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posted: 1/18/2010 12:01 AM

Two newcomers seek Democratic support for DuPage forest board

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A pair of political newcomers are seeking their party's support in the Feb. 2 primary election for the four-year District 4 seat on the DuPage Forest Preserve Commission.

Eric Bergman of Glen Ellyn was one of the leaders of a grass-roots effort to save the trees in Ackerman Park. Donald Kirchenberg of Glendale Heights is a longtime member of the Illinois Prairie Path board and a founding member of Friends of the Great Western Trail.

The primary winner will advance to the November general election to face the winner of the Republican primary - incumbent Michael Formento or challenger C. James Carr.

District 4 covers all or portions of Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Carol Stream, Glendale Heights, Winfield and Lombard.

The Daily Herald recently asked the candidates a series of questions. Some of their answers are below. For a look at the entire questionnaire, visit later this month.

Q. What is your top campaign issue?

Bergman: Engage the public. I am running for forest preserve district because we need strong leadership that will fully include the public in the decisions about managing our irreplaceable natural spaces.

I will work to include the public in important planning and decision-making through open hearings and discussion.

Recently the forest preserve board engaged with both the DuPage County Board and the Lisle village board to cut a deal with Navistar. Unfortunately, the process was so closed the neighbors were not considered, informed or included. The result has been outrage and upset on the part of the neighbors, and backtracking and damage control on the part of our elected leaders.

While the forest preserve board may wish this is an isolated incident, it is only the most recently publicized misstep made by this board. Under my leadership, the decision-making process will include the public from the beginning rather than at the end.

Kirchenberg: Protecting our open space including the forest preserves in DuPage County.

Q. What is your second-most important campaign issue?

Kirchenberg: Work to get more input and participation from the citizens with more evening meetings, the broadcast of all meetings on television and with community councils.

Bergman: Preserve open space.

I will work to preserve open space and advocate sound environmental choices. The focus of the forest preserve mission is to acquire and hold land for the purpose of preserving it. I will be vigilant against the small and incidental encroachments that result in loss of irreplaceable natural open space.

There is a great deal of pressure to use bits and pieces of forest preserve land for projects and development. For example, the board chose to encroach on open savanna at Danada to build its offices at a time when there was a good deal of office space on previously developed land. While the building is beautiful, fits well with its surroundings and is landscaped in an environmentally sensitive manor, the fact remains that a number of acres of irreplaceable open space were lost to the building and parking lot.

More recently, the board has proposed using part of the Blackwell Forest Preserve to construct a fleet maintenance facility instead of finding available, developed industrial space.

Q. What is your third-most important campaign issue?

Bergman: Transparency and ethics.

In addition to holding well-publicized hearings and comment periods on all major projects, the forest preserve board must do a better job at making planning and meeting materials readily available to the public. I will work to make the forest preserve a truly open and accountable organization. I will work to:

• have the board meeting packets posted on the forest preserve Web site when they are distributed to board members;

• make all meetings immediately available via Webcast;

• have all meeting minutes posted in a timely manner;

• and ensure meeting records include accurate accounts of public comments.

Board members must be above reproach and demonstrate an ethical standard in conducting the public's business.

I believe money is at the root of most ethical dilemmas in government. I will ensure contracts and grants are tracked openly and honestly, that systems are in place for everyone to see how the money is accounted for and spent. I will not accept campaign contributions from people or entities doing business with the forest preserve.

In short, I will conduct the business of the forest preserve openly in the public interest.

Kirchenberg: Oppose the building of any new maintenance facilities in the forest preserves including the Blackwell Forest Preserve and the sale of any forest preserve property to allow Navistar to build their heavy industrial diesel engine testing complex next to the Danada Forest Preserve.