Sunday, March 22, 2009

While Molski is Pessimistic about Flossmoor's Future, Braun Looks Forward

The local League of Women Voters held their Flossmoor Candidates Forum on Thursday, March 19 at the Flossmoor Library. More than 50 people showed up, including members of several candidate's families. There were several pieces of news out of the Forum, but perhaps the most interesting news was the sharp contrasts between the two mayoral candidates. Roger Molski was stuck on his "we can't do that" meme, while challenger Paul Braun was thinking creatively, offering fresh ideas and basically reminding us, Yes We Can.

Roger Molski was first with his opening statement. He mentioned that he came to Flossmoor because it resembled Grosse Point, MI. Then he told us why he was running for re-election:

I am terribly proud to say that I am the Mayor of Flossmoor and my mother who passed away last year was *really* proud to tell everyone in the world that Roger is the Mayor of Flossmoor.

He ended:

It's a team effort, and I am very, very proud to be Mayor and head of this team.

Then Paul Braun got up and introduced himself:

I am running because I believe that village government can do more for our residents than what's been going on. I am running because I believe that we can continue to maintain high quality public services -- police and fire -- and public works while at the same time doing more to increase economic development for our town.

Then Braun noted the biggest difference between his candidacy and that of Molski.

Washington has decided to pump 787 billion dollars into our economy and my question is, will Flossmoor be there to take advantage of that.

Braun laid out a strategy for getting more federal (and state) dollars into Flossmoor. Molski would later say, "They can't help us."

Braun ended by saying:

I am running because I'm passionate and I care about our town.

The first question asked by an audience member of the mayoral candidates was, "What changes will you try to make that is different than what's going on at the present time?"

Braun took the first crack at it:

My focus primarily is on economic development for our town in terms of making changes for the future. As I said in my opening statement, we're in the middle of a perfect storm, and while we're going to do everything we can to attract business to our community, new business to our community that's compatible with our community, I believe that for the next two year period we really need to be chasing dollars that are going to come from Washington and from the state of Illinois.

Braun said that he wants to be on the board of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, and that Flossmoor should join the Illinois Municipal League. Finally, he said:

we also need to be federally involved, as well. I'm committed to go to Washington, if necessary, to go knock on doors to get the funds that are necessary for our town. Because with those funds, that takes the pressure off of us, our taxpayers, the resident's tax burden. Some of you may have seen that a number of our recent mayors went to Washington and that we did not.

He ended by saying that if we don't get more active, "We could lose out on the dollars that are available to us."

Roger Molski then said,

The changes that you're going to see in the next four years in the village will revolve around economic development. I have been working ver, veryy hard for a long period of time, I've become a semi-expert on commercial development.

As a so-called "expert on commercial development," Roger Molski is the first and only mayor in Flossmoor -- probably in the South Suburbs -- to bring *blight* to our village. Then he pooh-poohed the idea of getting stimulus dollars for Flossmoor:

Washington will not reduce your tax dollars but good solid commercial developments in our TIF area will.

This is one of the reasons that people who know Roger Molski question his judgment, whether he is capable of leading in the 21st century. Molski's record of development in the past four years was to bring in a (now) bankrupt developer who happens to be a personal friend of his. He rammed the project through the board -- despite the questions that were raised about the troubled developer. Molski took $88,000 a year in property tax revenues off our tax rolls and left a black hole in the heart of our downtown commercial district.

Why should Flossmoor not be a contender for federal stimulus dollars? Molski's reasoning is unclear. Probably it's too much work for him. He seems to prefer to continue what he knows -- that is, bringing more blight to Flossmoor!

Then they were asked about whether Flossmoor should have business licenses for local businesses. Paul Braun noted that the question was first posed to him by the downtown Flossmoor business association who were actually in favor of commercial business licenses. "I'm not exactly opposed to it," he concluded. Roger Molski flatly stated, "We're not going to do it."

Another audience member asked, What is Flossmoor doing to obtain its share of stimulus money?

Roger Molski was a little perturbed:

If it's to be gotten, we're going to get our share for the projects that the trustees cited.

Paul Braun noted that Flossmoor was really depending upon our village manager and staff for requests for federal stimulus dollars. Where other cities have their mayors being aggressive about getting federal money, Molski was on vacation during the height of the process. Braun promised to be more proactive. He has "a totally different take on things:"

I think we were a bit late in terms of getting that information, not through any fault of anybody at this point, other than the fact that we're not focused on looking a bit outside our village in terms of regional, state and federal matters. So, in terms of getting economic stimulus dollars, yes, we're going to get trickle down at this point. But what I'm talking about is actually going after it, instead of waiting for it to come to us by sending letters and applying for projects, we need to be out there.

