Three candidates vie for two open seats on Elmhurst Park District board

Land acquisition, sports arena, cooperative agreements among issues discussed this spring

(Elmhurst Titan video)

ELMHURST – Throughout this campaign season, the three candidates vying for two open seats on the Elmhurst Park District board of commissioners have discussed a range of issues.

Real estate acquisition, a possible sports arena and cooperation with other local taxing bodies has been among those issues.

Elmhurst voters casting ballots for the consolidated general election have their choice of voting for incumbent Mary Kies, who is seeking a fifth term in office, and candidates Timothy Sheehan and Robert “Bobby” Smith.

Incumbent commissioner Anthony Pelosi has chosen not to seek re-election.

Election Day is Tuesday, April 4; early voting is underway.

At a recent voter forum, the trio of candidates attempted to distinguish themselves from one another, though each adamantly said they were passionate about maintaining and enhancing the green space throughout the community.

Candidates’ backgrounds

Kies, who described herself as a “hands-on practitioner,” said she desires to serve a community with parks that have historically been recognized with state and national accolades.

“The Elmhurst Park District has a proud history,” Kies said. “As an experienced commissioner, I am working hard every day to make [residents] proud.”

Sheehan has been involved in youth soccer activities. He said his experience working with park district staffers has given him a birds-eye view into its operations.

He also has trumpeted his experience in finance: “My background will be critical to ensure the Elmhurst Park District makes the most of the programs and services being implemented,” he said.

Smith also has touted his work in various recreational activities within the community, including service as a coach for assorted sports. He said he believes the park district can improve.

“I love our parks. I put my time into our parks,” Smith said. “But I don’t think we’re up to the gold standard of Elmhurst. We need to raise the bar and make our parks better.”

Green space

Reflecting population growth in the community, the topic of the park district acquiring additional real estate for new green space has been discussed. On the surface, the candidates supported the measure, though they gave varied responses.

From his vantage point, Smith said the proposal is a no-brainer. “Elmhurst is landlocked, and if we have an opportunity to buy more land, I’m all for it,” he said.

Sheehan said he believed a deep dive and cost-benefit analysis should take place before any decisions are made. “If buying land is a way to get a family to move here, I’m all for it,” Sheehan said.

With new apartments and other developments dotting the landscape, Kies said it would be prudent to keep all options open. “Our landscape is changing,” she said. “I’m a big believer in open space.”

Sports arena?

The possibility of a sports arena is one of a number of facilities-related issues under consideration within the Elmhurst Park District, and the candidates each expressed varied views on the proposal.

Sheehan noted such an amenity would be a value-added convenience to residents. “But the economics would have to be worked out to make it work,” he said.

Smith said he heartily favored bringing an arena to Elmhurst. Referring to youth using amenities outside the city, he said, “That’s crazy. That’s money spent in other towns.”

Kies offered a broader view to the topic and said a cooperative arrangement with senior citizens and other populations could be beneficial. “We need to work together cooperatively to achieve our goals,” she said.

Fiscal and intergovernmental matters

As with any taxing entity, the Elmhurst Park District has felt budgetary pinches in recent years, and the topic of cooperating with the city of Elmhurst and the Elmhurst School District 205 has been a focal point this election season.

Kies has pointed out the Park District has a long history of cooperation with other taxing authorities. Parks and recreation programs, for example, are held in District 205 facilities.

“We have provided amenities, and other wonderful cost savings benefits, by being open and positive about everything we do … and keeping the focus on residents and the community,” Kies said.

Smith said he believed the inner workings between the three main taxing entities were ripe for improvement. Historically, he said there has been a lack of understanding and communication between the different bodies.

“I’ll push for quarterly meetings, at minimum, with a planned and purposeful agenda,” he said.

Because the park district has many shared goals with the city and school district, Sheehan said he was optimistic of future relations between the different taxing entities.

“We can all work together to make the community better with thoughtful planning,” Sheehan said. “Open communication is always the key to a strong working relationship.”