Peter Ahern: 2021 candidate for Elmhurst 6th Ward Alderman
In the April 6, 2021, consolidated election, Peter Ahern, Emily Bastedo, Peter M. Dabertin and Yeena Yoo are vying for a four-year term as Elmhurst 6th Ward Alderman. The Daily Herald asked the candidates several questions about issues facing the city.
Below are Ahern's 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: Police officer
Civic involvement: I've been a police officer for 17 years serving the community I work in to the best of my ability.
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: I view my role in confronting the pandemic as providing leadership even if unpopular, but definitely taking into account the voice and wishes of the constituents of my ward as well. I would listen to anyone wishing to speak their minds, especially those who disagree with me. I would listen to suggestions and recommendations made by the state and federal authorities, but I would not defer to them. I believe each city, town, and village all face unique challenges of their own and cannot be lumped into one large group. Each community has to decide the best route that they need to take depending on the situation they are in. Different regions were impacted at different times during different stages of the pandemic, so different solutions and measures need to be taken depending on the time and place.
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: The City of Elmhurst locked down their schools and businesses in order to protect their residents and did a very good job of cutting expenses or delaying capital improvement projects while being able to cover the city's operating expenses so as not to disrupt any services to the residents such as police, fire, EMS, water and sewer, and garbage. I believe they did the best job they could in keeping our community running based on the information that was provided to them by the medical experts. I believe there is always room for improvement and an analysis of how well everything worked should be completed, so better preparations can be made for any future emergencies.
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 think the greatest thing that can be done if a similar event is encountered in the future is to make sure our hospital and emergency services are prepared for the great influx of people that would come through as seen in this pandemic. I believe many places, including Elmhurst, were not thoroughly prepared and did the best they could, but if we were to encounter something even worse than COVID, that has greater hospitalizations and deaths, then I do not know that we would be prepared for it. Much of this comes down to the cost involved in planning for something that may never occur. I do believe a thorough plan should be made in how to deal with the stress that it puts on our health care system by coming up with ideas for where to house people during a similar situation, how much equipment to purchase and put aside for an emergency, and also possibly offering training for people in other industries as emergency health care workers.
Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A: One of the cuts that Elmhurst can make is with regard to our water and sewer rates. A study was done by Baxter & Woodman regarding our water supply and they recommended rate hikes for the residents in Elmhurst based on maintenance and repairs that are necessary to keep our water infrastructure performing properly. They came up with 4 scenarios and the two most feasible are numbers 2 & 3, with both having rate increases, but differ on the amount of reduction in expenses. Number 3 is a better option to me where it cuts the initial rate increase in half from 12% to 6% and spreads the total rate increases out over the 10-year period, while reducing more expenses than scenario 2. A big part of this increase is the recommended Capital Operating Reserve of 25% of costs. I believe that if we spread that out over 15 or even 20 years, the rate increases will be lower and less of a burden on taxpayers.
Other areas to cut or delay would be from the Capital Expenditure Budget, such as projects that are not of an immediate necessity, like building improvements for the police and fire departments. These improvements are needed, but can be delayed.
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 projects for the City of Elmhurst relate to stormwater management. Elmhurst has been plagued in the past with flooding, which has resulted in the destruction of a great deal of property. While the city has done a good job in addressing this issue and have completed projects that will help in this area, much more needs to be done. This should be a focus for the city as the better this is managed, the more people will be attracted to moving into the area and the current residents will be more likely to stay.
I think a project like the parking deck improvements could be put on hold, or at least some of the projects involved with the improvements that do not relate to immediate hazards or safety, such as the charging stations. These could be pursued later when the economy is stronger.
Q: Do you plan to address businesses that don't adhere to the governor's order to close or restrict business?
A: I think every effort should be made to keep our local businesses open and operational. I do not agree with the governor's orders to close or restrict businesses. I believe more focus should have been on protecting those most vulnerable as opposed to trying to keep everyone locked down. With the technology we have in regards to delivery service and video conference, as well as the federal COVID monetary assistance, it would be much easier and more efficient to protect and support those who are the most at risk and those who live with people who are high risk. The damage to our economy and to the mental and emotional health of the residents, on top of all the people who have died, has been tremendous, and the lockdowns seem to compound the problems everyone is facing and not seeming to have a significant effect in slowing this virus. I would address businesses that do not adhere to what the mayor and city council deem necessary for safe operation, and although I have my own opinion on this, I would also defer to what the people of my ward want me to do when voting on an issue like this.
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: The Elmhurst City Council voted not to permit the sale of marijuana in the city. I agree with their decision, but not because I am against marijuana sales in Elmhurst. I do not like the fact that the states went against the federal drug laws. This sends a message that the federal laws do not really matter, which I have an issue with. I think the federal law should have been changed first, however I do support the legalization of marijuana. I believe that the city council voted to ban the sales of marijuana more on the basis that the residents of Elmhurst did not want it to be legalized, as opposed to their own personal opinions. I believe they voted correctly in doing so. I would vote in favor of whichever way the residents in my ward wanted me to vote. In the town I currently work, I have seen firsthand the success of the sale of marijuana in regards to tax revenue. I do think there should be more discussion regarding this as marijuana sales could bring a great deal of tax revenue to the city and could result in relieving some of the tax burden on the residents.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: I picked my campaign motto, "Common Ground," because our country has become extremely divided and my goal is to get people to work together toward compromise. I believe a lot of people want what they think is best for the communities they live in. We used to be able to come to terms with our disagreements and function together as a society, but lately it seems everyone is on one extreme side or another. I believe the difference in the disagreements is not a difference in the desired outcome, but how to get there. Unfortunately, we do not actually listen to each other anymore, so we do not realize this. I would promote the idea of having a constructive dialogue about all the issues at hand, no matter how sensitive, and to reserve judgment while trying to really understand someone's view. I wholeheartedly believe that through honest discussion and conversation we can resolve many of these issues together. I also believe many people agree on more issues then they realize. The only way to open other people's minds to different ideas is to have a real conversation with them. Compromises can be made and we can find "Common Ground" by working together toward positive solutions.