Don Smith: Candidate Profile
Des Plaines City Council Ward 7
Back to Des Plaines City Council Ward 7
Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.
City: Des Plaines
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Des Plaines City Council Ward 7
Family: Spouse - Cheryl Smith
Colleen Smith, Patrick Smith and Kyle Smith
Occupation: Attorney - Ptasinski & Smith PC
Education: B.A. Government and International Relations from the University of Notre Dame (1980)
Juris Doctor - Loyola University Chicago (1984)
Civic involvement: Involved in various community organizations over the years:
Niles Morton Grove Rotary Club
Niles Chamber of Commerce
United Way of Skokie Valley
Kylemore Green Homeowner Association
St. Emily School Board
Currently a Board Member and Past Chairman of the Des Plaines Frisbie Senior Center
Elected offices held: Current 7th Ward Alderman Des Plaines IL (elected in 2015)
Also served as 7th Ward Alderman from 1997 to 2009
Questions & Answers
What makes you the best candidate for the job?
I am sure that there are many 7th Ward residents that would make fine Alderman. I have been privileged to serve as Alderman for almost 14.5 years. During that time I believe I have shown the temperament, commitment and independence that is necessary to be an effective elected official. I have always promised to be a good listener, responsive, a hard worker, open minded, sincere and respectful. I have lived up to those promises and will continue to live up to them. I stand up for and work hard on behalf of the residents of the 7th Ward every day. Although I have gotten a bit older (and hopefully wiser) since first elected as Alderman in 1997, my values, convictions and my goals have not changed since then. I still have a deep commitment to make Des Plaines a great place to live, work and raise a family. Every vote and decision or action I have taken has always been and will continue to be made, if I am re-elected, with that in mind. I am not going to speak negatively about my opponent. I can only assume that he also has good intentions. But I firmly believe that my measured, thoughtful and respectful approach to this job makes me the clear choice.
What is your opinion of your community's present level of local sales and property taxes? Is the tax just right, too low or too high? Explain.
The City of Des Plaines has done a good job for many years to keep the property tax burden of residents and businesses in line. For at least five years the amount of the property tax levy by the City has not increased at all. In comparison to surrounding communities this is quite an achievement. The City has done this while at the same time reducing our debt burden significantly, and maintaining the same high level of service that the people of Des Plaines have come to expect. The City Council, along with City staff, has worked diligently at this and the results are plain to see. So, I do believe that the property tax (as well as the local sales tax)is pretty much right where it should be. With respect to our local sales tax the City does need to continue working closely with other communities, our State elected officials, and the Northwest Municipal Conference to keep pressure on the State of Illinois to make sure that we continue to receive our fair share of not just the sales tax, but motor fuel tax and all other locally collected taxes to which we are entitled. We cannot let the financial problems the State is having be solved at the expense of local communities. Also, while I believe the sales tax rate is at the right level, we must continue to provide incentives where appropriate to encourage more retail businesses to come to Des Plaines.
Should city elected officials receive city-funded health insurance benefits? Do you receive the benefits now? Would you accept them if elected?
No, City elected officials should not receive City funded health insurance benefits. That practice needs to end. I do not currently receive this benefit and I will not accept it if re-elected. Des Plaines is unique in offering this insurance benefit. The argument is made by those in favor of keeping this benefit that the aldermen deserve it because of all the time that is required for the job, and because, if not offered, there would not be quality candidates that would want to run for office. That is just not the case. There is no doubt that the elected officials devote considerable time to their job, but this is a perk that is just no longer necessary or appropriate. I am not opposed however, to the City offering the option to the elected officials to purchase health insurance, but the cost would need to be paid 100% by the officials. The City would not be responsible for any of the cost.
Where, if anywhere, could the current budget be trimmed, and conversely, are there areas the budget does not give enough money to?
The City Council and City staff have done a good job for many years in streamlining operations, reducing expenses and eliminating unnecessary employees. I'm sure that you could go through the budget and probably cut a little bit more here and there, but the only significant real savings that can be achieved would be by further reducing personnel or foregoing major capital purchases or capital projects. I do not favor doing that as long as the projects are necessary and there is appropriate long term planning involved in making those decisions. Regarding personnel, if we can find ways to reduce our workforce by the outsourcing of some functions, finding regional solutions for the delivery of some municipal services. and maximizing the use of technology, I certainly support that. Regarding areas where more money could be spent, one is for increased funding of social service agencies. The amount we allocate now is really very small and could easily be increased without a significant impact on City finances. I have advocated for that in the past and will continue to do so. Those additional funds would be extremely helpful to agencies already facing diminished revenue and budget cuts.
Do you support a plan to commit city dollars, along with Rivers Casino, to acquire and renovate the shuttered Des Plaines Theatre, then hire an event planner to book concerts and shows?
Yes I do, but it would need to be a well thought out plan that has a strong and realistic prospect for success. The fact that Rivers Casino is apparently behind this certainly seems to bode well for that. We certainly do not want to spend significant amounts of money on a foolhardy enterprise. So we would need to proceed with an abundance of caution. We can certainly take a look at the failures and successes of other communities that have tried this and draw upon their experience and knowledge. It definitely would be a positive to see the lights of the Des Plaines Theatre shine across the entire downtown. I supported and will continue to support the restaurant district incentive program that was adopted to attract restaurants to the downtown area and to the restaurant/theatre district. Additional restaurants and a re-imagined and re-opened theatre can only serve to bring more people and activities to downtown Des Plaines and energize the City. But, we need to be cautious with the theatre. The last thing we want to do is not think this through carefully.
What other issues, if any, are important to you as a candidate for this office?
Similar to two years ago when I was last elected Alderman, there are two issues that stand out. First is our aging infrastructure, and second the challenge of continuing to deliver municipal services in an efficient cost effective manner. Des Plaines, like most inner ring suburbs, is old, and our sewers, pipes, streets, alleys etc. are old as well. We need to continue to devote the necessary funds and manpower to maintain and repair them. Utilizing a good percentage of casino revenue for that purpose is still the right thing to do. Having a well thought out long range capital improvement plan is crucial. I have supported that and will continue to do so. The condition of our streets is one of the most frequent inquiries I receive from residents. So I know that is important. Second, continuing to deliver municipal services (police, fire, garbage pick up etc.) in a cost effective way will be one of the biggest challenges we face in coming years. We should look for opportunities where we can to provide services on a regional basis which should payoff in cost savings. An example is the agreement we reached with the Northwest Water Commission to bring an alternative water supply to the City. This will eventually save residents millions of dollars a year. We should also look at additional ways that technology can help save costs and make interfacing with residents easier and more effective.
Please name one current leader who most inspires you.
What is the biggest lesson you learned at home growing up?
If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all, and treat everyone with dignity and respect.
If life gave you one do-over, what would you spend it on?
I would have taken time off after finishing college to travel extensively around the US and Europe.
What was your favorite subject in school and how did it help you in later life?
History (especially US history) - it taught me the importance of reading, and got me interested in current affairs and politics.
If you could give your children only one piece of advice, what would it be?
The same advice my Mom still gives me - say a prayer every day.