A slate of candidates hoping to make inroads into the PEP Party’s dominance over Brookfield government since 2005 says the village needs someone to “sell” the village to developers and companies looking to invest in the Chicago suburbs.
Meanwhile, the three candidates running under the PEP Party banner say the PEP-dominated village board has laid the foundation for development that is already beginning to occur and for the implementation of a new comprehensive plan.
Economic development was at the forefront of the discussion between the candidates at an endorsement interview hosted Feb. 22 by the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark at the newspaper’s offices in Oak Park.
All six candidates appeared for the roughly hour-long session, including the Brookfield Community Party’s slate of Mark Rogers, Joshua Jones and Tom Galbraith and the PEP Party’s slate of Brian Conroy, Katie Kaluzny and David LeClere.
Earlier in the week, on Feb. 19, the candidates spoke briefly and answered questions from the audience at a meet-and-greet hosted by Indivisible Brookfield, where many of the same topics were addressed.
“I think Brookfield could really take off in terms of development across small business, real estate, commercial, retail, whatever the case might be,” said Rogers, who finished fourth in a field of nine candidates for three trustee seats in 2015. “We just need the right people on the right bus in the right seats, and I don’t think we have the right people on the bus.”
Rogers in particular singled out Nicholas Greifer, the village’s director of community and economic development, for criticism.
“Nick, I think, is more of an analyzer than a producer or a go-getter,” said Rogers. “He likes to analyze the deals as opposed to go out and be a sales person and producing in that way.”
Galbraith also appeared to be referring to Greifer when he said the village is “paying a lot of money on payrolls for people to chase business and we’re not getting it. We need to bring developers in, give them incentives to come.”
But LeClere, who served as a village trustee from 2007-11 and was elected again to a full term in 2015, defended the way PEP has handled economic development, including the creation of three TIF districts, which he voted for.
“We finally took a step in a direction we thought was right in starting that Ogden TIF,” LeClere said. “I was on the board at that time, and I was really proud, because nobody was going to take any steps on it.
“I think we’ve set the table with Ogden, the other TIF districts and the fourth one we’re looking at, and then some of the plans and people that we do have in place, so that when developers and people may be interested in selling, we have structure kind of in place to make those moves.”
Kaluzny, who was a member of the Brookfield Comprehensive Plan steering committee, said the next board will be the one to implement the plan and identify the right people to start working toward its goals.
“I believe there’s some technical assistance and training from [Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning] that is coming up this year to make that implementation plan and start addressing that with the organizations, individuals and even the clubs in Brookfield to help move those pieces forward,” Kaluzny said. “So it’s not all on staff, all on the board, but really other parts of the community and assets of the community to help move those pieces forward.”
Both Jones and Galbraith decried the local property tax burden, with Galbraith saying of the solution to the village’s present budget crunch, “We can’t keep taxing ourselves out of problems.”
He was referring to a host of increases for fines and fees and a proposed new places-for-eating tax to help wean the village off of its practice in recent years of using motor fuel tax revenues to balance the village’s operating budget.
All three Brookfield Community Party candidates criticized the PEP board’s handling of the village budget, which has been balanced the last several years with MFT transfers to the general fund.
Last summer, in the face of cash-flow issues, the village opened a line of credit at First National Bank of Brookfield and moved to bi-monthly water billing to ease the crunch.
“If you took from your savings account every month you’re going to run out, and then you have to issue debt or take out a loan to balance the budget,” Jones said. “That’s not acceptable in life. We should not allow our public servants to do that.”
Conroy, who is currently finishing up his sixth year as a member of the Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 Board of Education, argued that the village’s portion of the local property tax bill – less than 20 percent — was a “bargain” for the services it provides.
“It’s about $133 a month, which is equivalent to my ComEd bill … and it’s about half of what I pay Comcast, so as far as what we’re actually paying Brookfield from our taxes, I think it’s a great deal compared to the surrounding communities.”
Jones, whose candidacy petitions for trustee were successfully challenged by a PEP Party surrogate in 2010, said it was past time for someone not from PEP to represent Brookfield residents on the board.
“I don’t believe that having one party run the town for 14 years is good in any sense, and there needs to be a good, healthy argument about things and good compromise about things,” said Jones, who added PEP was “good at keeping people out.”
Asked how to explain why PEP candidates keep getting elected to exclusion of all others, Rogers said recently it’s been the result of ill-prepared or too many candidates in races, as well as PEP’s strong base of support in the village.
“They know how to work it,” said Rogers of PEP’s electoral leverage.
LeClere said PEP does have a good base of support, but also argued that the party presents qualified people for office, people who are active and visible regularly in the community.
Kaluzny said one of the things that impressed her about PEP was when she was starting her group, Go Green Brookfield, which focuses on sustainability issues. At an early meeting of the group, a village trustee showed up to express interest and offer support. Kaluzny later was recruited to serve on the village’s Conservation Commission.
“These guys being new [referring to Conroy and Kaluzny] are not just showing up and running for village trustee,” LeClere said.