Susan Buchanan

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?

After the 2016 election, I knew I needed to step up and take action. I’ve lived in Oak Park for 20 years and I love this community for its progressive values and commitment to diversity. I want to play a role in keeping Oak Park on the right path to an equitable and environmentally sustainable community. I bring skills to the position that come from my fulfilling professional career as a family physician and public health specialist. I’ve cared for patients struggling without health insurance, taught vulnerable workers how to improve their health and safety on the job, and became an expert on the health effects of environmental pollutants. I understand the importance of studying problems in depth while listening to and addressing the needs of my patients and the communities I serve. I will bring the same work ethic to the challenges facing Oak Park and our village’s residents.

2. What do you believe makes an effective Trustee?

Current and former trustees have described the position to me. It entails becoming informed about a wide variety of issues on a weekly basis and making difficult decisions regarding the village budget. An effective trustee is one who is able to digest a large amount of information and use their informed judgment to make difficult decisions for the good of the residents and businesses in Oak Park. Also, an effective trustee values the input of residents and brings issues to the board that reflect not only his or her personal values but reflects the needs and priorities of the residents.

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?

Cara Pavlicek recently described the different roles in musical terms: the village manager is the orchestra conductor, the various departments are the sections of the orchestra, and the village board chooses the music. In other words, the board sets the policies and the village staff carry them out under the leadership of the village manager. Cara didn’t mention the role of the village president. I assume the village president sets the meeting agendas, runs the meetings, and functions as the liaison between the board and the village manager.

This organizational scheme is appropriate as long as there is transparency between the various branches of government. Decisions, policies, and approaches implemented without informing the board can lead to dysfunction and mistrust. Therefore, extra care should be taken to keep all stakeholders informed.

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

In my career as a practicing physician and in my current role providing assistance to the USEPA and communities affected by environmental contamination, there have been countless situations in which I had to make recommendations in the face of numerous competing interests such as scientific data, standards of care, patients’ cultural values, and the community’s social determinants of health. When I am required to come to a decision or approach in the face of competing interests, I need to know the basis for the opposing positions. Are they based on financial interests, misunderstanding of the facts, mistrust? I make decisions/recommendations only after finding out the background facts and other related information.

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

Transparency is critically important to the governing process, especially in a community like ours in which residents want to have a voice in how things are run, beyond the ballot box. The village board, manager, and staff should recognize the importance of transparency and implement the infrastructure, procedures, and culture that promote it. This same approach should also take place within and among the village government structure and personnel.

As a trustee, I would insist on transparency pertaining to the basis for decisions made by the village president and village manager. I will want to know details such as background information, stakeholders whose interests are prioritized over others’, and outside consultants’ input, all of which may have influenced decisions and policies.

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?

Many constituents I’ve spoken with are not happy with the level of sharing by board members on social media. The concern is that only portions of constituents use social media and therefore, public servants who use it to gauge ideas, proposals, etc., will be influenced only by that segment of the population. Back-and-forth engagement on issues may lead to an imbalanced and invalid assessment of the community’s position as a whole, and I will avoid it. On the other hand, social media can be a useful tool to inform constituents about upcoming board issues and votes, as well as individual positions on the issues.

To engage with the breadth of the community, I will consider holding monthly sessions on an interactive digital platform in a public place where constituents can either stop by or engage digitally. I will host a website that will be used to inform constituents of my positions and the basis for them.

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)?

I’ve spent the last six months in many, many meetings and phone calls with individual residents, current trustees, former trustees, former village staff, school board members, and leaders of community-based organizations that represent people of color, LGBTQ persons, children’s welfare, small businesses, the homeless/housing insecure, and residents of neighborhoods in the geographical corners of Oak Park (southeast and northeast). I plan to continue to reach out to these and other groups so I can fully understand and recognize their goals, desires and criticisms of Oak Park village government.

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?

As a member of the Oak Park Board of Health Commission, I appreciate Oak Park’s history of using the commissions as the “eyes and ears” of residents. Commissions also are comprised of expertise that is often not available on the board or even among village staff. Therefore, I fully support the board relying on citizen commissions. It has been my experience on the Board of Health that the commission responds to board requests but does not use its expertise or role as commissioners to the extent that it might. I understand that some of this is due to lack of staffing time, but since there is a plethora of expertise on a multitude of issues among commissioners, I would like to see the commissions respond to issues from residents and businesses or that they themselves prioritize, and then take those issues to the board for action.

The Village Clerk plays a vital role in our community as what is often the first contact villagers have with municipal government. He or she also assures a degree of transparency in the proceedings of government, as the non-voting attendee of all village board meetings, including executive sessions.

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?

In Oak Park, we take pride in being a diverse community. But many people of color feel that this village is not for them. The Village Board should play a role in ensuring that Oak Park is a village where all people can thrive by offering services and consideration to those for whom success is a challenge because of their race or economic status. Specifically, we should:

  • Listen to the voices of people of color and low-income individuals. Not just listening when people contact village leaders, but we should actively seek out and recruit minority residents, renters, and low-income residents to fill seats on our commissions, elected boards and government staff.

  • The leadership and staff of the village should reflect the racial makeup of the village they serve. Hiring practices at the village should assure that civil service exam scores and the felony box are not impediments to employment.

  • Support the Housing Center and pass an inclusionary zoning ordinance that will help us increase our rental stock available to low-income residents.

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?

