Kathleen “Katie” Brennan
candidate for 2019 River Forest VILLAGE TRUSTEE
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 Village of River Forest?
River Forest is my home, and I’m excited for this opportunity to give back to the community that has given so much to my family. As Chair of River Forest’s Sustainability Commission, and past President of the Parks Foundation, I bring over six years of leadership in two vital Village institutions. As an attorney and small business owner, I genuinely listen to understand issues from all sides, and work hard to successfully resolve my clients’ matters. I also serve as Chair of a professional Online Dispute Resolution Task Force, and a Mentor at 1871, Chicago’s lauded business incubator. I value collaboration -- this past year, the Sustainability Commission I chair worked alongside 30 local and regional institutions, businesses and groups, on behalf of the Village.
Most importantly, I am a proud Mom to three children who have attended OPRF, Fenwick, Roosevelt, and Lincoln schools, and whose future has been shaped by growing up in this Village. I believe that Village Trustees should be realistic, approachable, and thoughtfully consider all aspects to issues before them. I will dedicate myself to keeping River Forest a safe, livable and accessible community, and working to offer our residents the most effective and responsive government.
2. What steps will you take to improve and expand community engagement with the Village and the Board? What is your view on how local elected officials should communicate with and respond to constituents?
Village Trustees not only represent the community, but they have a responsibility to be out and about in the community, at festivals, community events, meetings of Village Commissions and other taxing bodies. Many River Forest residents don’t know their Trustees. It’s time to change that, and I would like to lead the way. In addition to attending additional community events, I will offer social media updates on timely issues of interest and be available to meet residents for coffee.
Trustees should also attend other government entity meetings (ex. Park District, Township, School Board) so that they have an ear to the ground and understand what is important to residents in real time. The Village does a good job of communicating with residents and providing public engagement opportunities, but we can do more. The
Village Crime Prevention meetings are excellent, and I recommend that these meetings be live streamed and taped so residents who cannot attend in person can still participate. The new RFHappenings calendar is also a helpful, new resource for all community events. Trustees should use and share this calendar, and report on their community activities and engagements at Village Board meetings.
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)?
My children and I began volunteering at the local Food Pantry as soon as we moved to River Forest. We have regularly volunteered, and I have organized multiple-shift volunteer days at the Food Pantry for each of my kids’ sports teams at OPRF and Fenwick, underscoring to high school students the importance of giving back to their community.
Our family has also participated in all aspects of, and helped lead, the LemonAid Charity event for the past seven years. My children have each co-chaired LemonAid, partnering with charity recipients Oak Leyden Developmental Services (aids adults and children with developmental disabilities); Maywood Fine Arts (scholarships for low-income children); Parenthesis Family Center; and Kidz Express (South Austin-based initiative which hires and provides mentors and aid to low income families). In addition to working alongside my kids and these charities, I instigated the conversion of LemonAid to a “zero waste” event.”
I enjoy getting to know residents of all ages in River Forest through Bocce, Pickleball, Paddle Tennis, and Flamingo Fridays. My family has attended St. Luke’s and First Presbyterian congregations, and I have worked with the West Suburban Temple, United Methodist, Grace Lutheran, Concordia, and Dominican on Village sustainability projects.
4. What is your position on the extent to which the Village should include accessibility features, both for existing structures ( e.g. , Metra, sidewalks) and future developments?
It’s important for River Forest to be accessible for everyone. People with disabilities should have an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from our Village’s services, programs and activities. I support the Village’s adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Specifically, I would support an Ordinance change to require that River Forest institutions comply with the ADA on new construction. It would be helpful to every resident, and especially those in wheelchairs, using walking aids and with strollers, if River Forest sidewalks can be made smoother, have more gradual declines, and if all
curbs are wheelchair accessible. The Village’s Traffic and Safety Commission could identify and solicit resident input re: hazardous spots and work with the Public Works Dept. to repair. Metra issues should be addressed in conjunction with the RTA, and I understand that the recent River Forest Depot renovation has improved accessibility at the River Forest Depot.
5. What steps should the Village take to comply with the Illinois Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act?
The AHPAA requires that 10% of Village housing be affordable to resident homebuyers who earn 80% and renters who earn 60%, of regional median household income.
The good news is that River Forest is currently at 9%. There are other factors at play, such as age of the Village, degree to which River Forest is already a “built out” Community, and more importantly, the upcoming 2020 census data may affect the Village’s affordable housing numbers. If elected, I look forward to evaluating all of the relevant data and working to help River Forest comply with the Affordable Housing Act.
6. Please list up to three steps that you would advocate the Village take to improve safety and mobility for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers?
I believe in “Complete Streets” – the Village should prioritize making our streets safe and accessible for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, disabled residents, and motor vehicles.
