RESPONSES TO THE OPCTA QUESTIONNAIRE
What motivates you to seek this office? How have you participated in public service in the past? 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 had been wanting to get more involved with the political process, as I've reached an age where people need to be more active in government. I had taken small steps to be more public servant minded; became a notary public, participated in election judge training- but when Teresa said she was retiring, I thought carefully about wanting to run. Public office is not something I take lightly, and I was concerned that I wouldn't be ready to do the work. Teresa graciously walked me through what Village Clerk does, and through my own research I realized that the position was very important. If I won, I wouldn't have a vote- but I'd empower people in government and residents to make better decisions through providing and keeping accurate records and keeping abreast of fair municipal procedures.
This is my first time running, but I have been active in charities and non-profits for years. I have served in big organizations such as the Chicago Composer's Forum, the American Composers Forum, Grant Park Music Festival, and St. Luke's Lutheran (New York). I'm very comfortable with the public, I've worked in troubleshooting and problem resolution, I'm very resourceful, and as a young African-American man I believe my experiences will bring a perspective that isn't seen often in government.
Would you describe yourself as an agent of social change? Why or why not?
Strictly speaking, I am not. I find I work best behind the scenes: connecting people with other people who can help their causes, finding out the important information and disseminating it to appropriate groups, seeking and demanding fairness in organization and following up to make sure they do what they say do. I enact social change by providing the people involved with the right information at the right time.
Oak Park has a long 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?
In order for such marginalized groups to feel involved in the process, there must be some sort of incentive for us to do so. I'm doing my part by adding visibility to the process; it's my hope that win or lose, people will see they can make a change in their community. One of the ways I'd like to engage all communities in Oak Park, is by making information more readily available. The simple fact is, most people aren't aware of Village meetings, village issues, or even the citizen created commissions that exist. By promoting them in a variety a ways both established (such as the village instagram, youtube page, facebook, twitter, and pinterest- all of which in my opinion are sorely underutilized) and new ways in the future (can we push notifications to interested parties through their phones? Can we develop a system where keywords are attached to important meetings and targeted groups of people are notified when a meeting happens?) I hope to raise the level of engagement in Oak Park.
As for economic diversity, it seems to me that the problem with real estate taxes are pricing out all sorts of people. We tend to think of the folks who are near poverty, or poor- but it also prices out people in the middle class, retirees, families who want to move in, and other swaths of people. Seeing that we are land locked, and development of new houses won't solve the problem on a large scale, it may be worthwhile to build apartment buildings and condos in areas where development has been lacking and make a village ordinance that a certain percentage of these buildings (say 20-30%) be priced at a median rent that can allow poorer people, retirees, and middle class people to live in the village. The retirees could sell their houses to families looking to live in the village and the cycle would keep the village diverse.
With shifting values at the national level, what role do you see for the Village in helping provide access to critical services such as healthcare or housing support? How would you approach a loss of funding from the Community Development Block Grant program?
This question isn't really relevant to the Clerk role. However, as a citizen- I think that keeping the relationships with the Oak Park Regional Housing center, and working with community groups (as well as reaching out to larger organizations) is key to maintaining as much equity and stability as possible.
Oak Park recently passed a strong Welcoming Village Ordinance clarifying the relationship between Oak Park officials and federal immigration authorities. What else can we do to provide protections for residents? How far should the Village go in responding to injustices at the federal level that reach into our community?
I was there that night. There were so many people who came out and spoke about why that ordinance mattered. But when it comes down to it, if we don't respond or act when the federal government comes, the ordinance is worthless. The biggest thing we can do is remain vigilant against acts of injustice disguised as the law. This land is a land that welcomes every one, from its inception this has been a land of opportunity that has born from people all over the world, a unique folk that call themselves American. And when it comes down to it, American isn't a race, or a culture, or a background but a creed that all people are equal, and all people are welcome.
Specifically, we can urge other groups (the high school, D97, hospitals, etc.) not to disclose information that identifies people as unregistered, or "illegal". And as public servants, the village owes the public (which is also made up of such folks) a duty to protect them. They pay taxes too. They contribute to the common good. They deserve our protection.
