Thomas Gary

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1. What experience makes you the best candidate to serve as trustee?
First, I would point to my prior government experience at the county, state and federal levels. This experience has helped prepare me to serve as a trustee in three important ways. 1) Through my work at the State Treasurer's office and Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO), I have gained a level of expertise in economic development and tax policy, 2) Having worked at the federal, state and municipal levels, I understand the functions of different levels of government and how they can and should work together to meet the Village's needs, and 3) As a legislative aide and community engagement specialist, I have developed the skill of really listening to people, which I believe should be a focus for more public officials.
Second, my commitment to Oak Park has spanned more than two decades. I know this community well, its people, its strengths, and where we need to improve. An example is having carried mail here while I was working my way through college. I'm probably the only person running who has been to most of the addresses in the Village, which gives me unique insight into the vastly different conditions that exist across our community. That's not something I hear the Board talk about very much, particularly when we discuss things like affordable housing. I have a record of service in this community, as a current member of the OPRF Food Panty Board, former member of the Village's Community Development Block Grant Citizens Advisory Committe, having served over 20 years in the Navy Reserves, and co-chair of the Economic Development Task Force for Austin Coming Together's recent Quality of Life plan. I believe these experiences give me a unique perspective that I would bring as a Trustee.

2. What do you consider the top three issues of concern in Oak Park and how would you address them as a trustee?
1. Affordable housing. The issue of housing seems to be a concern for almost everyone. My neighbors see the effect the cost of housing is having and what the long-term impact may be on what Oak Park looks like in years to come. We don't want to lose a key part of what helps us stand apart from other communities, which is our diversity. Long-term residents of Oak Park are afraid of being priced out.
As a trustee I would fight for the Board to adopt an affordable housing ordinance to ensure that new development in Oak Park is done in a way that preserves the opportunity for families of all income levels to be a part of our community.

2. Transparency and Open Data. I believe governments should be transparent and accessible to those being governed. Currently, decisions in the Village are being made without performance measures, leaving everyone in the dark as to whether programs are working or just continuing on inertia. This is not transparency. Oak Park residents have a right to know how effectively our government is working for them.
Similarly, I believe we have an opportunity to make Village government more open. People should be able to find answers to questions they have about their government. Other communities have made citizen accessibility to programs and 311-type services as simple as a mobile app, allowing tracking of their
interactions in real-time. As a trustee I will advocate for the Village to adopt technology that can support
more open government and citizen engagement.
3. Infrastructure. We have suffered from decades of underinvestment in infrastructure in this country, and Oak Park is no different. As a result, we have millions of dollars in deferred maintenance that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, the Village's most recent Capital plan declares so much as "essential and of immediate need" that there is little clarity as to what exactly is an actual priority. In addition, there does not seem to be any real plan for addressing the need. For example, it budgets over $7m over the next five years to "Cap The Ike". Yet, that depends on this project being considered by the General Assembly as part of a capital bill this year, which is uncertain at best. Moreover, capital expenditures are disconnected from performance measures that link outcomes to the budget or the Envision Oak Park comprehensive plan that the whole community worked on for over a year but was ignored by the current Board.
As a trustee, I will push for Oak Park to adopt a comprehensive economic development plan that reflects our values, invests in the infrastructure needed to make Oak Park attractive to businesses, and promotes transparency and
accountability. 

3. What is your position on affordable housing in the village? Is more or less needed?
Why? How would you address this as a trustee?
I believe we need more affordable housing, particularly for families. While nearly a third of the Village's rental units can be classified as affordable - either because of market rate rents or vouchers - half of them are actually occupied or set-aside for seniors. In balancing the community's interest in expanding housing opportunities with existing market conditions, we can achieve our larger goals of both expanding housing options and diversifying housing stock.
Currently, lacking any systematic plan or ordinance has hobbled the Village's ability to optimize the amount of leverage we would have in any negotiation with developers in shaping the future of our community. It has also created an opaque ad hoc series of deals where neither the community, the Village, nor the developer, knows ahead of time how much to plan for, nor who is being best served.
As a trustee I would propose an affordable housing ordinance that broadens the zoning code and gives families the ability to age-in-place.

