No matter what happens during next month's general election, residents living in the southwest corner of DuPage County soon will have a new representative on the forest preserve commission.
Both candidates vying for the District 5 seat on the board agree that a "culture change" is needed at the DuPage Forest Preserve District. Naperville Republican Mary Lou Wehrli and her Democratic opponent Dennis Clark of Winfield say they will work to make the district more transparent.
"The culture change needs to come from the top," said Wehrli, adding that commissioners must be "more open and available" to the public.
Clark said part of the problem is that the existing board is comprised of commissioners who have been together for a long time.
"When that happens," he said, "they decide that the things they are doing must be right."
After hearing residents make public comments during board meetings, Clark said he believes there is "some resentment" about the way the forest preserve district conducts its business.
"When you see some of the administrative directions that are given and the processes that are used to operate the forest preserve," he said, "you think that there must be a way to do it more efficiently, more openly, more transparently, and with less cost."
Clark said he would like to invite community leaders to be involved in some discussions and planning for the forest preserve. In addition, he suggested that questionnaires be sent out to members of the public to get feedback about what they expect from the district.
Both candidates say more information should be available on the district's website. They also agree recordings of board meetings should be televised and available for download on the Internet.
Wehrli, who defeated incumbent Carl Schultz in the Republican primary, said she would like to reduce the number of meetings to two per month, with one of the sessions held at night. When there isn't a meeting, staff members should be able to spend more time with members of the public, Wehrli added.
Acknowledging that she and Clark have similar objectives, Wehrli said her experience will help her work with other commissioners. Wehrli served on the Naperville Park District board from 1999 to 2005, including one year as president.
"I've already taken steps to actually get to know the commissioners," Wehrli said. "One of my biggest strengths is being able to speak with people and to take action."
District 5 includes all or parts of Aurora, Lisle, Naperville and Warrenville.