This is why I’ve helped organize the “River Forest Bike Task Force,” to give direct input on bicycle safety and accessibility issues for the Village’s Comprehensive Plan. The task force is actively working to ensure that our resident cyclist input is heard and reflected in the Village plans. We need to do the same for transit users and disabled residents. A pedestrian plan – The Safe Walking Routes -- has been prepared and was presented to the Village Board last month. These Plans will also help clarify pedestrian, bike, and motor rights of way in the Village, while still ensuring that motor traffic moves in a reasonably efficient way.
7. In what ways do you think the Village Board effectively represents River Forest residents? In what ways do you think the Village Board could improve in its representation of River Forest residents?
It is important for Village Board members to be approachable, active in the community and open to input from neighbors and residents. Representation is a two-way street – the Board needs to speak on behalf of all residents, and residents need to communicate their views to the Board. Residents can and do send the Village emails which are then
dispersed to the relevant staff and commissions to handle. I know this, because last week an email from a resident who had questions about the Village’s solar policy was forwarded to me, as Chair of the Village’s Sustainability Commission.
Village Board members also volunteer their time as liaisons to local committees and ad hoc groups such as the River Forest Citizens Corps. It’s important for residents to volunteer on these local commissions and committees, follow the issues they are addressing, and show up at meetings to express their views. For example, we need a resident to take a seat on the Madison Ave. TIF Joint Review Board. Residents should also feel comfortable reaching out to Village Trustees on an informal basis – we are a small town, and much communication happens organically in school parking lots, at Flamingo Fridays, on sports field sidelines, and at neighborhood barbecues.
8. How will you balance the need to raise revenue for the Village with other interests of the Village?
I do not believe that these are mutually exclusive – typically raising revenue is in the interest of the Village and its residents. A more financially stable River Forest helps residents by controlling property taxes. River Forest has a unique opportunity right now with TIF districts on the North and South corridors, and development along the Lake Street downtown area. The Village should pay attention to which businesses are more likely to flourish and what the community wants and needs. A thoughtful plan for economic development should balance the desire to entice new business with the practical infrastructure (right-sizing, opportunities for green space, adequate parking and accessibility) to support new businesses and help them thrive. Attractive, local businesses offer convenience, quality of life, local pride, and financial benefits to residents.
Conversely, prioritizing other Village interests can also be good for the Village financially. For example, the Village prioritized sustainability by installing all new LED street and alley lights over the past few years. The new lighting is not only brighter, but it is more energy efficient, saves residents $30K in energy costs per year, and the Village took advantage of a state grant to assist with funding the changeover.
9. What impact can a municipality such as River Forest have on climate change, and how will you prioritize that work among other issues? Do you think River Forest should implement a Climate Action Plan, and if so, what specific elements should it include?
I’m proud and happy to report that the Village recognized the need to prioritize climate change and other sustainability issues when it created a new Sustainability Commission two years ago. I petitioned the Village to create this Commission, and currently serve as its Chairperson.
This Commission hit the ground running, installing cost-free, native gardens to residents at green block parties, drafting a beekeeping ordinance, offering curbside composting to residents (only the second program in Illinois), hosting a Village-wide Recycling Extravaganza, and winning acceptance into a Chicago-area Solar Consortium. Each of these initiatives show both my, and the Village’s, commitment to addressing the environmental impacts of climate change, reducing flooding and chemical run-off into local sewer and river systems, protecting our soil and open spaces, and saving water, energy and costs to residents.
River Forest is already working hard to meet its goals under three regional plans designed to reduce climate change: The PlanItGreen Plan, Greenest Region Compact II, and The Chicago Climate Charter. Rather than creating an additional climate plan, I recommend that we focus our efforts and resources on continuing River Forest’s excellent sustainability work so far and meeting our goals under the existing plans. My leadership as the first Chair of RF’s Sustainability Commission evidences my commitment to these crucial issues.
10. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
By far, I am the greatest donor to my own campaign. All donations received to date are from individual residents and total $50.00 or less.
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[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.]
Katie Brennan for RF Village Trustee (candidate Facebook page)
Vote for Lefko, Gibbs, O'Connell and Brennan (WJ 3/27/19)
Wednesday Journal endorsement (WJ 3/19/19)
Bachner and Brennan for River Forest trustee (WJ 3/19/19)
Community service and leadership (WJ 3/19/19)
Candidate Profile (WJ 3/14/19)
Bachner and Brennan for River Forest trustee (WJ 3/13/19)
Sustainability head runs for River Forest trustee (WJ 2/19/19)
In River Forest, community garden thrives (Forest Leaves 8/27/18)
River Forest could look at single-use bag fee, other environmental initiatives (Forest Leaves 2/13/18)
River Forest's newest commission gets down to work (WJ 4/27/17)
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River Forest Village Board candidates speak on TIF districts, economic development (Forest Leaves 3/4/19)
2019 River Forest Village Board Candidate Forum Video (YouTube 3/2/19)
River Forest candidates face contested elections in April races (Forest Leaves 12/18/18)