Michelle Ryan

 Below are candidate-submitted answers to a survey Landmark sent out to all candidates running in this year’s elections.

Age: 44

Office sought: Brookfield Village Trustee

Previous political experience:

Brookfield Board of Trustees [Appointed] (May 2013 – present)

Brookfield Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee (May 2013 – present)

Brookfield Special Events Commission Trustee Liaison (May 2013 – present)

Brookfield Beautification Commission (April 2011 – May 2013; Secretary, June 2011 – Jan 2013. Chair, Jan

2013 – May 2013)

Previous community experience:

Farmers Market Committee (Leadership Team, Market Manager), Brookfield Chamber of Commerce

Zoo Trolley Committee, Brookfield Chamber of Commerce

Holiday Walk Committee, Brookfield Chamber of Commerce

Traffic and Parking Review Committee, Riverside Brookfield High School

Riverside – Brookfield Bike Ped Connection Citizen Group (Leadership Team)

2014 Chamber Member of the Year

Volunteer for: Project NICE, Adopt A Highway (Ogden Ave), decorating downtown business districts,

Senior Valentines Day Social, 4th of July Picnic in the Park – Monsters on Main Street Costume Contest, Holiday Celebration and Brook Park Science Fair.

Occupation: Urban & Regional Planner

Education:

MA, Urban and Regional Planning. University of Iowa (Iowa City, IA)

BA, Political Science, concentration in Policy and Technology Studies, Carleton College (Northfield, MN)

Central High School (Macon, GA)

 

What can the village realistically do to promote and encourage economic development, and where should those efforts be focused? How can village government help promote what essentially is private investment?

Our national economy is undergoing a painfully slow recovery, and financing remains very difficult for small businesses to obtain. Brookfield obviously would like to attract new businesses and franchises looking to locate in the west Cook suburbs, and to expand and retain our existing businesses. But wishing cannot make that happen, so your words “realistically”, “promote” and “encourage” are spot on. The Village has worked diligently and successfully to increase its attractiveness over the past eight years. It has been demonstrating administrative professionalism and political stability, streamlining and clarifying Brookfield’s permit and review processes, and acquiring, preparing and assembling property for development, as opportunities arise and financially possible. The Village has also established Ogden Avenue TIF districts, planned and managed them, and has drawn upon them responsibly, for marketing and development purposes. These efforts can and will continue. There are additional things that I think we realistically can do as we look ahead, now that the foundation is established, and our planned resources and opportunities are aligned.

First, we can learn more about our community and share what we learn. In 2015, Brookfield will develop a new, Comprehensive Plan with the residents and businesses of the community, thanks to a competitive grant that was obtained by staff. The Comprehensive Plan will be an inclusive, community wide undertaking that will result in a new, long range vision for Brookfield. It will clearly define Brookfield’s investment goals and implementation strategies to guide our present and future development.

A current, comprehensive plan is something prospective investors look for in a community. That’s because a comprehensive plan reveals a great deal about a business’ potential “fit” with the community’s goals, values and intentions. When equipped with this knowledge, a prospective investor can comfortably accelerate a project or avoid wasting time and money on a proposal that would likely be rejected by the community. Brookfield’s Comprehensive Plan will also help guide elected officials, village staff, residents and business owners in making future decisions and to better understand why particular choices are made.

An “Existing Conditions Report” will be undertaken early in the Comprehensive Plan development process. We can ensure that the report includes a strong economic assessment of Brookfield, as well as technical data on interrelated topics that are useful to the Village and prospective developers (e.g., housing, transportation, land use, demographics, community services and infrastructure, image and identity, etc.).

The soon hired Community and Economic Development Director will enhance what Brookfield can realistically do to encourage economic development through their personal expertise and experience. Along with the Village Planner, we will have great in house expertise. With that expertise, we should be able to develop a market analysis for each of our business districts and commercial corridors.

Sharing knowledge, plans and resources is key to promoting and encouraging economic development. We can make information from the Comprehensive Plan development process readily available on the website. Other information that we could obtain or make available through links on our website include:

Census data; available properties; general market ranges for leases and property tax rates; links to business development centers and business plan support resources (SBA, WBDC, etc.), workforce boards, banks and financing programs; links to community colleges and training programs; and descriptions of Village programs and services.

We can also broaden Brookfield’s economic development engagement. We can communicate more regularly with existing businesses to keep a pulse on their perspectives about the Village and local economic climate (which they are likely to share with a prospective investor, if asked). We can also increase our engagement with the Chamber on business inquiries, as well as retention, improvement and expansion challenges. We can work together to develop appropriate support and information. We can also initiate an effort with surrounding towns to act and think a bit more together, as a broader economic market. No community stands alone, and economic development is much more than parcel development or a new storefront. It is also about increasing employment opportunities, increasing housing demand, increasing household incomes, and attracting ancillary development and services. We can proactively work with neighboring communities to promote what we collectively have to offer: McCook has land; Riverside and LaGrange have housing for executives; Berwyn, Brookfield, LaGrange Park, North Riverside have affordable housing for workers; we’ve got a world class zoo; others have great hospitals; and we all have redevelopment opportunities.

 

The village has reacted to local flooding in recent years by instituting a flood-mitigation program and has taken steps to build a pump station at Forest and Washington. Has the village’s response to local flooding been adequate? What else can or should be done to help prevent floods from harming residents and their properties?

The Village’s response to flooding has been very appropriate, realistic and responsible. The residential flood-mitigation program is a cost effective approach to providing permanent relief for residents who have been suffering from flooding due to the torrential rainfalls we’ve been experiencing in recent years. Other important steps that are being taken come at greater expense and take more time to accomplish. The pump station and, separately, the purchase of property on Forest for water detention are coming soon. The Village is moving quickly and successfully on these flood control projects, and has obtained grants to cover the majority of these multi-million dollar efforts. The Village is also televising and upgrading the combined sewer system in conjunction with street projects, and as Village finances allow.

