2 incumbents, 4 newcomers vying for Northbrook Village Board seats. Here’s where they stand on the issues. – Chicago Tribune
Six candidates are campaigning for the votes they need to fill three open seats on the Northbrook Board of Trustees this spring.
The terms of sitting Trustees Kathryn Ciesla, Muriel Collison and Dan Pepoon expire this year. Ciesla is running against Gene Marks in a contested election for the role of president.
Incumbents Collison and Pepoon are seeking reelection, and four other newcomers are also hoping to fill the spots. Early voting begins March 22, and Election Day will take place April 6.
Muriel Collison, an attorney, has lived in Northbrook for 38 years. She previously was involved with the Northbrook Rotary and her kids’ schools, sitting on the Northbrook Plan Commission and serving as a current trustee on the Village Board — with internal involvement on the Communication and Legislation Committee and Planning and Zoning Committee.
Joy Ebhomielen, who works in finance, has lived in Northbrook for 16 years. She has served as part of the Northbrook Community Relations Commission, a board director of Hunger Resource Network and a chair on the Solbi Hospital Foundation board, as well as involvement with the Northfield Township Food Pantry, Feed My Starving Children and the District 27 Parent Teacher Association.
Dan Pepoon, a vice president and financial adviser for Merrill Lynch, has lived in Northbrook for 35 years. He is a sitting trustee on the board and has also served on the Northbrook Plan Commission and the Senior Service Commission.
INDEPENDENT SLATE — UNITED4NORTHBROOK
Robert Burns, who works in corporate trade compliance, has lived in Northbrook for 17 years. He has previously volunteered with youth sports in town.
Chris Lay, an attorney, has lived in Northbrook for 11 years. He was on the Glenbrook North High School Band Parents Organization board and has done pro bono litigation for prisoners’ civil rights violations on behalf of detainees in correctional institutions throughout the state.
Ana Mendez McGuinnes, a corporate attorney, has lived in Northbrook for eight years. When she lived in Mexico, she was involved with the local American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico and animal rescue organizations.
Q. Do you support increasing affordable housing in Northbrook? If so, what specific changes should be made to improve housing access? What would you like to see the Housing Fund money go toward?
Collison: I was very excited to vote yes on Northbrook’s Affordable Housing Plan. We had a plan that was created during Gene Mark’s presidency that was ineffective and yielded little to no affordable housing units in our village. I look forward to being able to have our children move back here and afford to live here. In today’s dollars I could not afford the first house I bought in Northbrook. People who work in our village should have options to live here. I would like to see the Housing Fund used for housing for disabled and neurodiverse residents and seniors.
Ebhomielen: Yes. Affordable housing has a positive impact on diversity and inclusion in a community. This initiative started in 1995 with virtually no success. The current board re-prioritized and approved a revised ordinance in December 2020. It requires new large developments to designate 15% of their units as affordable housing at no cost to residents. The Housing Fund money will be used for housing initiatives like housing for residents with disabilities.
Pepoon: I support the Board of Trustees’ recently adopted Affordable Housing ordinance. It details how developers implement the existing plan that had been on the books for many years. It’s highlighted by mandating new developments, with 20 and more units, provide 15% affordable units. Smaller developments would pay cash in lieu to an affordable housing trust fund. I specifically want to help our Northbrook families with affordable ADA-compliant housing.
Burns: I believe in affordable housing for Northbrook seniors, disabled and disadvantaged in the community first. Expanding this would require a thorough review and resident input before implementing this type of program.
Lay: This subject is very complex which is why it is a heated topic. Providing access to affordable housing should start with a focus on seniors who live and wish to remain in Northbrook; Crestwood is a fine example. I favor a pragmatic solution over the theoretical model currently espoused. I was disturbed at the way the current board enacted its own vision of what affordable housing should be rather than seeking input from Northbrook residents.
Mendez McGuinnes: Yes, I believe in increasing affordable housing in Northbrook under an organized plan that benefits the community first. The affordable housing plan for Northbrook should be discussed with the residents, specifically those that currently reside in the neighborhood the developments are meant to be built. Northbrook residents should fully examine the financial and community impacts. Plans should be structured around community seniors and other groups. As an example, Northbrook has one affordable housing complex for senior living, Crestwood. Crestwood has a long wait list for seniors in our community that is not acceptable in taking care of our elderly in our community.
Q. A final report on the village’s sustainability study and Climate Action Plan is expected this spring. What specific changes in Northbrook do you think are needed to combat projected climate change impacts?
Collison: I am anxious to see the results of the Climate Action Plan, and it is hard to answer that until the subcommittees finish their work and the final report comes back. I am committed to prioritizing sustainability and making sure there is money in the upcoming budget to start some of the initiatives. I have my eye on increased sustainability in development and transportation.
Ebhomielen: Sustainability is one of the main priorities of the board. The Climate Action study input from all of our stakeholders (businesses, developers, the commission, local organizations and residents). It will detail priorities and provide prioritization, as well as how we can accomplish them in partnership with our stakeholders. I am eager to be a part of that decision-making process to implement a host of sustainable initiatives. The future of Northbrook is looking greener.
Pepoon: Our consulting group for Northbrook’s Climate Action Plan is currently working with our village staff, Commissions, residents and businesses on bringing a focus to how Northbrook can be green. Without mandating expensive costs to our residents and businesses, I’m encouraged about implementing policies for a sustainable community. I would like an Energy Star rating for our commercial properties allowing those who have taken extra steps to be congratulated for their efforts.
