Candidates for Homewood Public Library board see revenue as top issue

Two candidates and one candidate surrogate spoke Saturday, March 18, about their reasons for seeking office on the Homewood Public Library Board of Trustees.

The forum at Homewood Village Hall was sponsored by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters and co-sponsored by the Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle.

Candidates Percy Harris and Adrienne River participated in the forum. Each made opening and closing statements and fielded questions from the audience. Candidate Lorea Farley was not able to attend, but her husband, Jesse Farley, read a statement on her behalf. Candidates Patricia Mosley Smith and Jacoba Ward did not attend. [Correction: The first version of this story mentioned former candidate Andrea Stilts, but she withdrew her candidacy because of a conflict and will not be on the ballot.]

Harris introduced himself as a Homewood resident for nine years who has been active in the Homewood School District 153 Foundation and in local Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts activities. He has worked for Cook County for 25 years, about half of that as a sheriff's deputy and half as deputy chief of the Department of Public Health.

River has been an attorney for 30 years. She currently works for the Office of the State Appellate Defender, serving as a public defender for indigent clients on appeals. She served one term as a Park Forest village trustee before moving to Homewood 19 years ago.

Question topics from the audience ranged from what the focus of the library should be and what changes should be made. 

One easy question was: "What was the last book you read?" Both candidates answered  without hesitation. Harris said he read "Manchild in the Promised Land" by Claude Brown. River said she read "Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy" by Irvin Yalom. 

The discussion focused on issues of how to maintain quality and improve the library in spite of declining property tax revenues.

Both candidates lauded the library's current collections, programs, staff and services. Both also listed the revenue situation as their top concern when asked to list the most important issues facing the library.

"The financial situation will continue to be difficult," River said. "Tax revenues have declined 10 percent over the past five years. The library has done a good job looking for ways to be more efficient."

She said if elected she would provide careful stewardship of resources and would like to help identify more ways to improve efficiency.

She also noted that tax-increment financing (TIF) districts can add to the challenge because they freeze for 23 years the assessed value on which property taxes are based. Homewood is currently in the process of establishing a new downtown TIF district to help finance a number of development projects.

Harris said the financial situation will require some creative thinking. 

"We have to think outside the box," he said. "Maybe we need to reach out to more foundations. We have to start thinking about generating other revenues besides tax dollars."

Two questions asked the candidates to specify what they would like to see changed or added at the library. 

Harris said he is interested in some expansion, including more physical space and more community outreach, especially collaboration with the Homewood Science Center.

River said she looks forward to seeing the results of the strategic planning process that is currently in progress to see what ideas come from that. That process gathers and prioritizes ideas from the community, staff and board to determine the library's goals for the next few years.  

The candidates were asked to describe their level of participation in library governance. 

Harris, an incumbent appointed to the board in 2015, said he had attended every board and committee meeting since joining the board.

River said she began attending meetings in 2016 and has been to about eight, including both board meetings and committee meetings. 

Jesse Farley, reading the statement authored by his wife, said, "There's no substitute, even in this digital era, for the diverse, comprehensive resources and the welcoming environment that libraries provide. As the library continues to adapt to the needs of our community, my goal is to promote and support this evolution in ways that are beneficial to our community."

Harris, Farley, River, Stilts and Ward are vying for three six-year terms. Mosley Smith is running unopposed for a four-year term.


Disclosure: The writer's spouse, Amy Crump, is the administrative librarian for the Homewood Public Library.

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