Lisa Gillis

River Forest Village Trustee Candidate

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Biography

*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies

I have been a resident of River Forest for 23 years, raising three children with my husband, Rick, during that time period. My three children attended Willard and Roosevelt. Our two boys graduated from OPRF High School and our daughter from the Baccalaureate program at Trinity High School. I love my adopted hometown!

I attended Cornell University where I earned a Bachelor of Science in Operations Research and Industrial Engineering. I also hold an MBA in Marketing from NYU.  

My work experience includes:  

  • Over 30 years in the advertising business with renowned worldwide agencies. Throughout my career, I have focused on collaborating across diverse groups, building teams, creating new competencies and driving effectiveness/efficiency in operations. Over time, I have seen tremendous change in the advertising industry. Working in advertising has taught me that consumers will change and that we need to continuously evolve ourselves and our teams to remain relevant and strong.
  • As a team leader it is important to listen. The changes in advertising require me to continuously listen and learn in order to make the best decisions. Listening helps me welcome diverse points of view, and based upon what I hear, I am able to grow and evolve my thinking. The more informed I can be, the better the decision I can make.  

My past experiences have taught me how to have a successful career and they have also shown me the importance of giving back to my community. This is a responsibility that every citizen should embrace. 

My community work includes:

  • Chairperson of the River Forest Sustainability Commission. I am currently leading a team of fellow residents to action the commission’s current Strategic Action Plan which defines the mission, strategies and programs of this Village organization for the next several years.
  • Member of the Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society for over 20 years including three years on their Board of Directors in charge of marketing. I have provided oversight of various committees throughout the years with a focus on marketing.
  • Adjunct Professor and guest lecturer at Dominican University.  I am currently working with first-generation college students to prepare them to find gainful employment after graduation.
  • Founding Member, Keystone Triangle Neighborhood Association.  I collaborated with my neighbors to create a cohesive and caring neighborhood organization that brings residents together to engage in social events and activities. The Triangle includes the residents who live in the area bounded by Chicago to Division, Thatcher to Forest. This group celebrated 20 years of promoting a stronger neighborhood just last year.

As Trustee, I want to see us continuously improve the quality of life in River Forest for all residents with a focus on COVID recovery, a Caring/Connected Community and Affordability. I will work to ensure positive connection, collaboration and communication amongst Trustees, support effective and efficient decision making and tap into the vast knowledge base of not only my fellow elected officials and Village Staff, but also the abundance of knowledge and experience that our residents possess.

We are always better together! 

Questionnaire

How will recent discussions on equity inside village hall affect your approach to hiring a new village administrator?

One of the most significant actions taken by the Village of River Forest Board of Trustees over the past year has been addressing the issue of diversity, equity and inclusion within our Village.  An important first step was when the Village President engaged with Dominican University’s alliance on racial equity. Dominican University is a leader and one of the first cohorts of universities across the country to be designated as a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center by the American Association of Colleges and Universities. TRHT is a nationally recognized, community-based initiative for racial justice. What a great resource right here in our own backyard!  

With the creation of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Ad-hoc Advisory Group and the pending review of Village process and protocol with an eye toward equity, it is imperative that the new Village Administrator embrace diversity, equity and inclusion. He/she/they should also have some experience leading and growing a diverse staff while having a passion to continuously learn.

Former Village Manager, Eric Palm, built a highly skilled team of 72 professionals across a wide range of Village services including administration, police, fire and public works. As a resident and candidate, I believe that this team does the work of a team almost twice its size. This is important to us as we will continually need to keep an eye on the budget in order to stay competitive from both a salary and benefits standpoint as these are our biggest line items in the Village budget.  

Why are you seeking this office and what qualifications do you have to serve in this capacity?

This past year has been a challenging one for many of our neighbors living in both River Forest and beyond. COVID and the social disturbances that we have witnessed have changed our lives and affected us in many ways. Some of our neighbors can be counted among those who have suffered great personal loss, become unemployed, and/or experienced disruptions of businesses. Most of us have been separated from family and those we love for extended time periods. The separation from our families at Thanksgiving and Christmas will hopefully never be repeated.

Despite these challenges, I am hopeful as I see River Forest come to life with families out and about on our streets and in our parks, building stronger connections with each other as well as with friends and neighbors. I am confident that we will focus on renewal in 2021 and beyond. I am running for Village Trustee because I want to foster that renewal. I want to use the lessons of our recent past to make a better future for our Village.

As stated in my biography, I am a proven business leader with over 30 years in corporate America. I work with diverse groups, build teams, create new competencies and drive effectiveness and efficiency. I want to take those experiences and help improve Village policies and processes.

Do you think there is a need to control the deer population in River Forest? If so, what measures would you support to do so? If not, how would you respond to those who have experienced property or foliage damage as a result of deer in the village?

There are two final reports being developed on this issue: one coming from the Deer Management Ad-Hoc Committee and a second coming from members of that committee who chose to resign in order to present an independent report. Until those final reports are made available, I think it premature to make a decision. We do not yet have all information. 

