Steven Mark Smith: 2021 candidate for Wheeling village president
Occupation: Developer/Builder at Smith Family Developers
Civic involvement: Ran youth wrestling program for 25 years; 28-year member of the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation; coached youth football and baseball
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. My role as Village President would include doing everything possible to keep residents informed so they can stay safe while also keeping community economic activity as robust as possible while confronting the pandemic. Residents deserve a real voice and creating a community task force, with residents and business owners alike, is imperative for building transparency and community success. This group of community members, along with village staff, could evaluate all available tools and lifelines, such as enterprise zones, in order to aid small businesses especially the hard-hit retail and restaurant industries to not only survive the pandemic but come back stronger when it ends. This group, as well as village staff, could actively pursue all state and federal COVID-19 grants and relief funds available.
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. When the pandemic began, everyone was in new and uncharted territory finding it very difficult to navigate. As time went on, neighboring communities went on the offensive to aid struggling businesses and homeowners. Wheeling waited until late December to revamp the restaurant grant program, 9 months after business shutdowns began in March, which frankly was far too little and too late. While these same neighboring communities made difficult budget decisions to cut costs, the current Village Board thought it prudent to give a 7% raise to the Village Manager in contrast to the many community businesses and residents suffering extreme economic hardship due to the pandemic. This isn't what residents expect from their Village leaders during such challenging times.
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. Broadly, the pandemic has underscored the importance of agility, responsiveness, and contingency planning for potential future black swan events that could substantially impact village residents, businesses, and core services. With this in mind, I would establish a cross-governmental working group with other local taxing bodies to ensure the highest degree of collaboration in the event of future crisis. Using our current pandemic as an example, I would be working with community partners to collectively secure COVID-19 vaccinations for all front-line essential workers and residents at risk as opposed to the "every man for themselves" approach.
Q. What cuts should local government make to deal with the pandemic?
A. Due to the pandemic, we are facing a budget crisis. Tough and sometimes unpopular decisions need to be made by Village leadership during unprecedented times. Any and all options must be left on the table, as long as they DO NOT have a negative impact on the core services to Wheeling's residents
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. A key infrastructure program that should continue and expand is the flood plan mitigation program, paid for with grants and stormwater fees, to remove existing homeowner's properties from the flood plain, in turn reducing their insurance costs and increasing their property values. During such trying times, anything we can do to help residents save money and increase equity in their properties is essential. In terms of cuts, all capital improvement projects need to be thoroughly vetted out to determine what, if any, can be reduced and/or delayed in order to fill the gaping budget hole for 2021. Do you plan to address businesses that don't adhere to the governor's order to close or restrict business?
Q. Do you plan to address businesses that don't adhere to the governor's order to close or restrict business?
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. Yes. I support the decision to permit recreational marijuana sales due to the large untapped revenue stream it will create.
Q. Describe your leadership style and explain how you think that will be effective in producing effective actions and decisions with your village board or city council.
A. I believe in a collaborative team leadership style in order to create a thriving culture through effective communication both upward and downward. Nurturing a strong team environment, with leadership not driven by ego or personal agenda and simply focused on our mission as community leaders, will create the most effective strategy in vetting out the best policy decisions for Wheeling and implementing them quickly and efficiently.
Q. What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A. I have been a Wheeling resident for 39 years, coached hundreds of local youth athletes in wrestling, football, and baseball for over 25 years, and run a, Wheeling based, family construction and development company for over 30 years. These local life experiences have given me a unique and inciteful perspective of our diverse community, its residents, and their needs.
Q. What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A. One idea that I'm extremely excited about is to work with local businesses on restaurant row, to create a strategic plan aimed at retaining and gaining food, entertainment, and additional business. Even prior to the pandemic, sales tax revenues have been floundering for the past several years. Additional revenues through successful existing and new businesses will only help ease the burden on our residents, whose tax levy has been doubled over the last decade. Community collaboration with residents and local business owners is the key to get Wheeling thriving again!