village of Forest Park should be aware of the size of our carbon footprint and act to decrease our C02 emissions while simultaneously encouraging green practices across our Village. We should work with industrial businesses to encourage safer practices. The Village has plans in place to create more “green alleys”. We are one of the first Villages in Cook County to install these permeable pavers in alleys and we should continue to be the first in Cook County to adopt other green practices as well. In addition, we should encourage residents and business owners to participate in green and earth friendly practices such as recycling drives of uncommon items (holiday lights, sports equipment, paint, electronics) or promoting rainwater collection. There are many small changes we can promote and support. I would be in favor of reviewing a Climate Action Plan that demonstrates ways we can become better stewards over time.
13. The Forest Park Review recently described the Commissioner form of government as “fully obsolete for an urban suburb of our size.” Do you agree? If so, what steps would you take to improve the governing structures of Forest Park?
This issue has been tossed around in this community dating back prior to my birth. In 1967, Forest Park Review editor Claude Walker described the commission form of government as, “the current garbled monstrosity that encourages conniving and political shenanigans.” The current Review editorial staff has been saying for years that the Commission Form of Government is obsolete and hinders Forest Park. In our present form of government, the Commission and Mayor have legislative power and administrative authority with the responsibility of running a specific department within the village. Now that we have a professional Village Administrative position, I believe that individual should oversee the Department Heads and run the day-to-day operations of our local government and the elected officials should move into a role of legislative authority. Illinois state stature allows for commission forms of government to be restructured when it/if would better serve the public need. I would be in favor to putting this question to the people, allowing them to vote for their form of government. Operations aside, the four Commissioners and the Mayor each have one vote, so it does provide a certain level of checks and balances if you have the right people in your Village Commissioner seats.
14. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
Citizens for Daniel Novak, a political committee, is required to file a D-2 Form with the Illinois State Board of Elections. It is a report of contributions and expenditures. These are quarterly reports which have been filed since April of 2015 and are public record.
Our last report for the fourth quarter of 2018 had a cash balance of $911.80.
My first official fundraiser for the campaign is scheduled for March 2, 2019.
The next report for the first quarter of 2019 is due after March 31, 2019.
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[The above answers were supplied on 2/20/19. It may be possible to find more current financial information at the Illinois Sunshine website. Illinois Sunshine is also a useful resource for identifying past contributions by individuals to political candidates and committees in Illinois.]
Citizens for Daniel Novak (candidate Facebook page)
Grow, adapt and strive (Forest Park Review 3/26/19)
Forest Park Review endorsement (Forest Park Review 3/19/19)
I believe in Forest Park (Forest Park Review 3/12/19)
Survey Responses: Daniel Novak (Forest Park Review 3/1/19)
Novak announces re-election run (Forest Park Review 12/11/18)
Citizens for Daniel J Novak campaign disclosures (Illinois State Board of Elections)
Citizens for Daniel J Novak financials (Illinois Sunshine)
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Commission candidates debate unity, development (Forest Park Review 2/26/19)
No candidates' petitions challenged (Forest Park Review 1/1/19)
A Brief Who's Who in the Commissioner, Mayoral Races (Forest Park Review 12/18/18)