JESSICA L. VOOGD
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?
I am motivated to run because we need to see more transparency and inclusiveness in our village government. As a resident I have found it difficult to find information that should be publicly available. I have also felt dismissed and excluded when trying to participate in my local government. I bring fresh eyes and perspective to the job. I also bring a desire to engage the community and make our local government as accessible as it can be. I am hopeful that others in my community who feel dismissed or not welcomed to participate might also be motivated to engage. While we need to work toward better fiscal responsibility and economic development in Forest Park, we definitely need strong community involvement for our village to truly succeed.
2. What are Forest Park’s greatest strengths? What are its greatest challenges? What is your vision for Forest Park?
One of our best assets is our Big City Access and Small Town Charm. The challenge some see is keeping our small town charm while addressing financial and economic needs and development. We will embrace forward thinking initiatives, and unite in working toward a successful, sustainable future. Forest Park continues to lure city and neighboring town transplants because of our charm, stellar location, vibrant business community, and welcoming neighbors. I want to keep Forest Park charming, eclectic, and independent. We must keep the future in mind. I want us to find that balance, of embracing and promoting our small town charm while utilizing smart technology, community outreach, and green infrastructure.
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 means easy to access information. Transparency means embracing citizen engagement and opinions. As commissioner I would push for the posting of our village budget on line, so residents can see how their government is spending their money. I would also try to move the budget meeting from 11am to the evening so more folks have the opportunity to attend. I recently read this on a policy website and it really resonated with me, “when government is complex and convoluted, it is difficult for citizens to actively participate in the decision making processes that affect their daily lives.” Transparency will make citizen involvement easier, more relevant and ultimately better for the village.
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?
I want to bring respectful responsiveness as a village commissioner. Residents need to feel engaged and listened to, or they won’t see the value in participating. Forest Park needs citizen involvement to truly succeed. I want to revitalize our boards and commissions; they should feel they have the village’s support to truly fulfill their duties, as well as the agency to take action.
5. In what ways have you sought to better know and understand the experiences, concerns, and needs of residents outside your demographic group?
I have been actively listening to neighbors and residents. Those chats have reconfirmed that we all have a unique story but we also have shared concerns and needs. It’s pretty evident that, for such a diverse community as Forest Park, we don’t necessarily see that representation in our village hall or our elected officials. I want to continue to listen to all of our residents, and I want to see our elected officials looking more like the people they represent. I want to encourage our community to get involved and be heard.
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 currently has a deficit that requires immediate attention. With a fresh set of eyes and new perspectives, I’m confident we can identify unnecessary spending with a line-by-line forensic audit of the budget. This is a must-do first step and will not only alert us to misplaced revenue, but it will help more accurately gauge our financial situation to better create our budgets moving forward. This goes in tandem with economic development. An increase in visitors to Forest Park not only helps our businesses but increases revenue for the Village.
7. What should the Village Commission's role be with respect to economic development and attracting new business to Forest Park?
The Village council should reach out to a variety of prospective businesses and sectors, work closely with the Chamber of Commerce, and have a continual dialogue with existing businesses and residents to learn what is and isn’t working here in Forest Park. We need to see a fresh marketing approach that reaches outside of the Village. Residents alone cannot sustain our local businesses. We need to encourage people to come discover, enjoy, and make Forest Park a destination they visit throughout the year. Updating our website, refreshing the Village of Forest Park App, and deploying a new marketing campaign can help us reach a wider swath of potential visitors. The commercial architecture and eclectic, independent businesses give Forest Park an undeniable charm that sets us apart from other towns. We can embrace and celebrate our uniqueness as we recruit new businesses.
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?
The Village has received some really great feedback from many in the community regarding the Altenheim property. It is a big project and not one to rush into without doing our due diligence. It has been sitting there for decades and it would be a shame to rush something through now just to say “we did it.” Let’s start by making certain we address traffic and parking issues; flood abatement plans; discussions and written agreements with PACE and CTA. We must be sure that any necessary discussions with neighboring towns are taking place. Let’s see 2 or 3 solid plans drawn up that incorporate the community’s ideas and concerns along with the limitations of the sales contract. We should host several town halls about each plan, and we must include a comprehensive breakdown of costs, financial grants and assistance, infrastructure impact, community impact, and outside stakeholder partnerships and commitments. After considering input from the community, we should then decide which plan is best suited for the space. I think we are really close, but I don’t think the tough questions and issues have been successfully answered by any one plan yet. Any topic that has so much of the community engaged really needs to see a measured approach from the village.
