Shannon Burns: Candidate Profile
DuPage Forest Preserve District 6 (Democrat)
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.
City: West Chicago
Office sought: DuPage Forest Preserve District 6
Family: Married to David Williams since 2005. No children.
Occupation: Self-employed, owner: Peaceful Heart Therapies, Naperville, IL.
Education: BA: Social Work/Community Organization, University of St. Francis, 1975 MBA: Benedictine University, 1986 Ed.D (Doctorate), Adult Education, Nova Southeastern University, 1999 Certified Woodland Steward/Steward Supervisor, Morton Arboretum, 2010
Civic involvement: West-Win Homeowner Association/Board member, League of Women Voters/Wheaton (resigned as Board member to run for office), American Association of University Women, Sierra Club member and River Water Monitoring Program/Water Collector, Conservation Foundation/Member and Volunteer, Morton Arboretum/Member, Volunteer, Steward Supervisor, Illinois Women's Institute for Leadership, 2011 graduate.
Elected offices held: None
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No (other than traffic violations)
Key Issue 1
The Mission of the Forest Preserve District must be the guiding factor in all Board decisions. Based on the Mission of the District, my campaign issues can be divided into three broad categories: Land Preservation, Financial Responsibility and Public Involvement. Within these categories, every activity, every decision, every dollar spent, every interaction with the public, must be made in light of what will best preserve open space. Issue 1: Land Preservation The Forest Preserve District exists for the purpose of land preservation. The District must take care that it is managing itself according to its Mission (in summary: to preserve and protect the land for the good of the environment and the enjoyment of the people). Every activity, every decision, every dollar spent, every interaction with the public, should be made in light of this Mission. Both large and small issues alike cost staff time, taxpayer dollars, and community morale when decisions are made outside of the organization?s Mission. One of the many examples of this is the proposed Fleet Building at McKee Marsh, already costing over $1,000,000 in studies and proposals for a project that does not have community support and for which no environmental impact study has been conducted. Money, time and community energy spent on such issues would be better spent on projects that directly relate to preservation of open space in DuPage County. As a Board member, specific Land Preservation and Mission-focused priorities for me include: ? Increased development of wetlands to restore biodiversity; ? Cooperative intergovernmental committees to develop better methods of County-wide stormwater management and flood control; ? Increased liaison/relationships with other municipal bodies that would allow for shared resources of staff and equipment, thus freeing District funds for purchase of new land or maintenance of existing open space; ? Careful assessment of opportunities to purchase land for the District; and ? Increased empowerment of volunteers and the community to improve the District?s ability to control invasive species.
Key Issue 2
Issue 2: Financial Responsibility Given that the District exists for the preservation of land, the FPDDC spends too much money on products and services that do not relate to its primary purpose. A few of the many examples of these expenditures include: ? Contracts with public relations firms, such as the one with Reverse Spin; ? Programs to promote the District to the public, such as the 2010 ?Good Things Happen When? campaign; ? The practice of allowing unmonitored multiple change orders on bid projects; ? The lack of a specific accounting function to manage grant income; and ? The District?s refusal to consider a proposal ordinance as a means of managing Professional Service contracts. The Board has an obligation to carefully manage public funds entrusted to them by DuPage County taxpayers. Land preservation, and acting in the best interest of the public, must be the priorities that guide all financial decisions. I support: ? A policy that all contracts with outside firms include a requirement for a good faith effort to hire from within DuPage County before hiring labor from other Counties; ? A genuine effort to seek bids from labor as well as non-labor sources; ? Passage of a responsible bidder ordinance; ? Public notice of all monies spent before they are disbursed; ? Aggressive public notice before beginning the planning process for all projects; ? Budgeting for increased use of green technologies; ? Priority spending for items that directly relate to land preservation, or to the public?s use of open space; ? Increased involvement of the public in all District planning and expenditures; ? Development of lease, or shared-use, agreements with other agencies to avoid purchase of expensive new equipment by the District; ? Ending the practice of transferring money from the natural resources budget to fund other projects; ? Assessing Golf Course operations to determine if they can become profitable and, if not, closing the Courses and restoring the land to native habitat; and ? A policy that Board members should not accept campaign contributions from Companies or individuals that do business with the District. I support a decrease in Board member salary to an amount equal to that of the County Board members, thus freeing money that can be used for natural resource management. I also support development of a means of tracking Board member time spent on the job to ensure that the required minimum 1000 hours of service is completed in each calendar year. Finally, I support formation of a District ethics committee to review financial decisions in cases of no-bid contracts, professional service contracts and campaign donations.
