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 teach in the Department of Public Administration at UIC. I also spent a portion of my career working in local government. I believe that there is an advantage in having people on the Board with experience of this type who can bring new ideas to the table on how village government is run, how services can be improved, how costs can be held down, and how the needs of all citizens can addressed.
2. What do you believe makes an effective Trustee?
Beyond the basics of doing your homework and being knowledgeable on the issues and problems confronting the Village, I place particular importance on remaining in constant touch with residents. During my campaign, I have spent substantial time going door-to-door which has been invaluable in helping me understand the concerns and priorities of residents. Should I be elected, I would continue to engage in this as well as other forms of grassroots communication.
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?
I support an assertive posture on the part of the Board vis-à-vis the Village administration to include ensuring that the Board is apprised of forthcoming issues early in the process and hence can begin to shape a position prior to when formal Board action is required.
4. When in your experience have you had to balance competing interests? What process did you use? What did you learn?
The Transportation Commission of which I am a member is often asked to balance the interests of the residents of an immediate block in having a stop sign installed with the interests of drivers from throughout the Village in an expeditious flow of traffic. The approach of the Commission has been to develop a Traffic Calming Toolbox which provides an objective framework within which such issues can be resolved. Notwithstanding the availability of the Toolbox, Commission members are attentive to aspects of each situation that may warrant an exception to a strictly data-based approach. On balance, this mix of objectivity and subjectivity seems to work well.
5. What does transparency in government mean to you? How would you put it into practice?
When the responsibility for Freedom of Information Act requests was shifted away from the Village Clerk to the Village Attorney, I weighed in publicly in opposition to this move. A major concern was that, as a citizen, I want someone with some independence from the Village administration in charge of a process the results of which may at times threaten the immediate interests of administrators.
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?
Although e-mail, regular mail, telephone, and social media constitute primary means whereby Trustees can remain in communication with residents, there is also an obligation on the part of Trustees to reach out to groups inclusive of individuals who have not traditionally been highly involved in Village government. As one example, I would reach out to renters and condo-owners on a building by building basis to increase awareness of how Village government impacts their lives.
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)?
Most poignantly for me has been my membership in Euclid Avenue Methodist Church which has been on the forefront of social justice issues (gay rights, racial equality) both locally and nationally. I served as our congregation’s representative to United Power which was active in seeking approval of the Grove affordable housing facility on Madison. We are one of Housing Forward’s homeless shelter sites. We have lobbied for years at both the regional and national levels of the Methodist Church in support of gay marriage.
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?
My experience on the Transportation Commission has been that the Village administration and board give due deference to the ideas and opinions of Commission members.
As discussed above, it is important the Village Clerk retain responsibility for Freedom of Information Act requests. I would also support having the Clerk serve in an ombudsperson role whereby citizen complaints and concerns are routed through that office for clearance.
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?
My observation is that members of these communities will only be given due weight in matters of Village government when they are registered and vote in proportion to their numbers in the population.
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 commonly surfaces in the context of specific issues. In 2018, the Transportation Commission was asked by the Village Board to conduct a study of parking in the Village. Two public hearings made apparent the extent to which the lives of renters have been adversely impacted by the Village’s parking restrictions. To remediate the problem the Commission recommended that the overnight parking ban be eased for a portion of the Village, a recommendation that was not accepted by the Village Board. An equity “lens” such as has been proposed would ensure that equity considerations aren’t lost when such issues come before the Board.
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 report of the Taxing Bodies Efficiency Task Force provides a good explanation of why the tax burden has risen in Oak Park in recent years. I endorse the Task Force’s recommendation that tax increases for all local taxing bodies including the Village be limited to 3% per year going forward. This will be a major challenge given the Village’s huge, unfunded police and fire pension liabilities which themselves account for about one-third of the Village’s portion of the levy.
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?
I believe that climate change and the related issue of sustainability should be assigned a higher priority by Village government. One particular aspect of the problem on which the Village could be more proactive relates to recycling and composting. Oak Park residents currently recycle or compost approximately 30% of the total amount of waste they generate. Our goal should be to double that rate within 4 years. Key in this regard is to encourage more households to compost their food waste. I would reduce the monthly cost of the compost bins by one third, offsetting the cost in part by phasing out the leaf collection program.
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?
For the short term, I have called for a moratorium on the construction of any building in downtown Oak Park exceeding 8 stories in height pending a community dialogue regarding the costs and benefits of these structures. To what extent do these structures mitigate the property tax burden on residents? To what extent does the increased demand for services offset any gains in tax revenue? Are these structures consistent with local design standards and preferences? Longer term, I would be amenable to a balanced approach whereby development that is compatible with local standards and preferences is allowed but whereby any requests to waive the zoning rules to allow increased density are given the closest scrutiny.
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?
I am supportive of the Village's efforts to promote housing affordability for example with regard to the Commonwealth Builders project on S. Oak Park Ave. which was made possible by funds contributed by developers to the Village’s Affordable Housing Fund. I support an inclusionary zoning ordinance which requires that developments requiring waivers of zoning restrictions include a minimum percentage of affordable units or alternatively that requires an equivalent contribution on the part of developers to the Affordable Housing Fund.
15. Describe a specific initiative you would undertake in collaboration with one or more neighboring communities.
[Candidate did not answer.]
16. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
I am the largest contributor to my own campaign.
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[The above answers were submitted on 2/10/19. For current financial information, please see Thompson for Trustee financials at Illinois Sunshine. Illinois Sunshine is also a useful resource for identifying past contributions by individuals to political candidates and committees in Illinois.]
Thompson knows government (WJ 3/26/19)
An excellent choice for trustee (WJ 3/26/19)
Oak Park Development Watch candidate questionnaire (Facebook 3/22/19)
Candidate Profile (WJ 3/15/19)
A great fit for OP village board (WJ 2/19/19)
UIC professor campaigns for Oak Park Trustee (WJ 1/29/19)
Village clerk should oversee FOIAs (WJ 1/15/19)
Thompson for Trustee campaign disclosures (Illinois State Board of Elections)
Thompson for Trustee 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)