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?
Forest Park is moving forward; we are healing. We may have a ways to go, but I am seeing it already in the folks out there who are talking to each other and are discussing new ideas for our Village. I really feel that first step toward healing was securing the vote and finally exercising that right in November. We had record turnout in our Village. Every single one of us, regardless of our stance, had our voices heard. I think video gambling was not right for Forest Park. The three years of dismissiveness, voter suppression, and divisive rhetoric really motivated me to work to get our vote back. Moving forward, our future leaders must work to keep our town from dividing over issues. We must listen to each other and work together to find the common ground.
10. Do you believe Village Commissioners have a role to play in relation to District 91 and District 209? Why or why not?
There are a few things Village Commissioners should do in relation to our schools. We need to keep an open dialogue with the schools and the Board. As a Village, we only win when our schools are doing well. We have a better quality of life, higher property values, and better education for our children. Forest Park needs to better recognize and celebrate our kids and their schools. We should be celebrating academic and sporting successes locally. This support strengthens community ties and helps engage young families, from preschool through high school. Our Village government can be a partner with the community and schools to make sure we are doing our best to champion our kids and our schools. I would love to see Village Hall partner with 209 to form an internship program.
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?
First and foremost, as a commissioner, I would like to hear from the Diversity Commission. They have ideas, observations, and suggestions that I think would be a great first step moving toward a more inclusive, welcoming Village. Secondly, I would like to make certain that the Diversity Commission feels empowered to take action. Right now, the commission has 9 seats but only 6 are filled. This makes reaching quorum difficult. If meetings can’t take place, the commission can’t act and residents are unable to get involved. I would recommend adjusting the amount of Diversity Commission seats to a more reasonable number. I would love to see the Diversity Commission create some outreach programs to get our residents more involved. Everyone in our community should feel represented and free to participate.
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?
I want to see Forest Park working toward becoming an environmentally sustainable Village. It’s surprising that we aren’t doing more. If we all do our part we can definitely make an impact on climate change. I would like to see the newly recharged Sustainability Commission get the support they need from the Village Council. We can request an environmental impact assessment of our local government and the Village as a whole. We, along with the Sustainability Commission, can work on better educating the residents about recycling, composting, and the benefits of reducing the waste before it’s created. This works well in conjunction with my ideas of updating the Village website and refreshing the Village of Forest Park app. The Chamber of Commerce can be a great asset to get our businesses involved in our green initiatives. Our businesses should be recognized and celebrated as they make more sustainable choices. The Village should do its best to make information accessible, welcome the community to participate, and embrace a respectful responsiveness to questions, concerns, and ideas.
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?
I know there has been talk that Forest Park should consider changing its form of government. I fully embrace having this discussion, if this is the desire of the people of Forest Park. I would suggest having some town halls, informational sessions for the public to attend, and also information printed in the Review. Following this public consideration, if the people decide they want this change, it should then be put to a vote.
14. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
We are a grassroots campaign. We are funded by mostly small contributions. I am a union member with the Motion Picture Studio Mechanics Local No 476. They have donated $500 to our campaign. A fellow Forest Park Forward candidate, Mark Boroughf, has generously donated $1600. Shanahan’s has donated $425.
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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.]
Forest Park Forward (campaign website)
Forest Park Forward (campaign Facebook page)
A citizen advocate speaks (Forest Park Review 3/26/19)
Different ideas but shared goals (Forest Park Review 3/26/19)
An opportunity to change directions (Forest Park Review 3/26/19)
What do commissioners do? (Forest Park Review 3/26/19)
Forest Park Review endorsement (Forest Park Review 3/19/19)
Survey Responses: Jessica Voogd (Forest Park Review 3/1/19)
A real opportunity for Forest Park (Forest Park Review 2/12/19)
Commissioner hopefuls form slate around Hoskins (Forest Park Review 11/6/18)
Video gambling isn't the financial windfall promised (Forest Park Review 9/18/18)
Forest Park Forward campaign disclosures (Illinois State Board of Elections)
Forest Park Forward 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)