He then quoted a Southtown Star article that quoted Blue Island Mayor Don Peloquin:

Communities with more clout, more village officials on political boards and mayors with more time to lobby on behalf of their towns usually have more access to money, Peloquin said.

Braun concluded:

I plan on doing a lot more than just waiting for the money to trickle down to us, we need to apply for it. We need to be out there actively seeking it and that means outside of our village.

The next question asked was, What plans does Flossmoor have for foreclosed or empty housing?

Molski claimed that the number wasn't that high and there wasn't a lot that we can do about it.

But as far as what we can do as a village, it's very limited.

Paul Braun was thinking about how to make Flossmoor more attractive to new people coming into the village:

If we can maintain the current tax level, which will be difficult, that makes Flossmoor more attractive to new people coming into town to turn these houses over.

He said that's why he's so interested in pursuing federal and state dollars, to ease the tax burdens of Flossmoor residents.

Why aren't the streets better maintained?

Roger Molski noted Flossmoor Road is a county road and the village isn't responsible for it:

It's their road. And we're willing to a transfer of that road if they completely rebuild it.

This speaks to one of the other complaints that people have about the current mayor. He doesn't seem to have influence with other local officials, to get them to keep their word to him or to Flossmoor.

Paul Braun noted that the federal stimulus package had some infrastructure money with it. He wants to apply for federal money to resurface all the roads in Flossmoor.

We need to be out there. SSMA is responsible for dishing out those funds, so let's get there and let's get an application in.

How does a store with a liquor license across the street from 3,000 students fit in with the character of Flossmoor?

Paul Braun answered bluntly:

It doesn't.

Braun wants to get community input about what residents think about Molski's latest idea.

Going forward, I don't think it's the proper location. You'll hear others say, 'well, they can go to the Jewel or they can go elsewhere,' well let them go elsewhere. I don't think we need that across the street from the high school at this point. I don't think it sets the proper example.

Then Braun noted that the high school is against this:

But, again, the high school district does not want it. 233, I've talked to school board, they do not want liquor at that location. So that tells you something right off the bat. If they don't want it, I don't see why the village needs to press it.

Molski re-acted defensively. "That is a done deal, it's been approved," Molski said. "It's been approved, it's going to be there."

The CVS is approved, everything about it is done, it's going there.

What kind of relationship does Flossmoor have with Metra and CN to maintain the Via Duct?

Paul Braun noted that he's heard complaints about the Flossmoor station, and that "Over all, we have as good a relationship as any other local town does have with Metra." He also said: "We've had our challenges from time to time in terms of maintenance issues regarding Via Duct."

Molski responded by basically pointing to his lack of influence:

The Canadian National people are difficult people to deal with. Their philosophy sometimes is that "we were there first."

"We're constantly on them," Molski ended. In other words, Roger Molski is doing everything he can. And it isn't good enough. His record -- which is what he wants people to use as their guide in voting in this race -- is one of failure.

What can be done about Flossmoor Square?

Paul Braun observed that "Flossmoor Square has caused us much community pain." I suppose we ought to say that Molski counts this vacant lot continually in his list of accomplishments, but I suspect Braun is right. For everyone except the mayor, this blight does cause us pain. Isn't it nice that the mayor has some place besides Flossmoor to go home to, so he doesn't wake up to this black hole in our commercial district every day?

Must be nice.

Braun suggested that we should "clean it up now" -- and, more importantly, that the village should be more proactive in staving off the "rumor mill." Most of us know that Chuck Bruti went through bankruptcy, but the mayor prevented the village from keeping up on that process -- probably because Bruti was the mayor's friend and Flossmoor Square was the mayor's project. Braun concluded:

We have to do something, this wait and see is not working. Its a top priority for me if I'm elected mayor.

Molski was basically in denial. He suggested that the economic downturn started four years ago, and that's the reason why Flossmoor Square has failed. "We can't do anything about it," Molski claimed.

He is wrong. Roger Molski may not be able to do something about it, but that's largely because he doesn't have the ability to lead Flossmoor or the vision to take it into the future.

Molski concluded the night by asking people to vote on his record. Are you happy with the empty lot in the heart of our downtown that Molski brought to Flossmoor in the last four years? Are you happy with the fact that Molski is bringing in a store that sells liquor across the street from H-F High School (against their wishes)? Are you happy with Molski being in vacation in Florida while other local mayors were in Washington, DC asking for stimulus money for their communities?

This is Roger Molski's record for the past four years. He may be proud of it. But I don't think too many of us who actually live here can afford it any more. Roger Molski is far too focused on what we can't do. Paul Braun reminds us, Yes We Can. The choice is stark, and the implications are clear.

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