Note to readers: This is the second installment in an occasional series of interviews with local leaders about the state of communities in the southern suburbs.
SAUK VILLAGE | In April, Lewis Towers became the first African-American elected village president.
The time to savor the moment became short-lived, however, as Towers was faced with a budget deficit and a severe recession.
Towers recently discussed the trials of 2009 and his optimistic vision for 2010 and beyond.
Question: Based on the election of you and several members of your party last April, what do you believe are the most important issues to the residents of Sauk Village?
Towers: I believe ... curing the water problem, making sure that the village is safe and providing the residents with community events and quality community services. I am confident that we will achieve these goals if we cooperate to achieve them.
Q: Can you give an example?
Towers: The current administration, with assistance from Respond Now and a generous donation from DP Partners, has already provided Christmas baskets of food to 200 needy families residing in Sauk Village. In addition, the current administration offers a variety of events for the residents of the village and has expanded and improved youth programs in an effort to keep our youth off of the streets.
Q: What process or methodology will be used to implement the resolutions to those important issues?
Towers: Good public planning and hard work will be used to address the residents' concerns.
For example, Sauk Village residents suggested having a Christmas play. So I enlisted the Parks and Recreation Committee and the Chief of Staff (Brunetta Hill-Corley) to organize and coordinate the 2009 Sauk Village Christmas Wonderland Event. This event was organized at little or no cost to the village. ...
To address the water issues in the village, my administration has consulted with engineers and given them two firm directives: first, ensure that the water that the residents use and drink is safe; and second, improve the overall quality of water for Sauk Village residents.
... Due to the recent retirement of Police Chief Tom Lacheta, Sauk Village will be required to appoint a new police chief. This new police chief will walk in with two important and related objectives of his or her own: first, to keep the streets safe for the residents of Sauk Village, especially for the children and the seniors; and second, to treat the people of Sauk Village with courtesy and respect.
Q: How has the severe recession impacted your plans to date?
Towers: Sauk Village has had to make important employment and operational decisions due to the ongoing recession and poor financial planning. Upon my taking office, Sauk Village was saddled with numerous financial burdens.
For example, the village purchased a new firetruck and owed the manufacturer a single payment of $451,000 that was due in the beginning of 2009. The whole payment was due at the time the truck was to be delivered to Sauk Village.
There was no way that the village could pay off the firetruck all at once, which was obvious at the time that the village purchased the additional fire truck. When I took office, this challenge was discovered. I directed staff to address this challenge and make it work for Sauk Village. The new administration reviewed its financial position and determined that a better way to handle this obstacle was to finance the purchase of the firetruck over a period of seven years, thereby maintaining Sauk Village's cash flow while being able to use the firetruck.
Other difficult decisions have been made and will continue to be made.
However, I am confident that with the leadership of the corporate authorities, trustees and the chief of staff that our village will come out of this recession a leaner, stronger operating municipality.
Q: In what areas have you been able to make progress despite the economic uncertainty?
Towers: Economic development is an important goal for this administration.
Sauk Village has made strong economic progress since June of this year. During this economic downswing, the Logistic Center industrial park has been in receipt of new tenants.
I am impressed with the joint efforts of the village's staff and our corporate residents residing at the industrial park and thank them all for their efforts, especially in this harsh economic time. Leasing industrial spaces is important as it provides additional real estate tax revenue for the village and stimulates the overall growth of Sauk Village's economy.
Further, while the specifics of the transaction are still being negotiated and finalized, Sauk Village is currently working with DP Partners on expanding its current development in Sauk Village. I have directed our chief of staff and financial advisors to seek out development opportunities wherever they are available. I am confident they will be up to the task of finding such opportunities, ironing out the details and bringing them back to the Board of Trustees for implementation.
Q: What does 2010 hold for Sauk Village in terms of growth, expansion or redevelopment?
Towers: I anticipate Sauk Village to increase its efforts to attract real estate development in the future. Sauk Village looks forward to continued economic growth, and I have the optimistic belief that if we can accomplish all of this during a recession, when the recession breaks this administration should be capable of even more.
Q: What other topics or issues would you like to comment on so the residents have a clear vision of what will be happening in the village?
Towers: A quote that I reflect on often when considering the future of Sauk Village comes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "We may all come from different ships, but we're in the same boat now."
Sauk Village's administration cannot operate alone. I again call for the advice, counsel, input and most of all cooperation from Sauk Village's employees, trustees and, most importantly, Sauk Village's residents. I envision a great Sauk Village, a village that we can all be proud of, but this goal will only be achieved if we all recognize that "We're all in the same boat now."