Dean O'Brien: I Don’t Want the First Time I Speak to Someone to be When There is a Crisis
Dean O'Brien is challenging incumbent Mark Mulliner for the 7th Ward seat.
- 7th Ward candidate: Dean O’Brien
- E-mail: Dobrien@fclbuilders.com
- Family: married to Catherine; daughters Caitlin, 19, University of Illinois, and Maggie, 13, Visitation School; and son, Joe, 18, St. Ambrose University
- Education: bachelor's degree in accounting, DePaul University (Strobel Scholar), certified public accountant
- Occupation: principal and vice president of finance for a large commercial general contractor
- Previous elected offices: president, Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA), vice president (CFMA), secretary (CFMA)
- Applicable experience: I have 25 years of financial consulting experience. I have been involved in the budgeting and strategic planning process for a number companies which span many different industries. I have worked with successful companies and with some that were looking to get themselves back on the right track. In my current position I am exposed, from the general contractor side of the equation, to many different municipalities throughout the Chicago land area.
What is the primary reason you are running for this office?
We have had the same unresolved issues for the 12 years that I have lived in this ward. Our ward needs more proactive representation that will offer a fresh perspective. I feel that I bring those qualities to the table.
What will be your priority if elected?
My priority will be to improve the quality of life in Elmhurst by helping to develop a short- and long-term plan to deal with the flood and electricity issues. We also must effectively and more regularly communicate on our progress towards our goals.
What sets you apart from the other candidates?
I have a unique blend of experience, I have been an outside consultant, an independent member of various boards, led an industry group of my peers with the CFMA and done volunteer work within the community. Finally, I am a business owner in one of the industries that has been hit the hardest by the economy, general construction. I have the ability to successfully wear a number of different hats. I will be able to draw on my experience to come up with innovative solutions to the challenges we face.
How long have you lived in Elmhurst?
What's your favorite thing about Elmhurst?
I enjoy Elmhurst for its family atmosphere. We have made so many friends here through church, school, park district activities, and the Elmhurst YMCA. I especially like how neighbors band together in times of crisis.
What is the biggest problem in Elmhurst?
The sewer system, the electrical grid and skunks in that order.
Are there any challenges or problems in your ward? If so, what needs to be done?
My ward is faced with water issues that go way beyond the two major events of this past summer. Our streets fill up even when the power is on. We’ll have to evaluate the engineering firm's findings and come up with both a long- and shorter-term plan needed to address the problems.
With the retirement of Tom Borchert, what do you think are the most important attributes for a new city manager?
Unfortunately the new manager will be coming into a buzz saw, so to speak. He is going to be expected to have all the answers and to solve the issues quickly. That is not necessarily fair. He will have to be strong-willed, patient, be familiar with our type of situation and be able to hit the ground running.
Do you think the city is spending taxpayer money in the most efficient and effective way? What, if anything, would you change with regard to budgeting and spending?
The 2011-2012 budget is balanced and the current administration worked very hard to accomplish that without cutting services to our residents. In order to do that, they had to make expenditures more efficient and that shows fiscal responsibility. Going forward into 2012-2013 the decisions are going to become more difficult. I am very familiar with this type of situation. We have had to make cut backs within our company without negatively affecting our customer service. It’s a very delicate balance.
I have not reviewed the current budget, which was just released on the Elmhurst City Web site (www.elmhurst.org). I will be able to speak about specifics and make recommendations after I familiarize myself with the details.
We’ve heard residents of all ages, but especially seniors, say that it’s getting too expensive to live in Elmhurst. What can be done to make Elmhurst more affordable for all residents? Do you think the city will need to raise taxes again in the near future?
The best way to make Elmhurst more affordable is to increase our tax base. Economic development is the key. That being said, in this current economy, very few businesses are relocating or expanding and new startups are low. Consequently the competition with other towns has increased. Elmhurst has done good job of attracting business in the past and I expect that to continue. I will do whatever I can to support that effort.
I have two children in college, so I don’t want to see a tax increase. I will do all I can to make sure that any expenditures we have to make to fix our problems, limit the current effect on our taxes. We also have to be sure we don’t mortgage our future.
Do you agree with other aldermen who are proposing several new TIF districts in town? Why or why not?
I think we need to look at these items on a project by project basis. Does the project model make sense when you evaluate the type and dollar amount of the incentive, the type of project, the financial payback and the effect on the community? If the TIF and the project make sense, then I would support them. If executed properly TIF districts can be a tremendous boost to economic development.
What is working and not working in terms of economic development in Elmhurst? What, specifically, would you do to encourage businesses to come here?
As I said earlier, Elmhurst is attracting business in a very competitive market, so we must be doing something right. At my company, we are often approached by private companies wishing to expand or relocate the manufacturing or distribution facilities. We also deal with developers on a daily basis. Hopefully we can steer some of these leads to Elmhurst.
Spring rains are right around the corner, and a flood mitigation plan could take years to implement. In the short term, do you think the city is doing everything it can to assists residents who experienced the bulk of the flooding problems last year? Will you be nervous when the rains start?
The current administration is behind the eight ball on this. The problem did not appear for the first last summer, yet we all want the solution now. Given the situation, I think the city has done a wonderful job of promoting the overhead sewer cost sharing program. They also seem to finally have ComEd’s attention. The recent trimming program can only help the situation. Can more be done? Definitely so, but I think Elmhurst is being proactive in searching for additional measures which need to be taken. Personally, I would have liked the selection process and release of the engineering firm to go more quickly. Valuable time was wasted.
I have watched the same scene play out for 12 years with no changes, so yes I will be nervous when it rains. I will be ready with my generator, battery backup sump, and extra utility pumps. Hopefully, I will also be armed with the responsibility of the 7th Ward aldermanic seat and help solve the problem going forward.
Nearly a dozen water mains broke within a one-week period this winter and, separately, failing infrastructure is listed as one of the reasons for flooding in Elmhurst. What needs to be done with infrastructure and how is the city going to pay for it?
I have not seen anything that discusses the extent of the repairs needed, so I can only assume that they are extensive. I think we will have to come up with some creative ways to finance these improvements. We’ll need to be creative and look at bonds, grants or other alternates to subsidize the cost and limit any potential increase in taxes.
Do you think city officials and aldermen have a good relationship with citizens of Elmhurst with regard to trust and transparency? Is there anything you would do to improve that?
Last summer’s meetings were a great start to improving the communication between the city officials and the residents. The communication in our ward has to be improved. I would like to establish a forum similar to Linkedin, for example, to ensure the citizens of our ward can not only interact with me but with each other. It’s important that the lines of communication are open at all times. I don’t want the first time I speak to someone to be when there is a crisis.
I will be always be open to discussion with ward members and will always try to bring them accurate information. If I don’t know the answer to a specific question, I will let them know I don’t, tell them I will get back to them and then follow up in a timely manner on what I find.