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Joshua Klayman

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?

What motivates me is the opportunity to create an inclusive, democratic, fiscally responsible Village government, one that will bring Oak Park into the future without sacrificing its character and values.

My wife and I have lived in Oak Park for 28 years, as renters and as owners. I am a professor at the University of Chicago’s Business School and a partner in a female-owned consulting business. My expertise is in organizational change and management decision making—skills that are certainly needed on the Village Board. Working with several community groups advocating for the people of Oak Park, I have testified to the Plan Commission and to the Village Board in opposition to more luxury-high-rise development downtown, and in favor of greater transparency and fiscal responsibility. I have also served on the Park District Citizens Committee.

In cooperation with the community group VOICE, I have pledged to uphold a set of values around creating transparent and democratic government, maintaining a truly equitable community, advancing policies that support the economic diversity of our community, and advocating development that respects the unique character of the village, its neighborhoods, and the environment. Details are posted online at KlaymanForOakPark.org.

2. What do you believe makes an effective Trustee?

The people of Oak Park deserve a Village government that listens to its citizens, inviting our input well before decisions have been made. We deserve a Village government that bases its decisions on real evidence of what’s best for all the people who live here—a Village government that actively promotes the vision of an affordable, inclusive, integrated, equitable, and welcoming Village with sound environmental practices. To achieve this vision, we need trustworthy leaders who are prepared, progressive, and pragmatic. I am:

  • Prepared, with a track record of working diligently for more appropriate development throughout our Village and for a Village government that is more transparent, fiscally responsible, and citizen-oriented;

  • Progressive, committed to an inclusive, democratic, equitable community, where all kinds of Oak Parkers can afford to live together as neighbors;

  • Pragmatic, with a career as a professor of management at the University of Chicago’s Business School, I know how to make things happen in organizations.

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?

Oak Park has a form of government known as Council-Manager. In this form of government, the Board of Trustees sets policy and the Village Manager and staff are charged with the operations involved in implementing those policies. In reality, the boundaries between policy and operations are fuzzy. The Village Trustees and the Village Manager could do a better job of establishing those boundaries, and that is something the next Village Board should work on. The Village President should be an equal to the other six trustees in creating and deciding policy, with special responsibilities mainly in presiding over Board meetings and in other ways facilitating the processes of the Board. The President has additional legal authority, such as in making nominations for positions, but these should be exercised in collaboration with the other Board members, the Village Clerk, and the appropriate Citizen Commissions and staff.

4. When in your experience have you had to balance competing interests? What process did you use? What did you learn?

I organized the Coalition for Appropriate Development to oppose out-of-scale, out-of-character development projects (such as the “Albion” building over Austin Gardens) and co-founded VOICE, a community advocacy group dedicated to making Oak Park more affordable, democratic, equitable, diverse, and green. Those are both big-tent organizations that require bringing together engaged people with a broad range of perspectives and priorities.

At Plan Commission and Board of Trustees meetings, I testified on issues around development policy and around inclusion and transparency in local government. Those presentations required understanding the positions of the commissioners and trustees and presenting evidence and arguments that could reach them. On the Park District Citizens Committee, I maintained an excellent working relationship with the Board and the Executive Director, while being forthright in encouraging improvements and reforms.

As a community advocate, as a prof at the University of Chicago, and as a management consultant, I have a history of working with people from Libertarian economists to Socialist activists, from starving artists to high-powered business executives. Experience has taught me: You learn by listening deeply to all kinds of people.

5. What does transparency in government mean to you? How would you put it into practice?

Transparency implies that people can see what their government is doing. That’s very important, but even more fundamental is how government does what it does. The focus needs to be on democracy in government. Democratic process is necessary to accomplish any of the Village’s major goals. We need to take actions to increase the involvement of elected officials and citizens into the decision making process. Questions 6 and 8 outline two such actions: improving communication and outreach, and empowering the Citizens Commissions. Question 10 discusses how participatory democracy is essential for equity.

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?

The overall strategy should be for Village government to actively reach out to citizens, rather than passively making information available to those who already know what to look for. There are many steps that can be taken. Here are a few examples:

  • Publish meeting agendas and links to relevant information at least 10 days ahead of meetings, and have them sent out via email and social media to contacts in local community organizations and to individuals who sign on to receive them.

  • Establish regular Town Hall meetings in which officials truly interact with citizens to learn their concerns and gather their ideas.

  • Actively reach out to underrepresented groups, such as African-American, Hispanic, LGBTQ, disabled and poor people, renters, families with children, and any other subset of the population who might be affected by government decisions.

  • Emphasize the role of the Village Clerk as ombudsperson and initial point of contact for dealing with Village government.

  • Create Trustee “office hours” available for hearing from constituents, perhaps designating a particular trustee as the point of first contact for a particular issue, or for a particular geographic segment of the Village.

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)?

