Jeff Gahris: Candidate profile, DuPage County Forest Preserve Board District 4
Democrat Jeff Gahris of Wheaton is challenging incumbent Republican Tim Whelan of Wheaton for the District 4 seat on the DuPage County Forest Preserve District board of commissioners in the Nov. 3 general election.
Gahris is a retired environmental engineer with more than 30 years' extensive experience at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Ohio. He has served as a volunteer leader for the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, and volunteers with the nonprofits Elevate Energy and SCARCE.
Whelan, an attorney, has served on the board since 2012. He is a committeeman with the Milton Township Republicans. He is a member of the Wheaton Lions Club, Knights of Columbus, and the Boy Scouts of America as an Eagle Scout and parent.
District 4 takes in all or parts of Bloomingdale, Addison, Glendale Heights, Carol Stream, Winfield, Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Lombard, Downers Grove and Lisle.
The Daily Herald asked the candidates a series of questions. Here are their responses.
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what?
A: As a boy, I had 7 acres of woods to play in. Since then, I have always had a passion for preserving the environment.
I pursued an environmental career and am active in various environmental groups. I have volunteered and worked in natural area restorations over the years.
Given all of my experiences, restoring green spaces to their former glory has emerged as my strongest passion.
I have reached a point in my life where I can help to strengthen our natural area restoration and preservation efforts as a Forest Preserve District commissioner.
Q: If you are an incumbent, describe your two biggest contributions to the board. If you are a non-incumbent, describe two ways you would contribute to the board.
A: I have a working knowledge of solar energy and energy efficiency, and can help bring more of it to the preserves while saving money, dramatically reducing the carbon footprint and promoting clean air.
I have a solar-powered home, so I am "walking my talk" with respect to this opportunity.
I will bring the ability to work through complex environmental issues with an understanding of science, while engaging local constituents in a meaningful way.
I want to fully support strong science-based efforts by Forest Preserve District staff who wish to enhance biodiversity, and the overall health of natural areas, lakes and streams.
Q: What role should the forest preserve play in preserving historic buildings on its land?
A: For a few buildings that are highly regarded as historic in nature, and have a deep connection with the history of the land in which they reside, the Forest Preserve District should work with area constituents to assure the buildings are properly preserved in the context of a healthy natural setting.
Our understanding and connection to a specific forest preserve is enriched by our understanding of its historic context, giving us a true "sense of place."
Q: How would you rate the job the commission is doing to develop existing forest preserves and make them accessible to residents? How would you approach things differently?
A: The commission relies on an excellent Forest Preserve District staff, and when they support the professional staff, good things happen, such as strong pro-environment policies and procedures.
Given that, I would consistently be pro-science when it comes to restoration and management issues.
I would also like to see more collaboration with nonprofits such as veterans groups and social service agencies to encourage more access and immersion into nature by groups in our society that will find it a healing experience.
I would also promote stronger community involvement through public participation and input, as well as outdoor volunteer opportunities.
This would also include outreach to minority communities in DuPage County to make sure all would feel welcomed and safe while enjoying the preserves.
Q: What is the most important issue facing the forest preserves in your district and how should it be addressed?
A: For District 4 specifically, I think we need to strengthen our volunteer programs, whether it be care of horses or natural area stewardship.
Having volunteer involvement and deep appreciation for what the preserves offer can be a core strength of the Forest Preserve District.
This will be even more important to manage well in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.