Lori Chassee: 2021 candidate for West Chicago Council Ward 1
Incumbent Lori Chassee, one of two candidates running for West Chicago Council Ward 1, responds to the Daily Herald candidate questionnaire for the April 6, 2021, local elections.
Challenger David Reynolds declined to answer questions.
In-person early voting with paper ballots begins Feb. 25 at DuPage County Fairgrounds Building 5, 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton. In-person early voting with touch-screen voting begins March 22 at locations throughout the county. Learn more at www.dupageco.org/earlyvoting/.
For more election coverage, visit dailyherald.com.
City: West Chicago
Occupation: Victim Assistance Coordinator, Catholic Diocese of Joliet
Civic involvement: Thorium Action Group volunteer, Civil Service Commission chair, Healthy West Chicago, former board chair for various youth athletic and school groups; West Chicago City Council, Alderman 1st Ward, Disaster Deputy Mayor under Michael Kwasman, Deputy Mayor for Ruben Pineda; current chairman of the DuPage County Community Development Commission as a municipal representative. Current chairman of the public affairs committee and vice chair of the finance committee (former chairman).
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: With state and federal regulations as a base, we must consider the unique challenges our residents face. In West Chicago, it has been important to be a conduit for reliable information in both English and Spanish. We have worked with businesses to provide current strategies for keeping workers and customers safe. We have provided multiple opportunities to keep city resources available to the community while protecting our staff as best as possible.
I have fielded pandemic-related questions from residents, and it is my role to know what resources are available and direct people to accurate and reliable information. It is important that I lead by example, abiding by distance requirements, following proper mask wearing and using technology for meetings and interactions with the public.
Yes, I have to be able to make hard decisions, such as canceling some of our popular events which posed too great a risk to our citizens, even with attempts to be protective. We have been able to work with various leaders to bring testing and vaccination resources to West Chicago. We have aggressively pursued all financial options available to minimize our losses and to provide assistance to our local businesses.
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: We were able to shift staff to remote work yet provide in-person options through our police station and by appointment for other city buildings. We also used a dropbox system for payments, and permit applications. We transitioned to online options for many common city services. Our garbage hauler, snowplow services, and recycling efforts experienced only minor changes. Our police department staff did not miss a beat.
Our city administrator was given authority to make whatever pandemic-related purchases and changes were necessary to keep operations running, while providing ongoing reports to the city council to ensure accountability.
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: As a city, we are fortunate to have written disaster plans that cover multiple scenarios. Now, with a year of experience regarding the limitations imposed by a viral outbreak, we will be able to look back on this year and review what worked smoothly and what may need to be revised as we go forward. This critical review can help steer modifications to our disaster plan playbook.
I think we have learned that communication is critical. We must keep our residents as informed as possible regarding changes that need to be made and the reasons for making them. Transparency is essential to build and maintain trust with our residents. I think we have seen that trust is necessary to achieve the buy in and support needed when people are asked to make sacrifices and wholesale changes in the way that they must live their lives. I think we must also ensure that our processes are inclusive to all members of our community.
Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A: We are fortunate that the coming year will not see too many wholesale cuts, however going forward we will have to use a discerning eye. I believe that essential services and staff need to be maintained. We will need to look at those programs that are nice to have but not mission critical and some may need to be trimmed until we are able to rebound. Capital projects that can be modified or delayed will result in cost savings, but that may be only for the short-term. Other short-term cuts included postponing or delaying special events and festivals to discourage mass gatherings and otherwise adhering to public health guidance.
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: The most important infrastructure project on the horizon for West Chicago is the construction of a 3-million-gallon water tower to increase storage to accommodate summer drought conditions as well as improve fire flow and water pressure for our customers. Construction of this project also will lead to the removal of the small storage tower in our downtown, which will help with the redevelopment of that area and eliminate the $750,000 cost to paint the rusted interior and exterior of the tower and to make required structural repairs prior to painting. The city can aggressively pursue available Illinois Environmental Protection Agency grants and low-interest loans and other federal sources for support to fund this project.
One project that unfortunately needs to be put on hold is the construction of a new city hall. While the city has acquired the necessary land over the last decade plus and is now remediating the environmental contamination in the soils on the site, now is not the time to raise our residents' and business' property taxes to pay for the debt service associated with this new public building.
Q: Do you agree or disagree with the stance your council has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?
A: I do not agree with our current stance. Much of the opposition voiced to allowing sales in West Chicago were based on opposition to marijuana use itself, a ship that sailed when the state legalized its use. As happens so often, the politics of fear and misinformation dominated. Residents were told many dire consequences that would result if we allowed sales in our community. Much of that information was incorrect or taken from decades old literature that has been scientifically debunked.
As a result, we are now an island surrounded by retail outlets. West Chicago residents who wish to purchase this legal product must now travel several hundred feet across our border taking their tax revenue with them to our neighbors.
There is now a chance to look at the actual data to see that the dire consequences were "the sky is falling" arguments; there has been no reported increase in calls for service, crimes propagated or medical consequences in our neighboring communities. Naperville, Carol Stream, Bartlett, and St. Charles have not suffered dramatic hits to their "images." Soon I believe there will be federal legalization and I hope that the community can look at the current status and revisit this decision.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: I would like to see us investigate and develop a Business Incubator Program that would help entrepreneurs establish a presence in West Chicago with the ultimate goal of helping them establish a brick and mortar presence in our downtown. There are multiple examples of successful programs in other areas that we can look to and use as a basis to craft a plan that fits our own community.