According to the Center for Social Inclusion, racial equity is achieved when race no longer determines one’s socioeconomic outcomes. I like this definition because it offers the vision of an outcome and illustrates how far we need to go. Even though we pride ourselves on being a diverse community, the recent “America to Me” series showed all of us that the experiences of many in Oak Park are not equitable. I support implementing a village-wide equity policy that includes training for village staff. Also, the Village of Oak Park should become a member of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, which would show a good-faith effort toward racial equity and would provide additional learning and training opportunities for village staff and leaders. Finally, Village government should adopt a structured process for considering equity in all initiatives and decisions. That means when initiatives are proposed, an evaluation takes place that requires those proposing and implementing initiatives to consider if and how equity is addressed or promoted in the initiative.

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?

Property taxes are levied in order to meet the expenses of our village. Recent increases have been caused by the village’s commitment to increase contributions to the police and fire pension funds, which have been neglected for decades, and by the approval of numerous referenda. I support keeping tax increases to the level of inflation. Budgeting should be carried out with this goal.

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?

Climate change is already affecting the health of our planet and many of its residents. In the Chicago area, heat waves and rainfall are increasing. That means higher risk of heat illness and asthma attacks; flooding, mold overgrowth and allergies. The Village of Oak Park government has an important role to play in combating the further degradation of our environment. Scientists tell us there are things we can do at the local level to decrease our carbon footprint, and I support using evidence-based approaches to do as much as we possibly can as individuals and as a community.

The Villages of Oak Park and River Forest created a sustainability plan in 2011 called PlanItGreen. Initiatives covered in this plan include education for residents and village government so that sustainable choices become commonplace; incentives and financial tools to encourage energy efficiency, investment in renewable energy, water efficiency, stormwater management, native landscapes, and promoting food scrap composting and construction debris reuse. I support the PlanItGreen sustainability plan, and as Village Trustee I will make sure we are following through on the initiatives recommended in it.

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?

Many Oak Parkers are concerned about the sudden appearance of high-rise buildings in our downtown business areas. The increased congestion, lack of parking, and interference with our green spaces are real issues resulting from this building boom. While some people believe these developments will help stabilize our property taxes, urban planning research does not necessarily support this assumption. On the other hand, locating multi-unit buildings near transit hubs is the environmentally sustainable answer to our housing needs.

After numerous meetings with Oak Park residents, small business owners, architects, urban planners, and environmentalists, I’ve come to believe that building residential developments near the Metra, Green line and Blue line can contribute to the vibrancy of our downtown areas if planned, implemented, and managed in a thoughtful manner that respects the architectural heritage and character of our village. Specifically, this means:

  • Requiring developers to follow environmentally sustainable metrics

  • Height restrictions so buildings do not block our green spaces and architectural treasures

  • Provision of adequate parking spaces, set-backs and affordable units

As a Village Trustee, I will support these requirements for developers. I will also ensure that a variety of residents’ voices are solicited and considered when new developments are planned. Placing multi-unit residential buildings near our public transportation arteries can help support racial and economic diversity, environmental sustainability and our small business owners.

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?

The ability to rent or own a home in Oak Park makes us a diverse and welcoming community. But an analysis of fair housing published in 2010 reports that Oak Park is losing affordable rental units, and that opportunities to purchase homes here are limited for people who are African American and Hispanic. Housing prices and rents are increasing in Oak Park because we are a desirable community for both households and developers. What can the Village Board do to make this community more affordable?

  • Support the Housing Center. The Oak Park Regional Housing Center has been in place since the 1970s to help manage the affordability and integration of our neighborhoods. The Housing Center remains a key resource in our Village and should continue to receive support from Village government.

  • Pass an inclusionary housing ordinance. Many communities require developers of luxury residential buildings either to provide a percentage of units in their developments at affordable prices or contribute to a municipal housing fund to subsidize affordable housing. In September 2018, the Village Board of Trustees voted to create such as ordinance. Oak Park’s inclusionary housing ordinance should be robust, requiring developers to pay impact fees to cover the cost of increased Village services and requiring up to 20 percent of units to be designated as affordable over the long term.

  • Encourage the development of affordable units with at least three bedrooms located near transportation hubs to accommodate working families. The fair housing analysis of 2010 noted that low-income families tend to be larger and lack transportation options. Therefore, to promote economic diversity in Oak Park, we need housing that is affordable to larger families that is within walking distance of the CTA stations.

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

I will seek to collaborate with neighboring communities on community solar initiatives that will allow village government and residents to purchase electricity from renewable sources.

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

Diane Buchanan - $1,000

John R. Buchanan - $500

John M. Buchanan - $500

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[The above answers were submitted on 2/13/19. For current financial information, please see Friends of Susan Buchanan 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

Susan Buchanan 4 Oak Park (candidate Facebook page)

UIC expert profile

Buchanan stands out (WJ 3/26/19)

Village needs bold, progressive trustees (WJ 3/26/19)

Buchanan for village trustee (WJ 3/26/19)

Race is core to our complex issues (WJ 3/26/19)

Oak Park Development Watch candidate questionnaire (Facebook 3/21/19)

Wednesday Journal endorsement (WJ 3/19/19)

Buchanan has priorities in proper place (WJ 3/19/19)

Buchanan, an ideal candidate for OP trustee (WJ 3/19/19)

Candidate Profile (WJ 3/15/19)

Buchanan for village trustee (WJ 3/12/19)

Chicago Federation of Labor endorsement (PDF 3/10/19)

Candidate Interview (The Doris Davenport Show livestream 3/7/19)

When you're choosin', vote for Susan (WJ 3/5/19)

Doctor wants to be Oak Park trustee (WJ 2/19/19)

Friends of Susan Buchanan campaign disclosures (Illinois State Board of Elections)

Friends of Susan Buchanan 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)