All eight candidates vying for the four available seats were invited to participate and seven were on hand for the forum: Leslie Ruffing, Nag Jaiswal, Mary Gibson, Rhonda Ansier, Alison Thompson, Nathan Wilson, and incumbent Mike King. Lee Kaseska was not in attendance.
Reaching New Residents
Each candidate had the chance to answer questions on a variety of topics like how to engage more Naperville residents with park district programs.
“I know we have an amazing scholarship program through a private foundation which is fantastic that we’re able to partner with them. I would like to look for ways in the budget to expand our scholarship opportunities,” said local photographer Alison Thompson. “Comparing our programming and our pricing to other suburbs would be very helpful as well to make sure that we are staying competitive.”
Others focused on key partnerships to increase accessibility.
“I would like to make sure [the scholarship program] is promoted more and perhaps partner with other organizations to ensure more people can afford parks and programs,” said senior software engineer Nathan Wilson. “The park district does partner with Western DuPage Special Recreation Association as well as KidsMatter. So perhaps promote more of those organizations in order to boost accessibility and advertise them in that regard.”
Opinions on Past Park Board Decisions
Other questions asked the candidates about past park board decisions, like the May 14, 2020 meeting where the board voted to sue Governor J.B. Pritzker for the right to control its own reopening plan. The park district eventually dismissed the lawsuit on June 25 after Illinois announced it was moving to Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan. The park district spent about $25,000 on the lawsuit.
“Had I been on the board I would not have supported this lawsuit. Reading about it upset me as well. This did not have widespread community support. The park district is supposed to act in the best interest of the community and their interests to serve them, and this felt like it was not serving the community,” said nurse practitioner Rhonda Ansier. “I don’t see how suing the governor to open things up sooner than they maybe should have been was necessary.”
“I was on the board and I did vote yes to initially sue the governor to open up the parks. There was a lot of activities we saw that weren’t being allowed that I felt was a detriment to the community and the mental health of the community as well,” said incumbent Mike King, a manager of program operations for the Nicor Gas Energy Efficiency Program. “I didn’t sue on the behalf of saying we want to open the parks and make it a free for all out there. What I sued for was to say ‘let’s look at the mental health of our community.'”
“I can completely understand why they sued,” said entrepreneur Nag Jaiswal. “Would I have done a lawsuit? Maybe not. I would have lobbied. What came out of it was a situation where we should not have gone for conflict but have a middle ground with government agencies. We should work together, yet reach the public’s goal. We could have saved the money and opened up the golf courses.”
Lessons Learned from COVID-19
Candidates were also asked about how they would support the park district’s green initiatives and sustainability plan. Many candidates zeroed in on specific projects or programs they enjoy that promote sustainability.
“One of my favorite things the park district does are the community involvement events that relate to environmental sustainability – the dandelion pull or my favorite is the pumpkin smash over at the community gardens,” said Mary Gibson, a former director at a data analysis firm. “I think those events are super important because they not only make an impact from the day of the event – fertilizing the fields – but our community is learning from them. We’re thinking and remembering that composting is important and these little things we do can have a big impact.”
“Knoch Knolls has done such a great job of integrating climate awareness into [the Knoch Knolls Nature Center]. When you’re in the restroom it teaches you about the roof and how the rainwater comes down and fills the toilets. Inside when you go in and look at the fish and you look at the animals, it talks about the native fish and plants,” said structured settlement annuity broker Leslie Ruffing. “Having these gorgeous projects not only helps the community by being sustainable, but they also educate the community.”
You can watch the forum in its entirety on the League of Women Voters – Naperville Facebook page. Early voting has already begun, and election day for the consolidated election is on April 6.
Naperville News 17’s Casey Krajewski reports.
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