Sharmin Shahjahan: 2021 candidate for Hanover Park Trustee
Five candidates for three 4-year terms
Hometown: Hanover Park
Occupation: Full-time mom to two little girls
Civic involvement: Village of Hanover Park Board Liaison Cultural Inclusion & Diversity Committee; Village of Hanover Park Board Liaison Environmental Committee; Village of Hanover Park Special Events Committee (until 2019); School District U-46 School Improvement Program Community Partner; School District U-46 Citizens' Advisory Council Finance Committee; National League of Cities Vice Chair Human Development Committee; National League of Cities Race, Equity, and Leadership Committee; National League of Cities Board Member of Women in Municipal Government; Metropolitan Mayors Caucus Age-Friendly Collaborative; Metropolitan Mayors Caucus Environment Committee; Metropolitan Mayors Caucus Diversity Task Force; Women Empowerment Campaign; United Nations Women Chicago
Q. What is the primary reason you're running for office? What is the most important issue?
A I have a passion to serve my community and appreciate the opportunity to serve as Trustee these last four years. During that time, I learned a lot about the village and used my financial background and experience in both small and large organizations to improve our municipal government. I would like to continue as Trustee to build on the work from my first term. I helped expand village services while freezing the property tax levy and water rates. I led many efforts to engage residents in setting village policy, including forums, stakeholder meetings and town halls. I consistently advocated for family programming and housing. I built public-private partnerships to promote development and provided solutions to address resident needs. The COVID19 pandemic remains our most pressing issue. It is hampering our children's education, isolating our seniors, devastating our small businesses, infecting more than 1,700 of our neighbors, stalling our careers, and affecting our mental health. Recovery will require cooperation from public, private, government sectors and our residents.
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. During a crisis, local leaders need to be accessible, responsive, and resourceful. I secured essential PPE for our EMTs and a funeral home when it was scarce. I created a resource card of providers offering internet, utility, food, health care, rent assistance and distributed them to schools offering free meals. I helped residents and businesses navigate banks and state unemployment as well as informed them of changing federal and state guidance. Local leaders play a critical role in advocating for community concerns to shape state and federal policies. We also provide feedback in rolling out state and federal mandates and initiatives. I advocated for constituents with our federal & state representatives when residents and businesses could not receive the federal grants or apply for unemployment insurance. As Vice Chair of the National League of Cities Human Development Committee, I plan to advocate for increased funding in workforce development and child-care access as a critical component of pandemic recovery.
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. Yes, I led efforts to implement a moratorium on water shut-offs and debt collection until September 2020. We posted pertinent information and funding opportunities on our website and our Community Development department personally contacted every business in town to update them on changing state guidance. We also provided marketing support to transition our businesses to have better online presence. Additionally, we began accepting town hall comments electronically and audio streaming our Board meetings to provide better access to public meetings to our residents. Furthermore, we partnered with the Illinois Department of Public Health and other organizations to bring free COVID testing to Hanover Park.
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. Regionally, coordinate with hospitals, dental and medical offices, municipal first responders, and public health experts to establish a task force with community trusted voices to standardize protocols of guiding the community and identifying and safeguarding the highest risk population.
Q. What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A. We froze hiring, canceled many special events, put fleet replacement and other capital expenditures on hold while pursuing available grants.
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. Arlington Road Bridge has deteriorated significantly and is currently rated at 5 tons. The Village has received a federal Surface Transportation Program grant to cover 80% of the costs. Due to safety concerns and secured grants, the Village should continue with this project. Long-term, high budget projects like replacing the water meter reading system with a price tag of $4.9 million dollars can be delayed to balance unexpected and significant shortfall.
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 agree with the current parameters in place for our community. More studies are needed to make informed decisions on the impact of cannabis businesses.
Q. What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A. Software like EngagementHQ provides a platform to increase public participation in community planning without residents having to adjust their schedules to attend public meetings. Hanover Park government has almost no attendance at village meetings and only 6% voter turnout in the 2019 municipal election. Eliminating barriers to resident participation ensures that we are properly serving the needs of the people we represent.