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updated: 1/22/2014 9:36 AM

Candidates differ over DuPage forest preserve's transparency

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  • Republican candidates for DuPage County Forest Preserve President, Joseph Cantore, left, of Oak Brook and Mary Lou Wehrli, right, of Naperville.

       Republican candidates for DuPage County Forest Preserve President, Joseph Cantore, left, of Oak Brook and Mary Lou Wehrli, right, of Naperville.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Video: GOP candidates share their vision

 
 

Joe Cantore wants to find ways to encourage more residents to use DuPage County's forest preserves.

Mary Lou Wehrli wants the district to operate in ways that are more transparent for residents.

Both Republican hopefuls for president of the DuPage County Forest Preserve Commission are looking to bring a fresh perspective to the position that's long been held by D. "Dewey" Pierotti Jr., who is retiring at the end of November.

Wehrli and Cantore, both forest preserve commissioners, are running for the district's presidency in the March 18 GOP primary. Whoever becomes the Republican nominee will advance to the November general election where they may be unopposed because no Democratic candidate has filed to enter the race.

During a Friday endorsement interview with the Daily Herald, Wehrli said her goal for the district is to develop "a culture of openness" and to keep the public informed.

"I am looking to bring some fresh air, some sunshine, and to empower the district to be what the people really want," the 60-year-old Naperville resident said.

Cantore said the district's 60 preserves are a "fantastic attraction that people have right in their backyard."

"I want to get people into the forest preserve," the 42-year-old Oak Brook resident said. "I want them to see what the forest preserve offers for them."

Wehrli says she agrees with Pierotti's recent observation that the sitting board is fragmented. She said she was motivated to run, in part, because she wants board members to work together.

"In my opinion, it shouldn't even be a partisan board," Wehrli said. "It should be one that's focused on the quality of life that a forest preserve brings to the residents of DuPage County."

Wehrli said she wants to make the boardroom a more open place where all the commissioners "can bring their concerns and share them with everyone."

With 11 years as a forest preserve commissioner under his belt, Cantore said he believes he has the experience required to build consensus on the board.

"If you're going to get things accomplished like we've been doing for the past 11 years, you've got to have consensus," Cantore said.

Wehrli, who was elected to the commission in fall 2012, has raised several issues during her time on the board. One dealt with the topic of the president's name appearing on dozens of signs at key sites, including preserves, around the county.

If elected, both Wehrli and Cantore said they would end the district's longtime practice of placing the board president's name on signs.

"Those signs would be changed immediately if I was elected president," Wehrli said. "I think that's totally inappropriate to have any political person, whether it's the president or every single commissioner's name."

Both candidates also agree the district should remain an independent government agency from the county. The agency split from the county board in 2002.

Last year, one state lawmaker proposed legislation that would dissolve the district and bring it back under county control, but the proposal never got off the ground.

Cantore said the forest preserve has a completely different mission and vision than the county.

"The forest preserve is about conservation," Cantore wrote in a candidate questionnaire. "The county is about development. Merging the two will create conflicts that would jeopardize the ability of a single board to properly represent the interests of DuPage County residents."

The two candidates disagree on whether a "culture change" is needed at the district to make it more transparent.

"Over the past several years, I think our transparency and availability has been getting better and better all the time," Cantore said. "I don't think it's as bad as Commissioner Wehrli presents it to be."

For example, Cantore said recordings of board meetings soon will be available for download on the Internet and commissioners conduct some night meetings to allow for more members of the public to attend.

"In the vast majority of cases, if people want to know something about the forest preserve," he said, "it's right there in front of them usually all the time."

Wehrli said there's still room for improvement. She would like to see agendas and other meeting material posted on the district's website; more than a day before a board meeting.

"Transparency means accessibility," she said. "It means less locked doors. It means calls are returned from leadership."

Wehrli said she believes the district has had "an amazing closed door" when it comes to dealing with the public.

"Transparency is going to make us a better district because people will trust us," she said. "People will believe in us, and they will participate with us with their vote and their use of the preserves. It (transparency) stems from the top, which is another reason I'm running for president."

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