Carla Brookman: 2021 candidate for Des Plaines City Council Ward 5
2 candidates for one seat
City: Des Plaines
Office sought: Des Plaines City Council Ward 5
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. As an alderman I have felt a special responsibility to the residents of our city and to the city workforce that provide vital services. The City Council voted to approve emergency measures to authorize the mayor to require all Des Plaines residents to wear masks in public and to practice social distancing guidelines to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in our city. These emergency declarations were short terms in nature and needed to be reauthorized. I voted to reauthorize these emergency measures that still continue today.
City Council business continued through a Zoom format with regular Council meetings being broadcast on local channel 17 with resident participation provided through a podium and microphone setup in city hall in a separate room with health precautions taken. The Council and city staff worked together to ensure that all relevant information regarding the pandemic were provided through the city website and informational programming on channel 17.
I do not believe that the city should simply defer to state and federal authorities. We have a responsibility at the local level to evaluate our own situation and take actions consistent with the best interest of our residents and workforce. In many cases, this did mean following state and federal guidelines. However, there were instances when independent judgment was warranted. For example, the latest shutdown directive of all indoor dining that was issued by the governor represented government overreach. The restaurant industry has suffered greatly from government shut downs. Other businesses have been allowed to continue operating while restaurants have been shut down repeatedly. The "science" that claims to justify these devastating practices is questionable, at best. There are studies on both sides that argue for and against restaurant shutdowns.
Q. Did you 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 city a specific example of what could have been done better.
A. Overall, I think the city did a good job dealing with the pandemic. Changes in operations were quickly implemented to mitigate against the risks presented by COVID-19. Most importantly, the city continued to deliver all city services without interruption. All city workers have been working normal schedules during this pandemic, delivering essential services to our residents. Police, Fire, and Public Works employees stayed on the job. New health practices were put in place to protect all workers.
Early on, the city instituted local ordinances that mandated mask-wearing and social distancing practices throughout the Des Plaines community. And, the city website kept residents updated on information related to COVID-19.
Q. In light of our experiences with COVID-19, what safeguards/guidelines should you put in place to address any future health crises?
A. I have asked the city manager to conduct a citywide post COVID evaluation. This would include a department by department review as well the city government. We need to objectively assess our response and determine what needs to be done to better prepare the city for any future crisis. I believe we need to have an emergency response plan in place to be better prepared for a major health crisis. COVID-19 was unprecedented in its scale and range of impacts. It has been a learning experience for the city and we must benefit from the lessons learned.
Q. What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A. In response to the loss in revenue, the city offered an early retirement plan that saved significant money because salary and benefit packages make up the largest portion of operational costs. We had 27 employees take advantage of the program which saved an estimated 1.4 million. This allowed us the flexibility to remove 11 positions from the budget and hold another 20 positions vacant which saved an additional 1.3 million. Because of the uncertainties of the pandemic, the city made decisions to postpone some major capital projects until we have a better idea of expected revenues. The city hall heating and cooling project was held off to save 1.4 million. City infrastructure projects were modified or delayed to save 10.4 million dollars.
One of the biggest concerns with a future health crisis or any other crisis is the impact on city revenues. We are currently facing an estimated 10 million dollar shortfall in revenue from reduced sales tax receipts, the drop in casino revenue, as well as pass through revenues from the state. What I will propose to the City Council is that the city begin setting aside a portion of the casino revenue every year in order to build up a substantial emergency fund to protect us in the future from revenue shortfalls from an unexpected crisis. This will protect the taxpayers from new debt from borrowing and from the need for any tax increase. The Facility Replacement Fund that I asked for in the 2018 budget proved its value when it was able to pay for half of the city hall parking structure after COVID hit.
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 in the 5th Ward is the completion of the Lee Street and Forest Avenue traffic signal improvements. This project has been in the planning and design stages for several years. Construction finally began after the necessary easements were secured. Underground sewer work and utility relocations were done in fall and the project is expected to be completed this coming spring or summer. The financing is already in place with 80% of funding coming from the Federal government, and 20% coming from the city.
The next project that I would like to focus on deals with stormwater management in the Area of Cindy Lane and Forest Avenue. This area is identified as Problem Area 5 in the city's Storm Water Management Master Plan. The original plan was to construct underground detention on the Forest School property. Negotiations on this proposal with School District 62 were unsuccessful. We now have an alternative plan to construct underground detention within the City right of way. We control these right-of-ways so we do not need to negotiate with anyone. It's anticipated that Cindy Lane and possibly Fourth Avenue will be programmed in the 5-Year Capital Improvement Program. I will push to have these streets programmed in year 1 or 2 of the plan. In total, the city plans to invest 11.3 million in capital projects in the 5th ward by 2024.
A major project that can be put on the back burner is the police station expansion. The design work has been put on hold to save about $850 thousand dollars. The building expansion should also be put on hold at a savings of 8 to 10 million dollars, depending on the final design.
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 disagreed with allowing the sales of recreational marijuana sales in the Des Plaines and voted against it when the issue came before the City Council. I have always supported the sale of marijuana for medical purposes. I believe that allowing recreational marijuana sales sends the wrong message, especially to our young people. Maine West High School and the police have worked hard to discourage underage drinking. I believe the community should also discourage recreational marijuana use. I know that pot has been legalized and can be purchased in other towns, but I think we should not make it easy to buy in Des Plaines.