The conundrum we face is that the deer are the responsibility of the State of Illinois and those deer live on property controlled by the Cook County Forest Preserve. River Forest is in close proximity to Thatcher Woods (part of the Cook County Forest Preserve) and therefore, its residents are impacted by how the deer and forest preserve green ecosystems are managed and maintained with that impact being both positive and negative.

The answer to the question of how I would respond to someone who experienced damage due to deer:  I would tell them to reach out to the State and to the Cook County Forest Preserve.

River Forest has used piecemeal approaches to economic development projects, such as Lake and Lathrop, how would you improve the development process?

The creation of the Village of River Forest Economic Development Commission (EDC) in 2014 contributed greatly to improving how we approach business development in the Village of River Forest. The EDC created programs in the early days of COVID to let residents know that our local businesses were open and operating in a safe manner. Some of our businesses reported their highest sales days when highlighted in Village communications.

The formation of the EDC along with the Village updating and approving the Comprehensive Plan has and will provide a roadmap for development over the coming years.

An example of the strong economic development in River Forest is the soon to open The Sheridan at River Forest. This development alone will generate almost $700,000 in property taxes each year, without adding students to our schools or putting undue burden on our Police and Fire Departments.

Creating TIF’s on both Madison and North Avenue provides the Village with additional opportunities to promote economic development in the near future. In addition, Lake and Park is a strategic property that the Village has maintained in its portfolio waiting for the right development to come along that would serve the needs of the community. Finally, Lake and Lathrop is not a piecemeal economic development project; rather, I would say it is a complicated one. Lake and Lathrop was earmarked as a development site as a result of dollars leftover from the Lake Street TIF. It is a particularly complex project that required negotiations with an unwilling seller, the relocation of several tenants, the eviction of a tenant unwilling to leave, and the unfortunate decision of two tenants to move out of the Village despite their being provided relocation assistance by the Village because they did not want to move to Madison Street. This project also required the assistance of the State of Illinois EPA to remediate a property that had chemicals leaching into the ground for decades. 

With that road map in place, I will work with the EDC and my fellow Trustees to continue strong and smart development of these valuable assets.

In a community best known for its affluent housing, what are the economic and social benefits of increasing affordable housing in River Forest?

The social benefits of affordable housing. When our police force, fire department, teachers, nurses and others in our workforce are able to live in town, we are better for it. When children are able to purchase homes close to their parents, we are better for it. When our senior citizens can confidently age in place and remain a part of our neighborhoods, we are better for it. A diverse population makes for a more vibrant, interesting place for all of us to live.

The economic benefits of affordable housing. Based upon my research, affordable housing drives increases in local purchasing power, job creation and sales tax revenues. All good things for our Village! Generating revenue outside of residential property tax is particularly important as we strive to keep the Village affordable for all residents.

If you are an incumbent, what accomplishments are you proud of most? If you have not served on the village board, what is the primary goal you would like to accomplish if elected?

In Question #2, I addressed the impact that both COVID and social injustice have had on our world. With that backdrop, my primary short term goal would be to work with the Board to develop COVID recovery plans on two fronts:

  • Financial Recovery. The recent decision of the VRF Board of Trustees to not increase the village tax rate is a brave and an important first step. But it is not something that can be sustained without the identification of alternate revenue sources. The most impactful method in both the short and long term is with increased revenue sourced from sales tax through support of our Local Businesses and focus on the redevelopment of businesses along North Avenue, Lake Street and Madison Street.
  • Social Recovery. Many of our residents suffer from ongoing isolation due to COVID. As soon as is permissible, based upon the advice of our medical community and in concert with state and federal public health guidelines, we should reinstate and expand village-sponsored events and initiatives working with the Park District and other groups.

Other priorities are to:

  • Ensure a Caring, Connected, Informed Community in which everyone feels safe and welcome
  • Support all VRF Diversity & Inclusion initiatives including the Dominican University Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation initiative and pending assessment of internal village practices and protocol.   
  • Expand VRF outreach to and dialogue with all residents via face-to-face, phone, email and digital media with a focus on social media and the village website. Improve the VRF website to make it easier to find information. Consider using Facebook as both an outbound and inbound communication channel, as many corporations now do in support of customer service.
  • Keep our costs down so that River Forest remains affordable for all residents in order to ensure that new families are able to move into the community and older residents are able to remain in their homes to age in place 
  • Maintain stability at Village Hall by working with the Board to find the right candidate to fill the Village Manager role. This person needs to be experienced and flexible in order to keep the Village staff performing at the high level that they do today.
  • Continue the expansion of technology to automate rote tasks across Village Hall in order to free up employees to do higher value work.
  • As previously stated, increase revenue sourced from sales tax rather than property tax, through support of our Local Businesses and focus on the redevelopment of businesses along North Avenue, Lake Street and Madison Street.  

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