RIVER FOREST Park District Board (2 open seats)

Mark Brown | Dennis Healy | Peter Kuzmich

dennis 1.jpg

Dennis Healy

candidate for 2019 River Forest Park District Board

1. What motivates you to seek this office? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the Board of Trustees, and why would those contributions be valuable to the River Forest Park District?

I have two children - Lillia (10) and Cora (5) - and one of the first things we took advantage of after moving here 4 years ago were the park district programs. We did and do still feel lucky to have the Park District programming and facilities.

I have been a member of the River Forest Township Mental Health Committee for 2 years and found that I enjoy serving this Village and its residents. I am a liaison to Opportunity Knocks and through that I realize how much more our park districts can do for other members of the village with differing needs.

I am a SAHD and one of our daughter’s has special needs which gives me a different perspective especially when it comes to all things ‘accessibility’. I’d love to be able to see how I can make the parks and our programs even more accessible to those with different needs - whether that means adjusting times so working parents can participate more to having even more collaboration with WSSRA. “Accessible’ means many things to many people and my main commitment is to explore that word and it’s potential to the fullest.

2. What steps will you take to improve and expand community engagement with the Park District and the Board? What is your view on how local elected officials should communicate with and respond to constituents?

As a resident of River Forest, I have had a great experience with the Park District staff and the Board. I think the current Board has been very approachable and welcoming of engagement with residents both at meetings and when you see them at events in town. We had a lot of questions when it came to understanding how the programs could support our daughter and we always felt supported as a family. I want to make sure all residents feel that.

I think it’s important to maintain that level of engagement and continue to be available for families and residents. As a whole, residents are asking for more transparency and greater visibility into town initiatives and I think the Park Board can and should do this too. It would be great to see a town-wide initiative towards accessibility – like live streamed meetings - that all boards and township meetings could benefit from. The Park District does a great job of communicating it’s programming. I think a simple solution is making sure we do the same for any meetings, decisions, or ordinances under our purview that affect residents.

3. 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 don’t have any specific qualifications or certifications in any of these areas. My lens of equity comes from the experiences my family has had navigating our local, state and federal resources for special needs.

Parenting a child with special needs changes your worldview in a way that is hard to communicate unless you’ve had that experience. It changes the way you experience everyday things people take for granted and shifts your priorities. When advocating for my daughter, I do so with the assumption that what I need for her to feel supported benefits more than just her. I will take that philosophy to my duties as a board member.

4. What purpose does the Park District serve in the River Forest community? What is your vision for the River Forest Park District?

I think the purpose of the Park District is to unite the community through recreational and educational opportunities that benefit all members of the community and meet them where they are, with the abilities they have and with the means they have.

I would like to see the Park District continue to grow its programs and continue to serve all residents of the village. I think we could add some programs for our special needs community and also continue to increase accessibility in our parks and facilities to residents with mobility and sensory issues. The Board has been incredibly diligent in its spending and I’d like to continue that fiscal responsibility while making sure that when the Board oks a program, measure or spending it benefits more than just one special interest group.

5. What do you hope to accomplish as a member of the Park District Board?

I would love to develop some additional recreational options for River Forest residents – both adults and kids - with special needs. I feel the Park District has a great relationship with WSSRA and I would like to see how we could further grow that relationship to provide opportunities in River Forest for members of our community. It would be great if these programs could serve as a catalyst for bringing together residents of all needs at a larger scale. One program D90 schools utilize is the Best Buddy program which partners kids with special needs with neurotypical kids. I would love to explore if there are opportunities for the Park District to employ the same type of system in relation to Park District programs.

6. What should be the role of the Park District in reducing and mitigating flooding, given the amount of green space under its jurisdiction?

My understanding is the Park District currently provides staff to remove water from fields when they flood. I think the Park District should continue to be responsible for the maintenance of all the fields. I think if usable lands under the Park District’s jurisdiction have issues with flooding it is the responsibility of the Park District to examine the issue and see what can be done to curtail the issue. I know that turf has been considered as a possible solution to flooding, but from what I’ve read and after listening at recent meetings I think there are still a lot of outstanding questions and no definitive answers when it comes to flooding.

One of the questions I still have regarding the turf is whether there is a drainage system that could be installed that could help alleviate the issue of flooding.

7. What can or should the Park District do to provide more unstructured/unscheduled access to its facilities? For example, should the District make things like basketball hoops available for unscheduled use?

As a resident of River Forest, I feel I have excellent access to most outdoor facilities throughout town. With regards to indoor facilities - gym’s throughout RF - I think it would be problematic to provide unstructured or unscheduled access since we would not want to leave our school’s unlocked without any supervision on site. Safety for all residents and our students is important. I would be open to a program where gyms were open, but residents paid a fee in order to staff the gyms to keep the school safe - kind of like a ‘Class Pass’ gyms have.

Regarding basketball hoops - I think if there was enough interest from River Forest residents the Board would need to discuss where additional hoops could be added and determine if the added costs for hoops, maintenance and the possible cost to the village for additional insurance (if needed) would justify adding hoops. Unfortunately, we do have finite space and making sure everyone can enjoy that space is something I will continue to press for if elected.

8. What is your position on adding artificial turf at Keystone and Centennial parks?

I am still developing my opinion on the turf issue. I have a number of questions that still need to be answered to come to an informed conclusion. If I was on the Board now, and had to vote, I’d vote “No”. I think it’s important to make sure the Board votes knowing all the facts, understanding all the safety issues, and having clear guides as to the financial pros and cons of turf beyond installation. There are too many unknowns to confidently vote yes right now.

I know the Board is working on an updated Q&A that will help answer a number of remaining questions. As a resident, I realize we are a land-locked community and thus need to find ways to utilize the space we have more effectively. Theoretically, the installation of turf could provide more scheduling flexibility for the Park District and Youth Baseball and Soccer. Increasing our parks availability and usage is absolutely a benefit to many families and residents.

However, I’ve also heard, and share the concerns regarding injury, negative impacts on the environment and health, and true financial savings. I’m also not convinced that the turf installation is the silver bullet for flooding.

Ultimately, I think it’s the role of the Park District Board to serve the residents and make sure I’m making informed decisions that benefit a majority in our Village. In the end, I would vote based on having credible information and make sure I was making an informed vote.

9. What are the opportunities and limitations of the Park District coordinating with the River Forest Community Center?

The Park District and Community Center are two separate entities. The Park District is a not-for-profit that services River Forest and surrounding communities. Whereas, the Park District is a municipal agency servicing River Forest. They are currently working, along with other agencies, on a collaboration on the renovation or construction of a new facility where the Community Center is currently located.

I am excited by the possibilities that holds for River Forest residents and hope to be able to lend my ideas if elected to the Board.

10. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.

My campaign is self-funded as of right now. I’ve not invested in any paper materials or tangible assets that require funds yet.

• • • • •

[The above answers were supplied on 2/13/19. 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.]