Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- With candidates socially-distanced in the board room, the final forum for candidates running to fill three Village of Park Forest Trustee positions was held on Sunday, April 21 at the Park Forest Village Hall and broadcast over the village’s cable access channel and the village website. The forum was moderated by Mr. Chip Young and was sponsored by the Committee for Non-Partisan Local Government in Park Forest and the Park Forest Cooperative.
In attendance were candidates Maya Hardy, Theresa Settles, Erin Slone, and Joshua Travis. Candidate Judy Hawthorne notified the forum organizers that she was ill and unable to participate. Candidate JeRome Brown did not attend.
The candidates discussed a wide range of topics dealing with ways in which they could help make Park Forest a better community including the importance of the village maintaining a three-month financial reserve, ideas to make the village more attractive to new businesses including the potential of a cannabis dispensary, and how the candidates view the role of a trustee in the village management.
A question directed at Candidate Travis, asked how he justified the use of derogatory behavior and foul language on his Facebook pages. In response, Mr. Travis said, “I utilize foul language, I utilize explicit language, and I don’t apologize for it. That’s my end of statement.”
In response, the other three candidates objected and stated that as a representative of the village, it is never appropriate to use foul language, and that as public officials there is a responsibility to set a positive example, especially to the youth in the community.
A question directed at Candidate Settles asked whether she regretted her vote to approve the expenditure of a half million dollars for the improvements to the downtown outdoor area. She responded that the expenditure was necessary to make Main Street a more accessible area for village events, as well as associated art attractions.
Candidates Slone and Hardy concurred, stating that they viewed the expenditure as an investment in the future and made the area more inviting to customers of village businesses. Ms. Hardy pointed to the attractive downtown areas in Homewood and Flossmoor as examples of the importance of making downtown Park Forest a place where people would want to come to eat and shop.
Candidate Travis, however, believed that the expenditure was a mistake, and that more attention should have been paid to improvements in parks and infrastructure in other parts of the village.
On the issue of a possible cannabis dispensary in the village, all four candidates present voiced their support of the idea stating that it would be a significant revenue enhancement for the village as well as a safe method for distribution. Candidate Slone pointed to the financial success of a cannabis dispensary in Homewood as an example of the potential tax benefits.
Regarding the issue of what could be done to make Park Forest a better community, most candidates pointed to the need for better communication and engagement with residents to understand their needs as well as to ensure they are aware of the resources the village has to offer. Ms. Slone noted that there needs to be better communication and coordination with the surrounding communities to effectively market the collective businesses in each and increase traffic flow in the village. Ms. Settles noted that the village needs to better promote the new business in the Main Street area as well as attractions that are unique to Park Forest such as Theater 47 and the Tall Grass Art Gallery.
When asked why the village has a difficult time attracting and retaining business, Ms. Slone and Ms. Settles pointed to the fact that Park Forest has limited traffic flow due to few main thoroughfares. Candidate Slone added that the village needs to attract “businesses of excellence” who are willing to make a long-term investment in the community as well as the need to ensure that the businesses which are being recruited offer healthy choices and are in sync with what the community wants.
In addition to traffic patterns, Ms. Hardy noted that the high Cook County tax rate is a disincentive to prospective businesses which is why it is important to partner with nearby communities.
Mr. Travis stressed the importance of working with potential businesses to ensure they are a good match with resident needs as well as to establish a partnership with the village. He pointed to the use of local businesses on Main Street, which partner with the village on community events.
Regarding the decision by School District 162 to raise their tax rate by 2.3%, candidates were asked if they believed this increase was justified. Ms. Slone and Ms. Settles both noted that the decisions of the school districts are made independently from the village. They stressed, however, that there needs to be more transparency by the school districts to understand the community impact, including tax rate changes, of those decisions. While Mr. Travis agreed that the village has no control over tax increases initiated by the school districts, he emphasized the need for better overall financial planning so that future bottom line increases to residents’ tax bills are minimized.
As far as tax increases that are within control of the village, Ms. Hardy and Ms. Settles stated the most recent village tax increase was only 0.85% which reflected the critical need to maintain the police and fire pension obligations.
The general election for the trustee positions will be held on Tuesday, April 6. Early voting for Park Forest residents in Cook County begins March 22. Will County residents can early vote starting March 27.