Allison "AJ" Johnson: 2021 candidate for Lake Villa village president
City: Lake Villa
Occupation: Teacher at Waukegan Community Unit School District 60
Civic involvement: American Legion; VFW (Assist with Operation Christmas Cheers); Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity (mentoring program); A Point in Time (count the homeless); teach Sunday school
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: The most important role of the mayor is to safeguard the citizens of their village. Because of the pandemic, it requires leadership and coordination as never seen before to get the village the economic recovery it deserves. I will communicate daily with all levels of government to ensure that Lake Villa is kept in the loop. I will keep an open line of communication with the citizens, business owners, and schools to ensure that they have everything that they need to function as normal as possible during this pandemic. As mayor, I will ensure that the citizens are never left in the dark, I will communicate with them almost daily via the village Web page, Facebook/Facebook Live, email, twitter and the Village Newsletter, I will host virtual town hall meetings and office hours on a regular basis so that the citizens of Lake Villa can voice their concerns directly. I will ensure that our first responders are equipped with the necessary PPE, to continue to provide the necessary services for Lake Villa. As mayor I will work with all level of Government to ensure that Lake Villa businesses receives any grants/loans that are available to them to continue operation.
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: As a resident of Lake Villa, I am thankful for the work of our First responders, public works department and village employees. The police department continued their patrols to ensure the safety of the citizens of Lake Villa and I cannot thank them enough for their service. As mayor, I would have provided more communication with the citizens of Lake Villa and its school boards. I would have opened up more communication channels, via FB Live and virtual town meetings to ensure the citizens that the village was doing everything foreseeably possible to keep them safe and to keep our small businesses operating.
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 pandemic has taught us all to adjust and has taken a toll on so many, but this community is one of a kind and I firmly believe that we will be able to persevere with the right leadership. In light of our experiences with COVID-19 we should ensure that we have a task force that is ready to respond to any health crisis. There should be a direct line of communication with the Lake County Health Department, and the state. There should be mocked drills developed and conducted to ensure that we are prepared if and when there are any other health crises. As mayor, I will ensure that the village is able to operate in a remote status as much as possible while still providing excellent service to our citizens and businesses. I will do my best to ensure that we have a stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) on hand. Under my leadership, the village will put together a task force now that consists of our police department, public works department, school board members, teachers, medical personal, merchants, our youth along with other residents, the task force will meet quarterly to review procedures.
Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A: Like most towns and villages, money is tight and the taxpayers are taxed to the max. However, during the pandemic I would propose that we reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers by deferring any late fees for services that are rendered. Defer all disconnects of evictions, water and sewage services and trash pickup with proof of pandemic hardship. The village will work with the county government, the township and local charities to provide assistance to the citizens where needed. Lake Villa pays a hefty amount of property taxes, we need to provide the services each resident pays for and loosen the burden on lower and middle class families as much as possible.
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 streets in Lake Villa are long overdue for an overhaul. A lot of the streets have not been repaved in over 20 years. Some of the streets have been patched up so much that they are literally crumbling underneath our feet. The conversations that I have had with the experts tell me that the longer we put off addressing the urgent attention to our streets the more it will cost to repair. We have to implement a forward-thinking, coherent plan to improve our existing roads. Although there are other immediate needs we must take care of what seems like the basics before we can address other issues. We will pay for the street repaving and repairs in part through the Motor Fuel Tax (MFT), Grants from the Department of Transportation and taxes which are already earmarked for street repaving. I have always believed that there was a need for more public transportation in the village, however, during these uncertain economic times, as mayor I would not pursue the advancement of public transportation such as PACE unless, the village could receive a grant and there will be no cost to the village.
Q: Do you plan to address businesses that don't adhere to the governor's order to close or restrict business?
A: I understand the concerns of the business owners losing their business because of government imposed restrictions. Assuming that the vaccine rollout continues to escalate and improve, I do not see a need to close any business, though I will always listen to science no doubt. The state and the county have a treasure trove of resources and manpower to analyze the data. The only way that we can come out of this pandemic and protect ourselves and our economy in the future is if all municipalities, townships and counties are working together so that we can get Lake Villa back and better than ever while following the science. With all of this being said, I will press the county and state to allow Lake Villa some latitude when data shows that we have being doing the right thing. My duty will be to lobby the county, state and even congress for funds to assist our small businesses that are in distress due to the pandemic among many other issues.
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 definitely understand the concerns of the community about allowing or not allowing the recreational marijuana sale in the community. However, as mayor of the village of Lake Villa, I would definitely put it to the residents of Lake Villa to decide if the village should allow or not allow the sale of recreational marijuana in the village. All things considered, this decision will be left up to the residents of the village, I will conduct several community forums to get input from the residents. I am talking about TOTAL TRANSPARENCY. Additionally from a human perspective, we need to stop treating addiction as a crime and more as a mental health issue, we need to have adequate resources to combat substance abuse, which most certainly not currently the case.
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: My leadership style is definitely "Participative." During my 26 years of military leadership the "Participative" style proves to work well when building a team and getting buy in. I believe in teamwork, that saying about TEAM = "Together Everyone Achieves More" -- is as true of a statement as it could ever be. As an elected body we work for the citizens of Lake Villa. We will discuss everything as a group, the information will be provided to every member, we will share ideas about how to solve the problem and the group will make the decision based on the information provided.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: I see Lake Villa for what it could be. I see Lake Villa as a loving community oozing with potential. What I want to build is a village where people will flock to as their first choice, a community where our small businesses are at the forefront, a community where the downtown is quaint but yet offers a lot (our downtown has not changed much in the past 50 years), a community where the roads are in good condition, a community where businesses and industry would seek opportunities to do business with Lake Villa, a community where there is transparency and accessibility to the Mayor, a community where kids would want to return and make their childhood home their home. I am open minded and inclusive. I will be that mayor who solicits input from the citizens of Lake Villa, decisions will not be made behind closed doors with just the mayor and trustees. I will make myself accessible by having quarterly town hall meetings so that the people can ask questions and tell me what Lake Villa needs. Our community is changing every day, we cannot just assume that we know what is best for our community.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: As I went around the village speaking to the citizens THEY told ME to make some improvements to the downtown. I would like to pump some life into our downtown by bringing in more retail shops, restaurants and a multi-floor parking garage. We have the Metra station sitting literally in the middle of our downtown. With the revitalization of our downtown, people will come to shop and dine, we can possibly get the Metra to make weekend stops. We will have an increase in carnivals and festivals. We have several shopping complexes in our downtown that are in need of occupancy. We will advertise that Lake Villa is open for business. We will assemble a committee that consists of homeowners, merchants, and families with young kids, empty nesters, merchants, and our youth who all will work in collaboration to tell us what the downtown should look like. We will hire experts to advise us on the feasibility of what the committee comes up with. I am such a believer in the downtown redevelopment, that as mayor, I will not accept a salary; I will donate ALL of my salary to a fund for the downtown redevelopment.