Jennifer Veremis: 2021 candidate for 1st Ward Elmhurst Alderman
In the April 6, 2021, consolidated election, incumbent Jennifer Veremis and challengers Susan Smentek and Kevin Flanagan are vying for a two-year term as Elmhurst 1st Ward Alderman. The Daily Herald asked the candidates several questions about issues facing the city. Below are Veremis' responses.
In-person early voting with paper ballots is available 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.
Occupation: Small business owner. I started and owned The Beauty Lounge for 17 years. Currently, I own Jennifer Veremis/Goal.Get.Her Inc., a business coaching firm that assists small business owners with goal setting, financial management, operations efficiency, time management and productivity.
Employer: Jennifer Veremis/Goal.Get.Her Inc. Business Coaching Firm
Community Service: Current Ward 1 Alderman; service on the Finance, Council Affairs and Administrative Services Committee. Member of the Retail Grant. Spearheaded Keep Elmhurst Vibrant Group. Organized neighbors and community support to successfully oppose a gas station development along Salt Creek at Route 83 and St. Charles Road, earning the 2019 Citizen Initiative Award from the Citizen Advocacy Center. Co-founded Elmhurst Business Owners COVID-19 Support Group. Elected City Centre board of directors; elected director, 2019-2020, ex officio, 2020- present. USO of Illinois, active volunteer, fundraiser and trainer, 2015-present. Spearheaded the USO's participation in the Elmhurst Memorial Day Parade. Co-chaired a successful communitywide USO fundraiser leading up to The Elmhurst Memorial Day Parade. American Legion, supporter.
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 a small-business owner, I proactively closed my business one week before the statewide shut down because I did not feel I could keep my team, clients, and community safe. My first call was the city manager, telling him my plan and asking what I could do to help my neighborhood and the business community. Five days later, I co-founded the Elmhurst Business Owners COVID Support Group to assist the city with outreach. It serves as a medium between the City of Elmhurst and business owners to provide timely information on federal and state COVID-19 relief initiatives, resources and support. I reached out to over 50 businesses.
As an Elmhurst City Centre elected board member, I proactively requested a virtual meeting to discuss our role in assisting merchant members. I encouraged the creation and was a member of the ad hoc goal-setting committee. We increased our social media presence, updated the strategic plan, and held focus groups to hear our members' needs.
As an Alderman, I have listened to several residents with different views. I created a "Helpful Links and Resources" document and hare updated information on my social media pages, and email newsletter.
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 believe our town served its constituents well during the pandemic and continues to do so.
Several safety measures were implemented in city hall, such as temperature checks, hand sanitizer, and required mask wearing for those residents who did have to come into city hall.
The council voted not to assess a late fee for vehicle stickers required to be on vehicles by May 2020. City staff is working with residents who have difficulties paying water and sewer bills during these trying times.
The city successfully held early voting in October with thousands of people voting every day for two weeks -- safely having their vote count.
Our police and fire departments made sure they were adequately equipped with masks and PPE to handle various COVID-related situations.
As a business owner, I know the city's economic development team was exceptional. They were accessible to answer questions, offer support and stay current on all federal and state information.
Our communication department did an outstanding job providing up-to-date information. There was also a special edition Halloween Front Porch newsletter for trick-or-treating.
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: The city has an Emergency Operating Center located in Fire Station 1. It is a place that representatives from all city departments gather to collaborate, brainstorm, and practice exercises to prepare for major emergencies/disasters. I would like to see the city enhance what is required based on what we know today regarding a modern-day pandemic. Representatives from city departments and city partners would meet quarterly, or as needed, to establish guidelines and provide adjustments. Additionally, outreach to our residents and business community could offer valuable feedback moving forward.
Many of the safeguards/guidelines are established at DuPage County since they have a health department, and the city does not. Strengthening communication and collaboration among alliances is always beneficial.
Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A: Early in the pandemic, the city projected a $9.5 million shortfall for 2020 due to the pandemic. Council and staff worked to identify $10 million in cuts in the 2020 budget. $3 million was cut from the annual street resurfacing program, and a hiring freeze was implemented across all departments.
As a finance committee member, we worked to alleviate the tax bill by modifying our pension funding policy and extended it by three years. This reduced the tax levy from 7% to a 3% increase. The entire increase went to fund pensions, no increase in any other city department.
Historically, the city has budgeted conservatively and reflects a disciplined approach to spending that I am committed to continuing. The pandemic is not over and will continue to have residual effects on our city's finances and taxpayers to maintain our exceptional city services, such as public safety, and ease residents' burden. I will continue to scrutinize all spending and identify creative cost-saving options. My goal is to maintain stellar services and reduce reliance on property taxes.
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 critical infrastructure issue is the completion of the College View and Jackson stormwater projects. These projects are budgeted and will start in June 2021. The residents in these areas have been waiting for stormwater management, and we need to ensure all projects are providing the maximum benefit.
The wastewater treatment plant requires capital investments, but city staff is spreading them out over time to make them more affordable.
The city budget has suggested new police and fire stations, and those are on the back burner.
Q: Do you plan to address businesses that don't adhere to the governor's order to close or restrict business?
A: I plan to continue filtering updated information through my Elmhurst Business Owners COVID-19 Support Group.
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 agree with the stance Elmhurst has taken on recreational marijuana. I personally do not support dispensaries within Elmhurst. However, a pressing challenge is the COVID pandemic as it relates to our financial stability. I would like to evaluate all viable revenue solutions and reduce costs first. Most importantly, I would want to hear from constituents if and when the issue arises.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: The most common complaint received by the Elmhurst Police Department is speeding on residential streets, and it has been that way for decades. Given that pedestrian and vehicular safety is a priority issue, I would like to see the City of Elmhurst enhance its approach to managing speeding and pedestrian safety on residential streets. In February, I formally submitted a referral, Pedestrian and Vehicular Safety on Residential Streets. On Feb. 16 the council voted to accept the referral and move on to the Public Affairs and Safety Committee for review.