Burns: When I first moved into Northbrook, there were many sustainability programs being implemented (wind, solar, LED, green building, demolition) and since 2009 there has been very little increase with sustainability and climate change. My plan would be to increase solar power on village buildings, as well and promote village residents to invest in this alternative. We need more electric car stations; currently there are very few. I would create an approved vendor list and leverage Northbrook to lower these costs. I would work with all Northbrook businesses to ensure they are doing their part in sustainability and climate change responsibility.
Lay: The initial study provides guidance that will be easy to implement. For example, as village vehicles are replaced, alternative fuel vehicles should be considered. Increasing the tree canopy is an excellent goal. I would increase the subsidy the village provides for parkway trees and expand the zone in which residents can place trees. Traffic control should be modernized to reduce idling times at intersections. Charging ports should be subsidized.
Mendez McGuinnes: The board would need to make a plan to apply the recommendations of the sustainability study. The specific changes in Northbrook would have to be based on what the experts recommend and discussed with the community; plans would most likely include increasing the tree canopy, look for incentives with utility providers for greener alternatives and other possible changes to the village’s operations, such as streetlights and transportation.
Q. What are your plans to ensure financial stability as the village recovers from the pandemic in the coming years? In what ways would you look to increase revenues and/or cut expenses?
Collison: We have weathered the pandemic through hard work and creativity. Northbrook is in a strong financial position thanks to our staff, current president and board members from the past decade. One example of cutting expenses is the village’s hefty cost savings from offering early retirement to qualified employees. Our financial stability is also dependent on our businesses. Supporting our local businesses has always been a top priority for me, especially during this unprecedented time.
Ebhomielen: Fortunately for us, even with the pandemic, the board has kept Northbrook on a solid financial foundation through a focus on conservative fiscal responsibility. I am very proud to be Northbrook Strong. Sales tax is one of our most important revenue sources, I am looking forward to continuing to explore opportunities to grow our downtown business district and preserve our already strong tax generators like Northbrook Court and Willow Festival.
Pepoon: The Board has once again prepared a balanced budget as we entered the pandemic. Our village financial staff brought us through the Great Financial Crisis 10 years ago, and has provided assist this time as well. We offered early retirement packages to many of our highest paid staff members, saving millions. These savings allow us flexibility in extending a helping hand to our Northbrook businesses. Shop Northbrook.
Burns: My first plan would be to help our local businesses that were financially impacted by the pandemic. This could be waivers for annual inspection costs, exemptions on all local fees and refunds of local taxes if they have more than 25% loss of local sales revenues from 2019-2020. One other possibility could be financial assistance. Second, we need to increase revenue by attracting and onboarding new business in the village. At the same time, we need to look at expenses and carefully reduce them. One example of an idea would be to sell the Grainger property and use those funds to help with these plans above.
Lay: I would listen to the needs of local businesses and provide the assistance they deem necessary to achieve a complete recovery and full employment. In addition, I would work to attract new retail business to Northbrook, increasing the tax base and foot traffic. Northbrook Court needs a fresh, well-informed approach to revitalization and a focus on reducing the recent crime uptick that the current board has ignored.
Mendez McGuinnes: The board needs to analyze how to cut expenses without compromising services to the community as a first step including getting rid of unproductive property. The board also needs to incentivize investment. One of the most important actions is to strengthen communication with the businesses, not only to understand their needs but also to allow them to explore existing alternatives. Other villages hired consultants or took other actions to help businesses navigate the existing federal incentives and changes of rules.
Q. What other priorities are you looking to focus on in your term and why?
Collison: My main priorities not mentioned are making sure the police and fire department remain fully funded and supported, much needed updates to facilities, maintaining transparency and excellent communication with residents and continuing to analyze potential developments to make sure they are consistent with the character of Northbrook and the Comprehensive Plan, while keeping a keen eye on the potential impact on schools, traffic and neighbors.
Ebhomielen: In the near term, I will focus on working with the board to help our village and our residents recover from the impact of COVID-19 for obvious reasons. Longer term, my emphasis would be on youth development and involvement, as well as issues related to Northbrook’s growing senior population. I come from a family of philanthropists, and I am running because I truly receive gratification from helping others.
Pepoon: The old Green Acres Club needs to become a special place for our community. We need to work with developers of this open space zoned, 100+ acre property to bring it to its best use. Separately, village-owned properties have needs, like our police station. It’s substandard and remains in a temporary facility that once housed police and fire. As our studies are finalized on the old Grainger property, I expect much of it can be sold.
Burns: First is transparency and communication with village residents to ensure their voices are heard with all major events and projects in the village. They need to be informed about all these items and surveyed for input. Second is Northbrook Court revitalization, as we need to increase and support current businesses in the mall to then generate more revenues for the village. Third is the Green Acres property; we need to survey the village residents to hear what they want and then we talk to the developer about their plans. In the end we need to have agreement on how to move forward. This is not a 3-minute open meeting discussion, like the current Village Board has done. We need to make sure we understand the full impact of any decision before we move forward — schools, roadways, environment, costs, taxes, community. Residents will have a final say in this decision.
Lay: My running mates and I will bring transparency back to village governance and will respect and serve the interests of Northbrook residents. We will sell or bring back into commerce the Grainger space, which the current board purchased for $8.3 million without a plan or exercising due diligence. We will consult with Northbrook residents and work with developers to ensure that Green Acres becomes a vibrant addition to our community.
Mendez McGuinnes: I would also like to focus on communication with the residents to ensure their voices are heard and any viable proposals are considered. The Village Board can implement programs and incentives to attract investment. We can look at the examples established by other villages such as sales tax-sharing programs and backfill vacant restaurant incentives programs. The Village Board should engage and partner with the community to create a win/win environment.