We are updating our storm water management policies for new development to avoid further impact on our system. Long – term, high – impact measures, like the much – delayed construction of the Deep Tunnel’s McCook Reservoir that would bring relief to 3 million residents, require the action and financial investment of other government entities. These projects are difficult for Brookfield to accelerate.

However, there are low-cost, immediate impact measures that can be undertaken by residents themselves, to reduce property flooding. The Village staff has considerable expertise in this arena and great information resources already exist. I think Brookfield can compile, pool and synthesize this important information, and make it readily available to the residents.

 

The village had adopted an Open Space Plan and has made significant improvements to Kiwanis and Ehlert parks in recent years. What are your thoughts on those improvements and how should additional improvements be approached and funded?

The recent improvements to Ehlert Park and Kiwanis Park are fantastic. They have greatly expanded the recreational opportunities available to residents of Brookfield, and were accomplished largely through grant funding. The Kiwanis Park improvements were completed in late September 2014, at the end of the outdoor recreation season. I look forward to this summer, when people will be able to fully experience the trails, game courts, exercise equipment and Frisbee golf course, as well as enjoy Friday night concerts in front of the beautiful new bandshell.

The Kiwanis and Ehlert improvements were a result of the Open Space Plan adopted in the late ’90’s. A new Open Space Plan was adopted in 2014 to fully update and replace the old one, and to ensure that the Village’s direction for future park improvements is aligned with today’s park standards and guided by what Brookfield residents need and want. The 2014 Plan lays forth a phased schedule of future, recommended improvements at all Village-owned parks. I believe that the Village should continue to follow the 2014 Open Space Plan recommendations and continue to aggressively pursue grants to help further refine and implement the recommended improvements.

 

How should Brookfield fund and schedule necessary repairs to streets and otherinfrastructure?

I strongly support the way Brookfield currently funds and schedules our infrastructure improvements. The annual programming of projects is a straight-forward and transparent process. The condition of all of Brookfield’s residential streets and sidewalks have been surveyed and rated by the Engineer. Those in the worst condition are what the Village Board funds first. The budgeted projects then go through a competitive bidding process among construction companies. Sometimes the actual bids come in lower than the Village Engineer estimated, and in those cases the Board has approved including additional streets or sidewalk beyond what we thought we could accomplish for the budgeted amount. In other words, the Board gets as much done as we can each year using approximately 15% of the annual budget, and determines the improvements based on where it is needed most. The Village relies mainly on Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) funds, sewer maintenance funds and general revenue funds for infrastructure improvements. When possible, we use these Village funds as the “local” match for grants and federal funding programs. Securing and using grants and federal funds often adds time to the design/construction process; however, leveraging Brookfield’s dollars to obtain outside funding allows the Village to make significantly more improvements than we otherwise could. It really stretches our dollars!

 

Are there areas where the village could be providing better service to residents? How? Should the village increase or decrease funding for certain services, programs and capital improvements? Why or why not?

Speaking as a resident who has only alley access (no front driveway), I would love for the Village to provide more frequent alley maintenance (gravel re-grading and snow removal) and yes, to pave the alleys. But quite frankly, the Village cannot afford to do either without decreasing funding for other infrastructure maintenance. The alley system is like a second road system, in terms of size. The roadways must come first in terms of improvement and maintenance.

Overall, I think that the services and programs provided by the Village are at the right level, in terms of residents’ needs and wants, and their desire and ability to pay – from yard waste collection, recycling, snow removal, etc. But I do think that we should proactively look for opportunities to expand programs and offerings, where doing so could be achieved at little or no additional cost. This may mean more partnering with the Chamber or other organizations for new/enhanced special events, or with other towns/recreation providers for additional programs, and partnering with townships, Pace, Cantata or others to provide mobility to our elderly residents through senior transportation services.

An area that I feel strongly we need to improve upon is making information about Village services, programs, events and infrastructure project schedules more easily available to residents. Without a doubt, the Village needs to make better use of its website and needs to provide more information on it.

Staff is in fact working on a redesign that will hopefully increase the amount of information and accessibility by residents, businesses and visitors. The Village may need to allocate more staff time and/or money to keep the website constantly update. The website should play a greater role in providing Brookfield information to current and new residents, and to prospective businesses.

 

What is the most important issue facing the village in the next four years? What should be done about it?

I think the most important issue will be addressing our aging and rapidly deteriorating infrastructure. Streets that are currently in the worst category (Category 5) will be addressed in that timeframe; however, many of the streets that are currently in category 4 will likely deteriorate into Category 5s within the upcoming four years. And there are many streets that are currently in category 4. Our aging sewer system will also continue to deteriorate at a pace that exceeds our financial capacity to improve.

We will be challenged with how to fund the many needed infrastructure improvements, and how to handle disruptions and inconveniences that come with making major infrastructure replacements. I cannot say what I think should be done about it, until the full extent of this challenge is fully examined and understood by the Board; however, it is important that the Board proactively discuss the matter, as it will take many discussions to address and resolve.

 

What other issues do you feel will be important for the next village board to address? How should they be addressed?

The next Village Board will need to keep a very close eye on how the State resolves its financial crisis, especially the potential for diverting or freezing funds to municipalities. The Board will likely need to be more active in communicating with State legislators and with municipal legislative advocacy groups, such as WCMC and the IML. There is a definite concern that the State may shift its financial burdens to local governments and school districts, and also eliminate some of the grant programs and funding sources that have provided the means for Brookfield to improve our parks, roads, sewers, and streets and other essential services.