Richard Wagner

North Riverside Trustee Candidate

Age: 38 | Occupation: Storage Administrator for Veteran Affairs (Hines) | Education: BAS (Computer Science)


Why are you running for trustee in North Riverside? What motivates you and what experience and perspectives would you bring to the job? How would those be valuable as an elected official? 

I moved here with my wife in 2013, and we have grown to love this Village. Since moving here in 2013, I have watched the Village debt increase at a rampant rate, which should be concerning for all tax paying residents. 

The VIP/United Party has had a stranglehold on this Village for decades, and it does not appear that they have the best interest of residents in mind while making decisions. That is the main reason for my decision to run for Trustee. 

My wife and I just had our first child last month, and she is my motivation to improve North Riverside. I want the village to be the best place it possibly can be, so my daughter has an amazing community to grow up in. I believe North Riverside is already a wonderful place to live, but I think some things need to be improved upon, and some better decision making needs to occur.

I work in IT for the Department of Veteran Affairs at Hines, and in the IT field we troubleshoot issues every day and constantly must come up with solutions to hard problems. I am involved in a multitude of projects, which require oversight from start to finish. Some of these projects carry budgets in excess of 100 million dollars. I coordinate efforts between third party vendors, different teams within the VA, and contractors.

 I believe this daily work would translate directly into my role as a Trustee if elected. My experience would help me provide a voice for the people, as well as assist with the Village’s debt issue and budgeting. Sometimes innovation forces change, and I believe we need some change here.

What can be done to ensure the village’s long-term financial viability and make it more resistant to downturns in sales tax revenues?

We need to be honest with ourselves regarding the mall and the amount of money the Village receives from sales tax revenue. Malls around the country are closing as people turn to Amazon and other online outlets for shopping. 

I believe that we have an opportunity with a lot of the parking lot land that the mall owns to make some major improvements. I was part of a committee that was tasked with coming up with innovative ideas to improve and bring business to North Riverside, and we talked about a possible Rosemont type area which would greatly improve the area as well as bring in more revenue. 

I don’t believe we need something as large as Rosemont, but there is definitely enough land to create a good-sized promenade. This would obviously be a huge endeavor, but we need to start getting creative with ways to increase revenue while sales at the mall continue to decline. Failing to plan is planning for failure, and we should look at any and all plans for the future. We can no longer rely solely on the mall for the bulk of our revenue.

As a trustee you will be asked to balance what’s best for the village as a whole with what might be in the interest of businesses or specific residents. How will you do that? When have you had occasion to do something similar in the past and how did you accomplish that?

I personally don’t believe there is a difference between what’s best for the village and what is in the interest of business or specific residents. If the village prospers and is successful, then it is because businesses and residents are prospering. 

The key is to actually communicate with the businesses and residents to make sure they are aware of possible developments and improvements. Inquire about their ideas and inputs to make sure they all feel involved in the process. We all want what is best for the Village that we live in.

What future do you envision for North Riverside’s residential and commercial districts? How should the village approach redevelopment in the face the challenges faced by the retail sector? Should affordable housing be part of that redevelopment conversation? Why or why not?

I envision a beautification process along Cermak, west of First Avenue. Improving curb appeal, storefronts, and green space along the way west out of town is something that can be done to improve the overall atmosphere. 

As I stated earlier, I can see a small promenade area being created near the mall, with green space in the center. A Rosemont type area that can be used for live music during warm months and ice skating in the winter. Restaurants and shops could line the perimeter, with outdoor seating overlooking the park. I know this would be a huge endeavor, but we must have a plan for the future.

Social media has become an important way for local officials to communicate with local residents, but not everyone in the village is on social media. What do you feel is the best way for elected officials to use social media to communicate with residents and how will you communicate with the wider community beyond that? 

In founding the North Riverside Open Forum, I realize that social media is an important way for residents to reach out to officials. I know the Village uses Everbridge to communicate with residents, but I have heard complaints regarding some residents not receiving notifications from the service. Any issues with this service should be looked into and resolved moving forward. 

The Village has made board meetings available via Zoom for residents to attend remotely, which is a great idea. I think the communication process with this can be improved so residents get alerted prior to meetings and have correct login information prior to five minutes before a meeting. 