In my professional career, I have advised, coached, collaborated with, and consulted with people in every demographic category. Here in Oak Park, I live in a small condo building near downtown. Twelve people live in our building: 3 are African American, 4 are White, and 5 are LatinX. They are a single parent with a small child, two seniors, two empty nesters, two single people, and a two-parent family with kids in Oak Park schools. Next door on one side is a single family home; on the other side is a rental building. This is what living in Oak Park should be like for everyone. Working with community groups and participating in this election, I have spoken with more than a thousand Oak Park residents of all types, as well as others from surrounding communities, about what they love about living or visiting here and what concerns them. Oak Park has an amazing array of different community groups, and attending their meetings and gatherings has been invaluable for learning more about the diversity of people and perspectives in our town. I will keep connecting with those groups after the election—regardless of its outcome.

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 Village Board should encourage and empower the Citizens Commissions to pursue the issues they think are most relevant and to bring forward new initiatives on those issues. The total annual expense of $25,000 to support the commissions is a very small cost for the remarkable expertise and dedication of the citizens on those commissions. Greater reliance on the citizens commissions can reduce reliance on expensive outside consultants. I testified on these issues at the January 14 meeting of the Village Board, where I also expressed concerns about the Village Manager restricting the scope of the commissions. To increase the independence and effectiveness of the commissions, all nominations for all the commissions should go through an independent Citizens Involvement Commission that screens applicants using established criteria for relevant expertise. This had been an established process in our village, but we have recently seen a shift toward commission nominations being made directly by the Mayor. That shift should be reversed.

Village Clerk is an elected position. That democratic control is important because the Village Clerk has the responsibility to keep the public informed about what Village government is doing. The recent attempt to shift the FOIA process from the Clerk to the Village Attorney was very troubling. Attorneys are, by trade, concerned with where the legal boundaries are—not with how best to provide useful information. It was good news when many of the Clerk’s responsibilities were reinstated, but the broader issue of preserving the authority of the Clerk remains a concern.

The Village Clerk should also have the vital role of serving as ombudsperson and initial point of contact for dealing with Village government (see Question 6). Having an elected official perform that role provides citizens with greater assurance that the person they contact puts the citizens’ interests first.

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?

See Questions 6 and 7.

High property taxes are clearly a key issue for Oak Park voters. High taxes are a progressive issue because they are a major impediment to keeping Oak Park economically and racially diverse. Neither austerity nor gentrification is an acceptable response. We need budget reform, realigned priorities, and more appropriate revenue sources. Budget reform will require that the Village set a limit for total expenditures in a given year, with increases at less than the rate of inflation, and then prioritize programs within that limit. The budget process must be more transparent, so that trustees and the public can see clearly what is being spent on which program. Priorities should be based on what helps the broadest range of residents, what helps those who most need it, and what helps people most directly. In looking at the effects of affordability on diversity, we must also look beyond property taxes. If we shift the burden to fees and fines, for example, we risk placing the most adverse impact on those who can least afford to pay. The Village controls a relatively small portion of the tax burden. Nevertheless, the Village must show leadership in managing its finances responsibly.

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?

Quoting Linda Francis, Director of Success for All Youth: “Equity needs more than good intentions. It needs intentional actions.” Equity requires finding the obstacles that are holding some people back, doing the hard work of removing those obstacles, and then making the extra effort to help those people catch up. Equity requires recognizing that policies and actions affect different people differently, and that no one person can fully anticipate all those different perspectives. People who feel disenfranchised may not show up to say, “Hey listen to me.” We must seek them out as equals and prove to them that we are actually hearing them and actually taking their perspective into account. Racial equity is a primary concern, but we must also think about equity in terms of gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, renters vs. owners, different language communities, and so on.

At the level of the individual, we can promote training and facilitate communication. A good example is racial equity training for all Village staff. But we also need to examine how processes and institutions create inequity. For example, when and where are meetings held? How are they advertised? How are citizens empowered to affect the outcomes? Who makes the decisions?

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?

See Question 9.

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?

Environmental issues have not been getting the attention they deserve in the current campaigns, or in Village government. I fully support the resolution recently proposed to the Board of Trustees on January 28 by the Oak Park Climate Action group, which included an appropriate timeline for the Village to move toward 100% clean, sustainable energy sources by 2035. Development decisions also have major impact on the environment. It is neither environmentally sound nor in keeping with the character of Oak Park to authorize development that diminishes the already limited green spaces we have in our Village. But avoiding harm is not sufficient. Each project should enhance the local environment by contributing to green space and by adhering to tough standards for energy efficiency and sustainability. Other actions involve services to residents. For example, recent statistics show the Village’s recycling program has stagnated. We need to investigate why, and to find appropriate steps to increase the amount of recycling and composting, including by multi-unit buildings. And the Village must continue to find ways to make its own operations more efficient and less dependent on fossil fuels.

