Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.
Office sought: DuPage Forest Preserve District 5
Family: The Clark family consist of Dennis, Christine and Alyssa.
Occupation: Principal of Clark Property Consultants, Inc, a firm that specializes in construction monitoring and due diligence on real estate transactions for national and regional banks, insurance companies and pension funds.
Education: BS Civil Engineering MBA Managing Brokers Real Estate License OSHA 30 PMP & ITIL Designations 2012 Certified Woodland Steward & Naturalist Prescription Burn Certified Wetland Management Beekeeping & (3)Horsemanship Naperville Citizens Academy
Civic involvement: Illinois Nature Preserve Commission. Plan Commissioner of Winfield ? Third Term. Zoning Commissioner of Winfield. Director Illinois Prairie Path (Life Time Member) and Membership Chair. West Chicago Prairie Stewardship Group. Conservation Foundation Member. Morton Arboretum Member and Volunteer. DuPage County Forest Preserve Volunteer. Local River Monitor for the River Prairie Group. President of West-Win Homeowners? Association (700+ unincorporated Homes). Director Winfield United. Member of the WildOnes.
Elected offices held: None.
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No.
Key Issue 1
Culture Change. After studying the Forest Preserve management and comparing it to other similar agencies in the State and other local governmental bodies, I believe that a culture change with a focus on improving transparency and reducing cost is past due. The Forest Preserve is substantially supported with property taxes and therefore has a significant accountability to the public. The recent news of the FBI and the BGA investigating the Forest Preserve should awaken everyone that additional scrutiny other than the elected Board members is required. A sharp increase in transparency that would allow citizen watchdogs to efficiently examine the operation of the District should be standard. To hide behind a shield of secrecy is not in the best interests of the taxpayer?.the culture will need to change to bring about transparency and will need to start from the top. The current Board is hording over $150,000,000 in taxpayer monies without a clear explanation of any need. The public deserve more and should be demanding to know how their taxes are being spent. Operating cost far exceeds surrounding counties and the Forest Preserve needs to go on a fiscal diet. An example would be the Commission?s salary ($57,000 per year) with health coverage and a pension too, the high cost for the general counsel ($400,000 per year), and the operating cost on a $/acre/year basis. With some easy corrections these costs can be brought in line with acceptable standards and could easily equate to $1,000,000 per year. These funds could then be used to address Mission based issues and to reduce overall costs. An example where this money could be redirected, would be that the District could hire 100 seasonal employees during the summer and stewards to guide them. This group could make significant progress in addressing the neglected invasive species management, reduce overall costs by not carrying as many full time personnel during the off-season with the accompanying benefit burden, provide some succession training for the next generation to undertake careers in land management and botany, and provide needed job opportunities. All this can be done by just redirecting how the collected funds are spent and with noticeable benefits to the taxpayers.
Key Issue 2
Ethics and No-Bid Contracts. No bid contracts for professional services combined with the issue of accepting campaign contributions from those same vendors is certainly ethically questionable and is an unresolved public concern. Although the Board maintains that they are prohibited from seeking multiple bids for professional services, the fact is that the Illinois Professional Services Act does allow this. I, and others, have spoken before the Board, urging them to be good stewards of the taxpayers monies by seeking multiple bids that would help insure value and to prohibit the taking of campaign contributions from chosen vendors for those no-bid contracts. The refusal of the Board to address this has led to a lack of faith in the Board and the public questioning their true motives. This coupled with an ethics Board that has never met and an ethics policy that has Board members policing themselves reeks of political back room deals. There are many examples throughout the County of governmental purchasing policies that can serve as models. The Board needs research for those policies, improve on them if needed and to install policies that prohibit the opportunity of reproach.
Key Issue 3
Watershed Management, Protection of Open Lands and Land Management. Watershed management is essential to have a significant impact on the quality of water entering our rivers, streams and wetland areas at the most economical cost. Clean water is crucial to having a vibrant and sustainable environment. The Forest Preserve should work closely with organizations throughout the County to help in development of logical procedures that would enhance our water quality, monitor and test sources and report results and provide suggested improvements. Wetlands are some of the most productive ecosystems in the world. They act like a sponge for pollutants, sediments, organic waste and inorganic nutrients. The creation of additional wet lands could have a real and positive impact on the quality of water, biodiversity and in helping to relieve some flooding within the County. These three areas are related and if managed together they can achieve a win-win outcome for all. Although acquisition of open lands has been the foundation of the Forest Preserve, the real challenge going forward will be to protect and transform the land holdings to maintain the ecosystem and still support the diverse interests of DuPage County residents. The Mission Statement clearly points to the Forest Preserve being stewards of the land. As the science of urbanization, environment, and the knowledge base of the broad interdependency of living creatures grows with time, the Forest Preserve needs to move in conjunction with that increased knowledge. All plants are not created equal in their ability to thrive and support wildlife and we are replacing native plants at an alarming rate in our developer planned subdivisions. The Forest Preserve needs to take a more progressive role in education and leading by example and bringing native plants to our Forest Preserves and suburban ecosystems. The biodiversity that this creates is the key to maintaining a healthy environment for all creatures. The emerald ash borer and Dutch elm disease are prime examples of problems created with monoculture.
Do you support continuing the effort to acquire County Lakes Golf Club in Naperville? Why or why not?