I know that the Village recently created an official Facebook page. Although I believe it to be a little late in the game to do so, I believe it was a step in the right direction. Village meetings should be streamed via Facebook Live as well as Zoom, and it should be streamed from the official Facebook page and not an individual resident. 

Residents can get alerts via Facebook Messenger regarding the start of meetings and any other official notifications deemed necessary. Any resident attending a meeting remotely should be able to pose a question during the audience question time of meetings as well. They should not be required to submit questions prior to 3pm the day of the meeting. This opens the door for censoring of questions, which I have seen in the past. Every resident’s voice should be able to be heard. 

The more avenues for communication of information to the residents the better in my opinion. One size does not fit all. A PEOPLE BEFORE POLITICS Administration will listen to residents and outreach will be substantial to get public input: including town hall meetings, questionnaires, and polling.

Last summer was a challenging one for North Riverside in terms of fallout from civil unrest and safety concerns at North Riverside Park Mall. What role should the village play in responding to and preventing such incidents in the future?

With the mall being a part of our Village, the safety concerns ultimately fall upon us. I believe our police and fire departments do an amazing job, but we are a small Village and other resources need to be utilized as well. Communication is key here, and the mall should be heavily involved in this aspect as well. 

An Emergency Management Team (with an incident command center) should be established, including protocols, contingency plans, a chain of command, and an action plan. Large commercial sites like the Mall must play an integral part on that team and in that planning. All businesses must know what part they play and must commit resources to the effort. Cooperation and communication are the keys to success in this area.

North Riverside historically has asked homeowners to pay very little in property taxes to support village services. With pension obligations continuing to grow and the state of retail sales on uncertain ground, how would you continue to keep property taxes low? Do residents need to start paying more to fund obligations such as pensions? Why or why not?

I believe there is no debate concerning the looming debt disaster, and we need to be honest with ourselves regarding it. VIP/United Party financial mismanagement has put the Village in a deep hole; to the tune of over $117 million in long term debt. IT’S A FACT. Too late to go back, we can only move forward. In a transparent manner People Before Politics will open the process and open the books. 

We will start with a “Zero Based Budgeting” process, where every program and expense will be scrutinized; and all programs and services will be prioritized. Instead of just rambling on year after year just watching the debt grow as they keep on spending; we will find ways to tighten our belts, economize, and put more resources/revenues toward retiring the debt of prior administrations. No more exorbitant salaries and retirement goodies to the friends of the VIP / United Party. We will find solutions together. 

What are the three most important issues facing North Riverside in the next four years? How should those be addressed?

The PEOPLE BEFORE POLITICS PARTY is running on a platform that includes the following THREE KEYS TO A BRIGHTER NORTH RIVERSIDE FUTURE:

1. Transparency & Communication: In a People Before Politics administration residents will be our partners in righting the ship. Public input will be solicited and incorporated into every decision concerning priorities for programs and services and the budgetary process. Government and the books will now become refreshingly OPEN; and not hidden from the public. No longer will VIP/United Party friends and family be given preferential treatment, big salaries and benefits at taxpayer expense. No more “Pay To Play” by VIP campaign contributors. No more NO-BID contracts.

2. Financial Integrity: The failed and amateurish finance policies of the VIP / United

Party have made us the laughingstock of municipalities across the state. That is not just our opinion. You are welcome to confirm this with a look at the Illinois Comptroller’s Website. North Riverside’s own website shows tremendous debt growth and fiscal mismanagement over the years. The Village has been chastised by the Illinois Department of Labor and the Illinois Appellate Court for illegally failing to properly fund our pensions. Enough is Enough. Balance our Budgets, prioritize our programs and services; properly fund debt reduction. Be realistic and honest and we can work together to implement solutions.

3. Enhanced Business Development: We must learn from our history and the VIP/

United Party’s failed policy of putting all our eggs in one basket (the Mall). Diversification is the key, while we play our great resources to our competitive advantage. This will take planning and the use of creative specialists and professionals to fight with us. We can no longer improperly cut backroom deals with VIP / United Party preferred business friends, to the detriment of our Village’s future. An open process with public input will be key for all projects moving forward.