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 have lived in Forest Park most of my life and it has always been a wonderful place to live. I very much enjoyed my previous service to our Village on the Plan Commission and Village Council. I am glad to see more people taking an interest in our Village and wanting to serve on our councils and boards. In our current difficult financial condition, my education, career experience, and village experience make me uniquely qualified to serve on the Village Council. I have spent my career working for a fixed price international contractor where creative solutions, collaboration, and fiscal discipline are critical for success. Although I was largely in the minority when I served on the council, I was able to bring new ideas and a sense of fiscal responsibility to the council and seek to do so again.
2. What are Forest Park’s greatest strengths? What are its greatest challenges? What is your vision for Forest Park?
Forest Park’s greatest strength is sense of community. Forest Park is often described as “Mayberry” in the midst of the Chicagoland area with “Big City Access and Small Town Charm”. Like many communities, Forest Park faces the challenges of maintaining excellent services and engaging village residents from all walks of life. My vision for Forest Park is to be a safe, secure, well maintained, vibrant community where all members of the community are provided services, engaged in numerous community activities and feel like the Village is there to serve and support them. Although not within the responsibility of the Village Council, significant positive changes have been made in Proviso District 209. The residents of Forest Park have demonstrated their commitment to village by significantly funding our Park District and elementary school district. Our Park District recently constructed a new recreational facility and we anticipate an improvement in our elementary school district.
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 is the conduct of village business in an open environment which is readily accessible and well documented with easy access for all interested parties. Although the Village website is a great source of information, past administrations did not facilitate public involvement in the legislative process and, as such, the village of Forest Park was not nearly as transparent as it should be and can be. There are a number of items that the village can do to be more transparent and allow residents to be aware of the issues facing the village. In particular, the village should implement the following changes.
Keep the public informed by issuing Council Meeting packets a week prior to the meeting instead of the minimum required 48 hours. Encourage council members to discuss important items fully before casting their votes.
Provide regular reports and new letters of substance on Village issues and activities.
Open Village Boards and Commissions to broaden community participation so that our boards and commissions are representative of our entire village.
Provide easy access to information and documentation on village government.
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?
The Village of Forest Park, Park District, Chamber of Commerce, and other organizations hold a number of events and activities which are generally well attended but always by the entire community. There needs to be greater coordination of these activities engage the entire community. In addition, community events should be used to promote the village and local businesses. For example, local businesses should be featured exclusively at village events like Summer Fest, Groovin in the Grove, and the Rib Fest. Regarding communication between elected officials and constituents, in my experience, elected officials are generally responsive to requests from constituents and often can intervene due to their administrative responsibilities. In addition, all elected officials should establish regular office hours and allow constituents to schedule meetings during the regular hours.
5. In what ways have you sought to better know and understand the experiences, concerns, and needs of residents outside your demographic group?
One of the greatest benefits of becoming involved in politics has been the opportunity to meet and discuss issues with residents from all walks of life. Especially in a diverse community like Forest Park, I had the opportunity to meet progressively more people outside my demographic group by first attending town hall meetings followed by my service on the Plan Commission, Village Council, and finally campaign for Mayor. For example, while campaigning for Mayor, I met with groups of African American men to learn about there experiences in Forest Park. These discussions made me realize that Forest Park had not completely transformed from what Forest Park was when I was a child living here in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Following my unsuccessful campaign for Mayor, I continued to actively support candidates for state and federal offices which has continued to give me the opportunity better understand the experiences and concerns of all residents. While Forest Park has become a diverse and welcoming community, additional work needs to be done to fully involve all of our residents in our community.
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?
Like our state and many Illinois municipalities, Forest Park’s pension obligations are under-funded. The current funding level of Forest Park’s Police and Firefighter pension fund is under 64% of our current obligations which represents a shortfall of over $21 million. In addition, our fund balances have declined significantly over the last few years. Our biggest challenge will be to maintain our current level of services as much as possible as we strive to restore our reserves and increase the funding of our pension fund. Forest Park must focus our resources on core services while supporting the business community to stimulate and facilitate economic development. As a non-home rule community, taxes for the support of our village are limited to the rate of inflation. The Village of Forest Park currently owns approximately 11 acres of mostly undeveloped land known as the Altenheim property. The Village should seek to sell portions of the property for residential development, investigate the viability of hotel in the vicinity of the Des Plaines station, and retain a significant portion as park space. In addition, the Village should work with the Chamber of Commerce to better brand and market our business districts.
7. What should the Village Commission's role be with respect to economic development and attracting new business to Forest Park?
Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) districts have been established in Forest Park to allocate future tax increases to improvements in the TIF districts. While these funds are removed from the general revenue, the funds are used to attract business to the TIF district. The village can also enter into redevelopment agreements which rebate a portion of the sales tax within limits established by the agreement. While TIF districts and redevelopment agreements are effective tools for promoting economic development, these tools must provide for a next increase in the overall revenue to the village. As was done for the Downtown Business District, zoning ordinances can be used make commercial districts more attractive. The village can also work with the owners of vacant commercial properties and prospective businesses to facilitate the planning and zoning process.
