If one word could encapsulate the feeling in the Brookfield council chambers during a candidate forum on March 1, that word would be “familiar.” Most of the candidates, and many of the issues they talked about, have been perennial in Brookfield elections for the past decade.

VIP Party candidates Bill Russ and Wil Brennan, a former village president and former trustee, respectively, argued that their PEP Party rivals – including incumbent Trustee C.P. Hall and former two-term trustee Kit Ketchmark – spent lavishly, incurred debt irresponsibly and presided over an administration that was unresponsive to business and residents.

“Brookfield’s broke and we need to fix it,” Russ said. “For many years decisions were made that restricted growth in this community and make us a laughingstock compared to other towns.”

In turn, Hall and Ketchmark called out Russ and Brennan for the failures of their years as part of a board majority and for their lack of involvement in village matters except at election time.

“At times our opponents seemed to prefer to play the political blame game, refusing to even acknowledge some of these farther-reaching problems,” Ketchmark said. “The past is a good indicator. What kind of leaders have they been? Have they been there to serve others or for personal gain? Do their words have meaning? How dedicated are they to participating in the community? Do they show up only at election time? Can you trust them? Their past actions speak volumes.”

During the one-hour-plus forum, all of the candidates, including PEP’s Ryan Evans and VIP’s Douglas Tremper, aired their views on a number of issues from economic development to local sales taxes.

About 100 people turned out for the forum, which was sponsored by the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce and moderated by the LaGrange Area League of Women Voters.

Of the six candidates, Evans and Russ stood out as spirited participants. From his opening statement on, Evans brought an intensity to the proceedings. Saying he was tired of Brookfield being called “the diamond in the rough,” Evans added, “I’m here to tell you that I’m looking to move Brookfield forward. Government is slow and I’m ready to endure that process to see Brookfield progress.”

He called the Ogden Avenue TIF district “the most exciting opportunity this village has seen since its inception. This is a time to redevelop who we are. This is a time to usher in business, consumers and new residents.”

A teacher at S.E. Gross Middle School and vice president of the teachers union, Evans also called on the village to negotiate labor contracts that were fair to both employees and residents who pay the bills by tying raises to economic indicators that determine the village’s tax levy.

Russ was passionate in defending his record against what he sees as constant attacks on his past job as president and his character.

“I’m sick and tired of the PEP Party lying to each and every person in every election over the past eight years,” Russ said. “Do not use Bill Russ as your scapegoat. Do not accuse me because of your shortcomings. Do not deceive the people and steal another election in this town.”

Although lacking specifics, Russ said he would “strive for better services for the resident, work to make the village board more open, transparent and friendly to residents and businesses. I’ll work to protect the people against higher taxes and fees. I will promote new and existing businesses to bring in more tax revenue and help create jobs. I’ll try to work to improve our relationship with the zoo, because people are very tired of the village arguing with the zoo all the time.”

Brennan slammed PEP for the village’s financial situation in recent years and said he would favor “an aggressive marketing campaign in the TIF area to try to bring new business in there.”

“Like a salesman, we’re going to have to sell ourselves,” Brennan added. “The existing businesses in town, they need help.”

He made a plea for residents to support businesses by shopping locally, while stating that the village’s 1-percent sales tax, approved by referendum in 2006, inhibited commerce “to some degree to shop locally.”

Brennan criticized the current board for issuing millions of dollars in debt and stated he’d advocate looking to refinance those bonds to see if money could be saved. He also criticized the village’s mounting legal bills.

Tremper said the village’s sale tax was keeping businesses away from Brookfield. He repeatedly called for a more business-friendly village hall and said he would personally “write a letter to business heads all over the country to try to get them to Brookfield to bring business here.”

Hall stated the sales tax was essential, since it was approved by voters to pay off the debt incurred by Brookfield for street improvements.

“If you talk about getting rid of that tax, you then have to talk about where is the money going to come from to pay those bonds?”

Hall stated that additional revenue could come from working out some sort of agreement with Brookfield Zoo whether related to admissions or municipal services, something the village has so far failed to negotiate with zoo officials.

“This is a very reasonable thing to do,” Hall said. “I think we should persevere with this.”

Ketchmark said that should revenues increase in the future, the village must resist the urge to beef up the municipal employment rolls.

“At that time we have to be very careful in how we grow government,” Ketchmark said. “We’ll be getting some additional revenue in, but that doesn’t mean we need to spend additional revenue at that time.”