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?

There is a detailed statement of my development policy on the website KlaymanForOakPark.org. Excerpts:

Oak Park, like all towns, needs to encourage appropriate development in order to thrive. Appropriate development provides new housing opportunities for people at all different income levels and new opportunities for local businesses and jobs while respecting and enhancing the unique character of the village and its neighborhoods and protecting the environment. Appropriate development should take place throughout the Village and not just be concentrated in and around Downtown. Citizens—particularly neighbors and local businesses—must be included in the entire design and selection process, not just at the end, and any development beyond established zoning must provide solid evidence that it will have a positive impact on the quality of life of its neighbors and of the village at large. Developers claim that massive high-rise developments help keep taxes down. But Oak Park’s own experience and research by economists and urban planners show that they do not help. We need to think about revitalizing different parts of the Village, we need to think about housing for middle-class and working-class residents, we need to think about attracting a variety of business and good jobs to our village, and very importantly—we need to keep this a truly integrated town. (See Question 14.)

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?

Excerpted from my comments before the Village Board on February 11:

Integration: “…Any ordinance that encourages developers to build luxury apartments in one part of town while paying to build affordable units in a different part of town threatens the hard work done over decades to create a Village that is integrated racially, economically, and by family structure.  …[There must be strong incentives] to create mixed income housing that keeps all kinds of people living together as neighbors.”

Applying only to transit corridors:  “Transit oriented development is an excellent [concept], but please consider the possible unintended effects of telling developers that if they build away from transit, they need not worry about paying for affordable housing.”

Definition of affordable:  “30% of income for housing [is used] as a metric for affordability, but 30% of what income? …We certainly should provide affordable options for a family making $67,000 per year [80% of median income], but are there sufficient incentives for developers to also provide for those who make $47,000 or $27,000? ”

Height and density:  “[The trustees should] not allow inclusionary zoning to serve as an indirect way to vitiate whatever controls remain on height and density for new developments.” 

Dovetail with other approaches to affordable housing:  “…[approaches] such as a graduated real-estate transfer tax and direct rental subsidies (to which developers could also be required to contribute).”

15. Describe a specific initiative you would undertake in collaboration with one or more neighboring communities.

It is important to collaborate with neighboring communities to support local businesses along the boundary streets of North Avenue, Austin Boulevard, and Roosevelt Road.  Redevelopment along these streets cannot be successful if one-sided. We need to coordinate with our neighboring towns to create effective development plans. We need to actively invite people into Oak Park from Austin, Galewood, Berwyn and other nearby communities to help businesses along those boundaries grow and to foster good relations with our neighbors.

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

To date mine has been a very lean, self-funded campaign. Several individuals have made pledges of support but have not yet made their contributions. None of those individuals has business interests in Oak Park. The community organization VOICE, which has also endorsed two other candidates for trustee, will be providing support in the form of several thousand dollars spent jointly for the three candidates it supports. No contributions have been received from individuals or entities outside Oak Park.

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[The above answers were submitted on 2/13/19. For current financial information, please see VOICE Oak Park financials at Illinois Sunshine. Illinois Sunshine is also a useful resource for identifying past contributions by individuals to political candidates and committees in Illinois.]

Candidate website

University of Chicago CV

Who you gonna trust? (WJ 3/26/19)

Oak Park Development Watch candidate questionnaire (Facebook 3/22/19)

Candidate Profile (WJ 3/15/19)

U. of C. prof, VOICE founder runs for trustee (WJ 3/5/19)

Village trustees must be progressive, accountable (WJ 3/5/19)

Candidate Interview audio | video (The Doris Davenport Show 2/10/19)

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)

Village Manager Association calls it quits (WJ 6/15/18)

VOICE aims to endorse village trustee candidates (WJ 5/22/18)

VOICE Oak Park: New group believes village leaders have lost sight of resident input (Oak Leaves 5/14/18)

VOICE Oak Park campaign disclosures (Illinois State Board of Elections)

VOICE Oak Park financials (Illinois Sunshine)

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About the Oak Park Village Board

SEOPCO candidate forum (Facebook live 3/19/19)

Bike Walk Oak Park Candidate Survey Results (Facebook 3/17/19)

Collaboration for Early Childhood Candidate Survey (PDF)

Talking business at Oak Park trustee candidate forum (WJ 3/15/19)

Oak Park Property Tax Watch Forum Part 1 | Part 2 (Facebook Live 3/5/19)

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)

Everyone on the ballot in Oak Park, River Forest elections (WJ 1/8/19)

Election a go-go (WJ 12/18/19)

Nearly a dozen running for village board as ballot takes shape for April election in Oak Park (Oak Leaves 12/18/18)

Three more put Oak Park village trustee candidates at 11 (WJ 12/3/19)

Now up to eight in race for Oak Park village board (WJ 11/21/18)