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?
With some additional input from residents, the Village Council needs to develop a mixed use plan which incorporates the zoning limits and restricted covenants contained in the purchase agreement with the Altenheim. The restricted covenants limit the total area of development to 8 acres and limits the development to zoning class R-1 and R-2 and qualifying exemptions “provided that such use will not interfere with the reasonable, quiet enjoyment by the residents of the A and B Buildings of their apartments and of the surrounding property retained by the Altenheim.” The development limit of 8 acres ensures that a significant portion of the Altenheim property will become open public green space. The portion of the property along Van Buren Avenue has utilities in place which would facilitate residential development consistent with the current zoning and Althenheim purchase agreement. Although input is required from both the surrounding residents and the Altenheim management, the Village should investigate the feasibility of rezoning the southern portion of the property to allow a hotel and commercial district.
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?
The division can be healed by recognizing the fact that there were valid reasons on both sides of the argument. All parties must seek to understand the opposing position and engage in open discussion of the issue without getting personal or holding grudges. Now that the voters rejected video gaming by a narrow margin, the village can help our local establishments by increased funding of the Chamber of Commerce to market our village and by promoting local businesses exclusively at Village sponsored events.
10. Do you believe Village Commissioners have a role to play in relation to District 91 and District 209? Why or why not?
Our school districts have a tremendous influence on the vitality of our Village. As is the case for all of the communities served by District 209, the village can help to provide a safe environment for students on the campuses and as they travel to and from school. Similarly, the village can help provide a safe environment for students in our local elementary schools. Although not a formal role, Village officials should be active in our school districts by attending school board meetings and encouraging our residents to be active participants in our school so that they understand the efforts being taken to improve the schools. Our residents demonstrated their commitment to our school children when they voted to dramatically increase the funding for District 91 over 12 years ago. Unfortunately, the increased resources have not translated into meaningful improvements in the test scores of our students which remain significantly below state averages. As has taken place over the last few years for District 209, I am encouraged that more of our residents are demanding improvements in our schools and seeking to serve on our school boards.
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?
The Diversity Commission can promote equity and inclusion with the following activities.
Identify and encourage people with diverse backgrounds to serve on village boards and commissions.
Promote and develop people from all backgrounds, genders, and preferences to participate in public service.
Propose activities to engage all members of our community.
Work with local entities like the Progress Center for Independent Living to identify obstacles to independent living and encourage the village and property owners to remove the obstacles.
With the large percentage of rental properties in Forest Park, the village must seek better ways to communicate with all residents and engage them in village activities. While the bi-monthly newsletters which accompany water bills are an effective way to communicate with home owners, many residents do not receive water bills. The village must communicate more broadly to engage all of our residents.
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?
Forest Park can have an impact on climate change by seeking to improve the energy efficiency of village buildings and vehicles. Thermal imaging can be used to help identify cost effective building improvements that reduce energy consumption. Like many communities, Forest Park has installed highly efficient LED lighting fixtures and has used permeable pavers to a limited extent in alley improvements. A Climate Action Plan should be developed to evaluate the potential within the village for energy savings. The plan should also include seemingly small changes the village can make and help residents implement as well. In addition, the Village building department can provide information and guidance to residents seeking building permits to make them aware of energy saving options that exist for their home and building improvements. Even small activities like roof top gardens and the planting and care of trees should be included in the Climate Action Plan.
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?
Yes, the Commission form of government was developed at the turn of the last century in an attempt to reduce corruption by giving qualified elected officials both legislative and administrative responsibility. However, Commissioners are elected at large and are assigned their departments by a majority of the Village Council once seated in office. Especially in a small community like Forest Park, there is rarely any correlation between the Commissioner’s qualifications and the function of their assigned department. Forest Park should seek a change from the Commission form of government to a form which removes the administrative responsibility from elected officials. The new form of government should retain the responsiveness of the Village elected officials and staff to residents without placing administrative responsibility with elected officials. Currently, most residents are not aware of form of government in Forest Park and it’s impact on village operations. The new village council should address the issue to educate the residents and seek their support for a change to a more traditional form of government for a community of our size.
14. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
I am fortunate to be able to fund my campaign without assistance. I am not accepting donations from anyone.
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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 Review endorsement (Forest Park Review 3/19/19)
What it takes to be commissioner (Forest Park Review 3/12/19)
Survey Responses: Martin Tellalian (Forest Park Review 3/1/19)
Former commissioner, mayoral candidate announces new run (Forest Park Review 11/20/18)
Citizens for Tellalian campaign disclosures (Illinois State Board of Elections)
Citizens for Tellalian 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)