4. How would you work to ensure greater equity and diversity in the village?
I applaud recent efforts to engage the community in more open dialogue about race and equity. I have participated in some of these discussions and would like to see the Board encourage more of this type of engagement. Having the make-up of elected leadership in the Village to better reflect the diversity of the Village is an important step along that path, but there are other steps that we can take.
We should be sure our policies reflect our community values. Many policies that seem neutral can actually have disparate impacts as they are carried out. We have seen that communities like Ferguson, Missouri have placed the onus of funding government on the backs of those in the least position to pay. And, while the Village derives nearly $3m in revenue from fines, how much of that comes from other policies that impose unfair
burdens on specific residents?
I propose that all Village policies by examined through an equity lens. Many local governments have adopted racial equity impact assessment tools. As a Village Trustee, I will advocate for the Board to adopt this type of tool. I think it's fair to expect the Village and governments in the Village to consider the potential impact of policies on racial and economic diversity before they are approved or implemented.

5. What should the village do to help ease the tax burden in Oak Park?
We need to look at what is driving the tax burden in the Village and understand what role the Village Board can have in influencing those factors. It's not enough for Village Board members to say, "The Village's portion of the property tax bill is only 17%, so this is the schools' problem." Trustees should take a leadership position in partnering with our local governments and advocating for structural changes in tax policy in Springfield that could restore the balance of sources of revenue that have so skewed economic activity.
Until recently, the Village drew a majority of revenue from various sales and use taxes, not property taxes. Even this year's budget anticipates drawing in about $22m from sales taxes, though it is outstripped by the $27m in property taxes. The recent Supreme Court decision, South Dakota v. Wayfair, should, theoretically, should provide municipalities and the state of Illinois access to billions of dollars of economic activity that is not only uncollected, but gives an unfair advantage to large, out-of-state sellers and shippers, to the detriment to our local brick-and-mortar shops, many times selling the exact same goods.
As Village Trustee I would advocate for our state officials to pass the authorizing legislation necessary to leverage the Streamlined Sales Tax, which Oak Park would receive a portion of through the Local Government Distribution Fund. This additional revenue would allow the Village to invest in technology and infrastructure while
reducing some taxes and fees currently used to fund Village government.

6. What would you do to ensure greater cooperation between Oak Park's various taxing
entities?
Cooperation starts with building positive relationships. Having cooperative relations works best when starting from the vantage point of viewing them as partner agencies rather than competing entities. As a Trustee, I would build upon the strong personal and organizational relationships that I have built in representing the community on the
Triton College Board. There is not a significant amount of overlap in the functions or responsibilities of the different taxing bodies. While the Village may currently share some back office functions with other bodies, we aren't well served if we try to duplicate or swallow each other whole without a plan and community buy-in.

7. What are your thoughts on transparency in the village? Is more or less needed or is
the village currently striking a good balance on transparency?
More is definitely needed. The Village hides a lot of things in plain sight. It is unacceptable that things are so hard to find and people often can't get answers to the simple questions they have. Information isn't presented in a simple, straight-forward fashion. Posting more 300-page PDFs isn't necessarily being transparent. It's being open, but not transparent. So, we need to begin providing information in a more userfriendly way.
There also isn't transparency in how well the Village is performing. We don't really know because we don't have any performance measures. We don't actually measure our outcomes against goals and objectives, either laid out annually in the budget or against the Envision Oak Park plan. And we don't have a simple, clear dashboard so that everyone can visualize the status of the many objectives.
As a trustee I will work with the Village President and staff to development, implement and track performance measures that will provide greater insight into government activities and outcomes.

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