Eugene Fregetto: 2021 candidate for Des Plaines City Council Ward 3
Four candidates are running for one four-year term in Des Plaines City Council, Ward 3.
City: Des Plaines
Occupation: Retired professor of entrepreneurship who remains active developing entrepreneurship programs, researching and publishing in the field.
Employer: University of Illinois at Chicago (retired from full-time teaching in 2014)
Civic involvement: I've been active in local and state politics since early 1980s; served on Des Plaines Civil Service Commission and Des Plaines Library board for many years; founded a nonprofit policy analysis organization, Maine Tax Analysis Group, Inc. (now named Midwest Technology Access Group, Inc.) that analyzed city and township policy issues; served as the administrative agent for a statewide "bridge the digital divide" consortium; served as campaign managers for several local officials; and ran for public office three previous times.
Q: How do you view your role in confronting the pandemic: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree, or defer to state and federal authorities?
A: The first urgent challenge is to rebuild our community's small businesses -- especially the businesses we tended to take for granted but are now in urgent need of our community's help. I'm uniquely qualified to support these businesses because I was a small-business owner for 17 years as well as a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Illinois at Chicago. During those years, I taught a small business consulting course that provided student- consulting services to hundreds of small businesses in the Chicago area, including Des Plaines. I'll be a strong advocate for the small businesses in Des Plaines to ensure a speedy economic recovery for our city. The second important issue is to continue the economic development of our city. For this task, I am uniquely qualified as I have a Ph.D. in urban policy and planning from the University of Illinois at Chicago, one of the top urban planning colleges in the nation. As part of my normal aldermanic duties, I will share my knowledge and experience as an urban planner in order to leverage the best of what Des Plaines has to offer to its citizens and the region as well as the state.
Q: Did your town continue to adequately serve its constituents during the disruptions caused by the pandemic? If so, please cite an example of how it successfully adjusted to providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A: I am pleased with the high level of support our city leaders and employees provided during the pandemic as they kept city hall open providing all regular services in addition to their efforts to provide extra help for citizens and businesses during the pandemic. In particular, our city did not lay off anyone, our city increased online services and notices to keep citizens informed and connected, and our city quickly converted their council meetings to Zoom meetings to ensure the business of government continued uninterrupted. Most important, they allowed citizen participation via Zoom allowing citizens to participate in their government regardless of their location. Citizen participation via Zoom is a clear benefit coming out of the outbreak and rapid spread of this ferocious pandemic; as alderman, I will advocate to amend city ordinance to permanently allow citizens to participate in city council meetings via Zoom and to support other governmental units in Des Plaines, such as, School District 62 that also did an excellent job educating of students using a combination of in-classroom and Zoom-delivered instruction.
Q: In light of our experiences with COVID-19, what safeguards/guidelines should you put in place to address any future public health crises?
A: The leading safeguard against further pandemics and similar calamities is our Health and Human Services (HHS) Division that is already providing critical services to promote the well-being of residents. As alderman, I will work with HHS to ensure that their capabilities and services are ready for the next calamity whether it is a pandemic, a natural disaster, or an unexpected tragic event. Our HHS is the city's best kept secret as this department already maintains relationships with nonprofits providing services in many critical areas: child care, individual-family counseling, domestic violence, assistance to low-income residents, and services for seniors and the disabled. In providing these services HHS partners with school districts, religious/social organizations, as well as leading health organizations, such as, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. HHS already has a solid core delivery network that has successfully provided health care services during pre-pandemic years, as alderman, I will work closely with HHS to ensure they have the capability to meet health care needs during the post-pandemic years. Also, I will use the same approach of building upon the strengths the city already has when working with other departments, such as, the police and fire departments, to help make the city calamity-ready.
Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A: The number one goal during these uncertain times created by the rapid spread of the ferocious COVID-19 virus is to preserve cash! Three immediate approaches to preserving cash, without cutting city services, is to delay all capital projects, delay purchase of all new equipment and supplies (except for emergency use), and to consolidate all cash reserves into one "fund" in order to have a clear understanding of the amount of cash-on-hand the city has. Millions of idle cash are sitting in "sinking funds" maintained by the city, such as, the Equipment Replacement Fund, Facilities Replacement Fund and the IT Replacement Fund. In addition, four other city funds have millions in idle cash reserves: Water/Sewer Fund, Parking Fund, Risk Management Fund and the Health Benefit Fund. The cash reserve in each of the above funds is appropriate under normal, pre-COVID days, but in our effort to rebuild our local economy without raising taxes, the idle cash sitting in these city funds should be used before considering any tax increase.
Q: What do you see as the most important infrastructure project you must address? Why and how should it be paid for? Conversely, during these uncertain economic times, what infrastructure project can be put on the back burner?
A: I partially answered this question in my statements above: Delay all capital projects until we attain the new Post-COVID normal, prepare for the next unexpected calamity by building upon the strengths the city already has: its police, fire, and HHS departments, and conserve cash to maintain city services and to pay for infrastructure projects that can help the city rebuild its economic base. Consistent with my belief to build upon the city's strengths, I believe a critical infrastructure project will focus on significant improvements for both the flow of traffic though our city as well as ensuring digital communication services are provided to improve the delivery of at-home services as well as to support the mobile worker who is expected to be part of the post-COVID norm. Presently, Des Plaines is the perfect location for a post-COVID economic recovery as the city is at the center of a commuting hub with O'Hare airport, among the busiest in the world, being ten minutes away, an extensive commuter network of rail and buses serving the city, and two interstate highway systems at the border of our town. Strategically, Des Plaines is the excellent location for post-COVID mobile workforce to locate.
Q: Do you agree or disagree with the stance your board/council has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?
A: I am glad that marijuana became legal for medicinal use, and I believe that marijuana for medicinal use should have been made legal years before it actually became law. Conversely, if given a chance, I would have voted against making marijuana legal for recreational use, although I am glad that the criminal records of 10s of 1,000s of people caught with small amounts of marijuana have been expunged. So I accept the passage of a law permitting recreational marijuana sales with mixed emotions. However, my preference is to maximize the distance between the children and youth of our city from the direct sales of marijuana for recreational use, and therefore, I will support any council effort to deny the sale of marijuana for recreational use in our city.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: Good idea: Build upon the city's great progress to develop its website. As a longtime resident, I'm impressed with the city's website as it has greatly increased the transparency of how our government works and made its services more convenient to all residents. In particular, the "Virtual City Hall" is a great service. I'd like to work with the city to make the city's website even better. The next step in development is to create a "Digital Community Hub" that increases the information, accessibility, and connectivity among all governmental, nonprofit, and for-profit services. This Hub will eliminate residents' need to browse multiple sites searching for services and information that can help them. The "Hub" will be an integrated, user-friendly, Hub for use by any citizen, regardless of their digital skills. I believe that our city, as part of its public service mandate, has the responsibility to make community resources easily accessible; to ensure the Hub improves our community's sustainability; and to deepen the impact of the collective and cooperative work performed by all stakeholders committed to building a better Des Plaines, as "capacity building" is a critical, yet generally invisible asset needed to nurture and grow a vibrant city of the 21st Century.