Glenn Brewer is an ardent supporter of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center and served as its Board President for several years. He was recently profiled in the Wednesday Journal.
Oak Park trustee looks back on first year
Glenn Brewer has no regrets, but some critics do
By MARTY STEMPNIAK
Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the election of the current Oak Park village board. And it’s been a year of noteworthy decisions for the group, including the approval of lights at the high school’s football stadium and the green-lighting of a controversial 20-story hotel in downtown Oak Park.
Glenn Brewer was the lone fresh face of the four board members elected April 7, 2009. President David Pope and trustees Colette Lueck and John Hedges were incumbents vying for re-election. Last week, Wednesday Journal sat down with Brewer to hear some of his thoughts on his first year at the board table.
Just 12 months in, Brewer is catching the attention of his colleagues. Ray Johnson, on the board since 2003, praised Brewer for his ability to synthesize complex issues and weigh in on matters without getting longwinded.
“He brings common sense and thoughtfulness to his position,” Johnson said. “In very few words, he gets right to the heart to of the matter, and I think that’s his greatest skill. Sometimes, folks might over explain things, but Glenn is able to dig right into the issue.”
Brewer, 53, was first approached by the Village Manager Association political party about running for trustee eight months before the election. He had previously served on several other boards, including those of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center and Unity Temple. He currently works as a community affairs specialist for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Before getting elected in April, Brewer said two of his top challenges for the board were to “improve the organizational structure, staff competencies and efficiency of village hall,” along with maintaining a “thriving diverse community.”
One year later, Brewer says he is satisfied with how the board has performed since the election. He pointed to the board reinvigorating its system of committees – where trustees meet in small groups to flesh out certain issues – and the opening of a one-stop shop at village hall for people trying to open businesses as some accomplishments of the board and village hall in the past year. He says it’s still too early to say whether the 20-story hotel at Lake and Forest will be a success, as the project still needs to find financing.
Brewer believes the board has lived up to its promises of transparency pointing to amount of citizen comment and input.
“I think we’ve been good at reaching out and getting public input on our decisions,” he said.
Village hall still has progress to make in becoming more user-friendly for residents, Brewer said, cutting down on wait times and making each trip there more efficient.
Gary Schwab, who ran for village president against Brewer and his running mates, criticized the village board for its performance over the past year. All seven members are from the same political party, and, too often, trustees vote in “lock step,” without any disagreement. He believes the board “makes up the rules” as it goes along, pointing to the board approving a sale of a vacant building to Pan’s Food Center to create a parking lot, when the village had previously rejected a similar plan.
“All the sudden a parking lot is OK because they need the money,” Schwab said. “They make up the rules as they go along, and there is not any discussion.”
Schwab also criticized the board for earmarking TIF dollars to the hotel project, while not meeting all its obligations of paying out money to other taxing bodies. He said the one-stop business center was a positive, but it was an old idea that was in place previously.
Trustee John Hedges says people may not agree with how the board votes, but he believes its members do their homework and take their time in making decisions. He agrees the board can occasionally be too cohesive.
“Sometimes I wish there was a little more pushback from people, because we think a little too much alike, but that’s what happens when you head in this direction,” he said. “We kind of have the same philosophy of what local government should be like and how we should deal with issues, so there’s not very much disagreement on the board.”
Hedges said that Brewer is sometimes quiet at the board table, but he went through the same thing in his first year, as he caught up and learned how to do the job. Brewer admitted that it’s been a steep learning curve on certain issues, such as Oak Park’s tax increment financing districts.
“From Glenn’s perspective, I’m sure he’s still learning because I’m still learning,” Johnson said. “That’s one of the greatest aspects of the job; it’s never dull and it enriches you in ways that can surprise you sometimes.”
Besides making village hall friendlier to residents, Brewer says he also wants to see Oak Park work to attract more businesses, especially those that are locally owned. In addition, he wants the board to work with the village manager to make sure spending stays in check.