Nicolle Grasse: 2021 candidate for Arlington Heights trustee
Six candidates for four 4-year terms
Hometown: Arlington Heights
Occupation: Hospice Chaplain
Employer: VITAS Healthcare
Civic involvement: Ordained clergy in the United Church of Christ Denomination with ongoing local, state and national-level volunteer work for justice and democracy issues through this role; Congregational UCC in Arlington Heights; League of Women Voters-AH-BG-MP, Deputy Registrar; Previous: Barrington Career Resource Center volunteer; Adult illiteracy volunteer; Girl Scout co-leader; legislative volunteer with Hospice Action Network
Q. What is the primary reason you're running for office? What is the most important issue?
A. I am running for Arlington Heights Village Trustee because I want to bring a needed health care and human service perspective to the board. Among the current board members and candidates, I am the only one with an extensive health care background. As a health care and hospice chaplain for almost 30 years I bring a wealth of skills and experience responding to human needs and finding solutions. The recent global pandemic has highlighted our interconnectedness and the important role our local government services have to our social, physical and financial health and well-being. A health care and human service voice on the board is vital to ensuring our local government makes decisions that fully address the health, safety and welfare for all in our village.
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 effects of COVID-19 trauma on us individually, communally and economically will bring challenges to our lives for many years to come. As a hospice chaplain, I do a lot of listening to the needs and concerns of patients, families and medical professionals and I involve them in creating solutions that matter most. Hospice chaplains are often the first to address conflicts and differences and our role is to work to find places of agreement. I believe there is always common ground to be found among conflicting thought and beliefs and I successfully address this reality on a daily basis in my work. As a front-line health care worker, I have had a leadership role in this pandemic and have to do all three things mentioned in this question: suggest unpopular remedies, give a voice to others and remain aligned to state and federal mandates. One-size solutions rarely work which is why I would like to contribute my health care and human services experience to the COVID-19 recovery plans for Arlington Heights. On a brighter note, I continue to witness the transforming ways that people working together can bring about true relief and benefit for others.
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 believe the Village provided truly innovative and rapid responses to support our businesses and residents. The creative Alfresco in the downtown area, deferment of payments on zero interest business loans, reduction on restaurant and liquor fees and support for curbside alcohol sales were some of the successful responses to help our businesses while adhering to COVID-19 mitigation requirements. Our Village actively assists people with specific concerns such as disability services, financial struggles, holiday support, counseling needs and CAP and Park scholarships through the Arlington Cares program. The Village also provides updated communication regarding additional county and state COVID-19 related resources and services. A recent community survey focused on the future of Arlington Al Fresco reveals the Village is interested in ongoing community feedback and is wanting to best meet the changing needs of businesses and citizens.
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. I would like to see an updated local emergency preparedness plan of action for the Village and publicity of such plan based on what we have learned from this current COVID-19 experience. Within my health care organization we have a series of emergency plans to ensure the safety of ourselves and others with a checklist of specific actions to ensure the safety of all. These action plans are regularly reviewed, updated and tested. One true asset in our Village is our hospital. In collaboration with Northwest Community Hospital and other health care services the Village can refine their local emergency preparedness plan taking into account the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to enhance the future health, safety and welfare of us all.
Q. What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A. Due to fiscally responsible decision making in the past, the Village was able to meet its budget with no increase to the property tax levy for the second year in a row and our community is in better financial health than many other communities. The Village has also instituted a hiring freeze to help alleviate some financial strain. In our case, bond financed infrastructure projects have already been funded and should continue as they are not a part of the general fund. The expansion of Village buildings and facilities should be deferred until the financial burden of the pandemic subsides. Aggressively seeking unique ways to attract new businesses and revenue sources would be a top priority of mine. Furloughing Village employees would be a very last resort after all retention efforts are exhausted.
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. Water and sewer repair and upgrade is the most important infrastructure project to be addressed before its problems engulf us and consume more and more of our resources. While we are a community rich with history of over 130 years, the average age of our water and sewer lines is 65 years. Water main breaks and service interruptions are a common occurrence and are now at above normal rates. Our water rates were just increased this past January to help pay for this project with additional set scheduled rate increases to occur annually for the next 5 years. I would support working with our government partners, accessing state and federal monies and forming a comprehensive plan with full transparency and community understanding to complete this project as soon as is economically feasible. Our health and property values are dependent upon the completion of this specific infrastructure project. As stated earlier, the expansion of any Village buildings and facilities may have to be delayed during these uncertain economic times.
Q. Do you agree or disagree with the stance your municipality has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?
A. I fully agree with permitting recreational marijuana sales in our Village. I publicly conveyed my full support before the first vote for the following reasons: to support an already established local community business sell a legal product, to create opportunity for new businesses and additional revenue for our local government, and to receive special tax revenue to fund crime prevention programs, training and additional interdiction programs for our police department. While I personally do not and cannot use recreational marijuana as a health care worker, I have witnessed the helpful benefits of marijuana for people with various health issues. I have also seen the damage caused by false narratives and unevenly applied, punitive drug laws regarding marijuana that especially affect people of color and lower economic status. The well documented racist origins of marijuana being classified as a Schedule 1 drug also informed my position to support recreational marijuana sales in our community.
Q. What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A. Our motto is "City of Good Neighbors." My idea is to create a community wide Good Neighbor Project to foster a collective identity and promote collaboration. Through special events and projects, this project would make use of the talents and knowledge of our residents, businesses, schools, village services, civic groups and organizations. This would allow us to unite in common themed events and designated days that exemplify being good neighbors. Possible project ideas: green initiatives in our neighborhoods like education and commitment to the care of our parkway trees, volunteer hours for our young people to help their neighbors, public nomination opportunities for acts of being a good neighbor, and public art projects like murals throughout our Village. Public art murals are especially exciting to me. They would be a way to access our many gifted artists, involve the community in choosing motto themed murals, and allow varied murals throughout our entire Village. Community wide murals would be a destination for residents and visitors. They would all be a visible reminder of our motto. A public art mural in the viaduct where recent racist graffiti was found would also make clear that hate has no home here in Arlington Heights.