Key Issue 3
Issue 3: Public Involvement When considering the mission of the FPDDC, it is important to remember that people are part of the environment. Restoring natural areas, protecting water quality and controlling invasive species stand alone as valid endeavors. However, we must not forget that human beings coexist with the environment; neither can stand-alone. Improving one while ignoring the other creates an imbalance that has far-reaching negative impact for both civilization and nature. Thus, all of my campaign priorities focus on preserving, protecting and restoring the environment within the context of the people who coexist in that environment. As a Governmental body, the FPDDC is accountable to the taxpaying citizens of DuPage County. As such, every activity of the Board, and of the FPDDC as an organization, must be conducted in a manner that respects the needs and concerns of DuPage County Citizens. I have been attending weekly FPDDC Board meetings for three and a half years. During that time, I have observed groups and individuals speaking to the Board about their concerns. I have observed the Board ignoring these concerns so that people must return repeatedly to speak before the Board. One of the frequent complaints I hear from Citizens in District 6 is that the Board does not respond to the public. There is no consistent attempt made to meet with community groups in an organized manner to resolve problems or to solicit input into new projects. This is a serious problem. The Board serves at the pleasure of the Citizens, not the other way around. Unless the Community is included in every aspect of District activity, the Board cannot be certain that it is meeting its duty to the public Specific examples of public involvement include active follow-up on all public concerns, holding evening Board meetings, and the creation of topic-specific citizen advisory groups. There will always be unpopular decisions, and, in many situations, someone will always be unhappy with the final outcome. But I know from personal experience that most situations are more likely to reach a resolution when all parties are allowed to participate in the process. It might take longer to resolve an issue but ultimately, this method saves both time and money. Improved stewardship of time and money results in better use of FPDDC resources for its primary purpose: Protecting and preserving the land.
Do you support continuing the effort to acquire County Lakes Golf Club in Naperville? Why or why not?
In general, I do not support the practice of using eminent domain to purchase private land. Specifically, I do not support continued efforts to acquire Country Lakes Golf Club. This issue has already cost the taxpayers a great deal of money; it is time to cut losses and walk away before more money is wasted. I agree that purchase of the Country Lakes Golf Club would preserve open space in that portion of the County, and that the Golf Club land has potential to help with stormwater management. However, these reasons alone do not justify the practice of continuing to spend time and money on a project that is unlikely to be successful. The District does not have a good track record of financial success with golf operations and they have already lost several Court battles on this issue. Good leaders know when to let go and walk away. It?s time to do that now with the Country Lakes Golf Club.
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?
Whether or not the District should be in the golf business is a moot point. The District is in the golf business and the real question is what to do about this business. According to the February 2011 Golf Systems Operations Audit conducted by AECOM, all of the current golf operations are losing money. Although the amount of loss varies by golf course and year, every Golf Course has lost money since at least 2005. The Report further states that the District should have a goal of breaking even in golf operations. This will be difficult since the report also notes that Golf Course expenses are likely to continue to rise. Privatization of golf operations is a successful trend in surrounding counties. This would be a good option for the District, but only on a time-limited basis. If privatization does not result in a break-even or profit situation within a two-year period, then the Courses should be closed. Under no circumstances should the District sell Golf Course land. Because they are largely free of invasive species, Golf Course land presents prime opportunity for restoration to natural habitat. If the Courses are closed, the land should be restored to open space for public use. The District is currently creating a Master Plan for the Oak Meadows golf course. This course has been closed much of the time since 2005 due to flooding and to the fire that destroyed the Club House. The proposed Master Plan focuses on a design that will abate the course's chronic flooding, as well as on creating a more modern, natural setting for the course. While the proposed Master Plan looks wonderful, it does not address the fact that Oak Meadows, like the other courses in the District, has historically lost money. No matter how well done the Oak Meadows Master Plan is, it is wasted time and money unless the issue of profitability is addressed.
Comment on the forest preserve's current land acquisition policy: Too aggressive? Too passive? Just right?
The District?s current land acquisition policy is not publicly posted. Because of this, it is not possible to know the complete specifications of that policy. While unlikely, it is also possible that no concrete written policy exists. That said, I do support the continued purchase of land for open space when the land would be used to: ? Connect existing trails; ? Add to existing preserves; ? Provide land for stormwater management or flood control; ? Add land that has historic significance; ? Add land that has high-quality restoration potential; ? Increase biodiversity by adding wetlands; ? Provide relief to citizens who own homes in flood plain areas; ? Allow for cooperative arrangements with communities that cannot afford parcels of open space on their own, and ? Provide conservation easements. Land acquisition has slowed in recent years, probably because much of the available land has already been purchased. The District owns approximately 12% of the land in DuPage County; nearly 50% of this land is in District 6. While I would support the purchase of appropriate land in District 6, I especially support the purchase of land elsewhere in the County as a means of balancing the District?s holdings. I do not support the practice of eminent domain or forced buy-out of privately owned land, except in rare circumstances and only then with extreme caution.
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Thank you for the opportunity to answer these questions!
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