Three candidates vying for two seats on H-F Park Board

Homewood-Flossmoor Park District services got high marks from the three candidates who want to serve as a commissioner on the park board for the next six years. 
The three candidates for the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District, from left, Linda Ojode, Brit Violini and Steve Johnson, answered questions at a League of Women Voters forum. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
  The three candidates for the
  Homewood-Flossmoor Park
  District, from left, Linda
  Ojode, Brit Violini and Steve
  Johnson, answered questions
  at a League of Women Voters
  forum.
 
 (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

Newcomers Linda Ojode and Brit Volini and incumbent Steve Johnson are on the April 2 ballot for park commissioner. They shared their views on park operations during a League of Women Voters forum on March 14.  

Ojode and Volini both said they are interested in contributing to the community and believe they have much to offer as a commissioner. 

Ojode is a director of marketing for Blue Cross/Blue Shield and said she would bring leadership skills to the position. She has lived in Flossmoor for six years with her husband and two young sons, and they have used park programs over the years. 

Volini said she has wanted to join the board for some time. She worked for the park district at the Ice Arena for eight years. Today she is a manager for a skating club. She and her husband have lived in Homewood for 12 years and have three young children. They enjoy the open spaces and park programs.

Johnson has been a commissioner for 12 years. He, too, ran for the board to give back to the community. He and his wife, Mary Beth, moved to Homewood 22 years ago. When he joined the board, his two children were young and involved in park programs.

All three said the financial situation is the most critical problem saving the park district. The board has done its best despite losing about 25 percent of its revenue because of declining property values during the 2009 recession.  The park district also has aging facilities that need attention.

Johnson said he is proud of the park district’s 2018 National Gold Medal Award for excellence in park and recreation management. He said the credit goes to the staff. He sees the commissioner’s role as a financial steward. Just 37 percent of the operating budget comes from taxes, the staff is constantly looking for ways to generate revenue through programs that cover facilities’ expenses and more, and that draw people from outside the district.

Enterprise facilities such as the Ice Arena and Irwin Center are aging. The district also is facing outside competition for some programs. Johnson said he wants to continue working with commissioners to help maintain the quality of the programs and facilities.

Volini said staff is the most important segment of the park district. 

“The more support they get, the better trainings, the better the programs.” As a commissioner, she would emphasize the importance of staff needs so that they are able to continue the high level of services they deliver for park users.

Ojode said she will focus on constituent needs and shifting revenues. She wonders how Illinois’s move to a $15-per-hour pay scale will affect the park district bottom line. She is interested in working to meet that challenge.

Johnson said the park district has a full selection of programs. Commissioners are conducting a community survey to quantify interest and needs. 

“I don’t think we’re missing anything,” in park offerings, “but we may reinvent a few programs,” Johnson said.

One questioner asked about keeping parks safe. Ojode, Voilini and Johnson all said the parks are safe and believe residents feel safe using them.

The three also were asked about the use of Round-Up fertilizer in the parks. Claims have been made about the toxicity of the product. All three said they rely on staff expertise on issues such as that.

Johnson said the park district is experimenting now with one area that is not getting any fertilizers. He said commissioners want to see how the area grows this spring and what the response is from the community.

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