This project has been in a legal holding pattern for over 17 years. It is time to move forward. I believe a new dialog should be opened with the property owners; with new representatives from the Forest Preserve. I disagree with the District?s practice of using eminent domain with a below value offer followed by the use of the court system to essentially place the owner in duress. With this approach, the dialog usually breaks down and others profit as the issue chugs along through the legal system. With the Country Lakes Golf Club case, the Forest Preserve is looking at a new purchase price of $20M rather than the $10M envisioned 17 years ago at the start of the process. This decision was recently handed down by the Illinois Supreme Court and included a payment of $1.5M to reimburse the owner for legal expenses if the Forest Preserve does not proceed with the purchase. I understand, at the time of this writing, that the Forest Preserve is appealing this decision. With that said, I do not support the Forest Preserve plans to operate another golf course and banquet hall. The current DuPage Forest Preserve owned and managed golf courses are losing about $500,000 annually. I do support purchasing additional lands; lands that have ecological features of interest to the forest preserve; lands that could benefit from preservation and lands that could help control flooding and stormwater management for residents. All land purchases need to be viewed through this type of lens. I am sure that, under the right leadership, a team of stakeholders could be assembled to develop a comprehensive land plan that could be in the best interest of all. I am excited about the wetlands and ponds on the golf course property. Under the right management, the wetlands could provide a major improvement for the whole watershed and be a summer home or visiting stop over for migrating waterfowl. There is also a great potential for restoring large swaths of the area to open grasslands to help return the bio-diversity these lands once provided. These restored grasslands of native plantings could be home to species like meadowlarks, dickcissels, and bobolinks as well as the state-endangered northern harriers and short-eared owls. This decision of whether or not to acquire the golf club, like all others concerning taxpayer money, needs to be handled in a responsible manner. There is a duty to the taxpayers, the citizens who are experiencing flooding, the citizens who purchased property next to the golf course, the wildlife and the owners of the property to bring this issue to a close. Leadership by the Forest Preserve needs to bring people together, to make decisions and to move this project forward.
Should the district be in the golf course business? If so, please explain the benefit. If not, please detail why. Should the district consider selling any of its holdings?
The three golf courses currently operated by the Forest Preserve are losing about $500,000 annually according to the audited financial statements and the recent golf system operations audit. Assuming that the accounting is correct, it is clear that this issue should be (and should have been) addressed. Many municipalities have privatized their golf operations with excellent success. Kane and Cook County Forest Preserves have been privatized as well as Lake County?s banquet/food& beverage operations at most courses. Since 2003, about nine golf courses in the western Chicago region have been closed. A number of other private courses are struggling and reports suggest that several private operators have been talking to public sector entities about being acquired. And just recently, the Lake County Forest Preserve Board received no responses to its published request for proposal to fund, construct and operate a 9-hole golf course at the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve and this idea has since been abondoned. Golfing has gone through dramatic changes in the last 10 years with significant decreases in participation and an accompanying drop off of capital reinvestments. This has the net effect of deceasing the maintenance and upkeep of all courses. The Forest Preserve?s own courses are seeing annualized decreases of 5% or more in revenues and pressure on their capital programs to postponed improvements. The overriding reason provided to the public for purchase of the three current golf courses and the possible acquisition of the Country Lakes in Naperville is for flood control. Oak Meadows golf course has been inundated by flooding several times in its history and all Forest Preserve owned courses have been impacted on the average of 10 days per year. This severely affects revenue. Discussions at the Forest Preserve are currently focused on realignment of the holes to overcome flooding obstacles and the possibility of a new clubhouse. This will cost millions of dollars; the recent audit report confirms this! Yet the Forest Preserve is proceeding to pump more funds into these courses that could be better utilized on Mission based activities and education. Turf grasses absorb less runoff than native landscaping. When managed in a traditional golf course fashion, fertilizers and pesticides flow off easily to nearby waterways negatively impacting the entire watershed. Stormwater runoff and non-point source pollution from golf courses add nitrogen and phosphorous to water and promote algae growth. The pesticides used on courses can injure and kill fish and amphibians and pose health hazards to humans. In DuPage County there is an oversupply of courses along with a declining market. It is time to return most of these lands to flood plain, wetlands and open savannas in keeping with the Mission Statement of the Forest Preserve and privatize other holdings. The Forest Preserve is restricted from selling land to private organizations once it has been acquired. This is specified in the Downstate Forest Preserve Act that controls these decisions. However, the Forest Preserve can sell land to another governmental agency. I believe that the lands should be retained and converted to wet land and used for additional flood control along with privititation of some holdings to reduce cost, head count and improve operations to the public.
Comment on the forest preserve's current land acquisition policy: Too aggressive? Too passive? Just right?
The Citizens of DuPage County have supported land acquisitions through past referendums. Even in this difficult economy, Kane County residents approved a $30M referendum last year for land purchases. Thus, my beliefs are in agreement with the majority of the citizens that land acquisitions should continue. But the focus should be realigned to one of obtaining value for land purchases. Value in terms of connecting our existing preserves with trails and providing green corridors for wildlife. Value in working together with other governmental agencies to maximize taxpayer dollars to create wetlands and control flooding at the same time. And value in terms of the quality of lands that are acquired. To restore marginal lands to a productive ecosystem is very difficult and success is not common. The vision that people had 100 years ago in starting the DuPage Forest Preserve has truly benefitted the citizens. Previous purchases of marginal lands may have helped 'certain' parties, but they are a drain on the Forest Preserve resources today; we need to be more selective with future purchases. The opportunity taken by the Forest Preserve in the past to make headline news with purchases of large tracks of land should be behind us now as we head into what will be considered the final phase of the land purchase program for DuPage County. As the build out of DuPage County continues, the Forest Preserve needs to act quickly to acquire the quality pieces of land remaining and the current price of real estate makes this an ideal time. However, they also need to be good stewards of the current land holdings. As a Certified Woodland Steward, a Certified Naturalist and a volunteer I can see that much needs to be done in upgrading and maintaining our current land holdings. We need a long term vision and understanding, just like 100 years ago when the Forest Preserve was started, so that the land purchases today will be preserved forever.
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