How can the different taxing bodies in Oak Park coordinate planning and spending to manage the overall tax burden on residents?
We currently have an organization called iGov that seeks to do that very thing. We have not gotten very involved with the process yet, but it appears to be something that at least three trustee candidates (Moroney, Andrews, and Boutet) are seriously interested in changing.
Do you support the Albion development? What responsibility does the Village have to obtain public input on this project and similar requests for significant zoning variances?
As a private citizen, I do not. Vantage isn't completely full, and there isn't much of a need to put a giant apartment building in that area. As to the second part of that question, this is a good example of how the clerk helps you. As it stands now, two things are significant:
1) The Planning commission andthe zoning board of appeals commission, are two citizen commissions that make suggestions on what to do in these situations to the board. The board takes their advice in consideration for all these issues. Their meetings are open to the public (7pm first thursday, and 7pm first Wednesday respectively) and they take public comment very seriously. In addition to village board meetings (7:30 PM first and third Mondays) those are places where citizens can make public comment hear official explanations, and get public input on developments in the village
2) The village is required to give all sorts of information about these sorts of projects, that can be obtained in several ways, but the most important and powerful is the FOIA request. Through this, the public can learn the nitty gritty about a variety of public records, of which planning and zoning is featured prominently:
Please describe how environmental stewardship been a value in your own life. How do you envision bringing that perspective to your service with the Village?
I compost and recycle, and have done so since the late 80s. Again, this question is not particularly applicable to the role of Clerk, but I thought I'd let you know anyway. :)
Violence is a significant problem in neighboring areas and has taken its toll on our community as well. What should the Village do to improve public safety? How can Oak Park work with neighboring communities to support their efforts?
Statistically speaking violence has gone down quite a bit in the last couple of decades. In 1983, it was not uncommon for the Wednesday journal to report on gangland style executions (See August 1983 Wednesday Journal). The violence that is happening now is frightening, however not typical.
That being said, Mayor Anan had a town hall meeting with Alderman Chris Taliaferro of the Austin/Galewood communities recently where I posed the same question. For me it comes down to "How can we be good neighbors?". In my own life, I try to get to know all my neighbors, so we can look out for each other and be on the look out for things that are out of place. But at the same time, we must also be good neighbors to surrounding communities. Reaching out in meaningful ways to neighborhood groups like Jehovah Jireh in the Austin community and providing what we can in terms of resources will help those in those communities as well as helping ourselves. We are our brother's keeper, and we must act like it. Oak Park doesn't exist in a vacuum.
Recent years have seen primarily multi-family and retail developments coming to Oak Park. What ideas do you have for bringing more commercial development to the Village? Would you consider funding an incubator for tech start-ups? How can the Village attract and support entrepreneurs?
A couple of months ago, there was a Request for Proposals for the parcel of land on Madison and Oak Park. There were two proposals, the one that was accepted by Jupiter Realty, and one from a lone architect without a development company that talked about a similar thing; a mixture of community space and maker space that would allow people in the community to use material and resources as a shared commodity.
As a small businessman, I'm all for funding local entrepreneurs. Local people shop in the stores, and bank at the local banks, and keep their money in the community. They're engaged with local politics, because it affects their bottom line. They're good citizens and add to the growth of the community.
Recently, the village received 3 million dollars in funding that is earmarked to help small businesses. This was a grant, and hopefully will grow new businesses in this community. I think by having people who are connected to Oak Park in the ways I mentioned before, we will naturally attract people who want to work with Oak Park.
Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
Jack and Flora Robinson- $300
Daniel Stewart- $200
James Robinson-Parran- $100
Profile of James Robinson-Parran (Wednesday Journal)
As clerk I will try to demystify government (Wednesday Journal)
Oak Park musician enters village clerk race (Wednesday Journal)
Why I'm running for village clerk (Wednesday Journal)
Candidate Profile (SUA)