Christopher R. Jensen: 2021 candidate for Elmhurst 3rd Ward Alderman

  • Christopher Jensen

    Christopher Jensen

 
Updated 3/15/2021 12:57 PM

In the April 6, 2021, consolidated election, Nektarios "Nick" Arvanitis, Christopher R. Jensen and Alan Quarrie are vying for a four-year term as Elmhurst 3rd Ward Alderman. The Daily Herald asked the candidates several questions about issues facing the city. Below are Jensen's responses.

In-person early voting with paper ballots is available at DuPage County Fairgrounds Building 5, 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton. In-person early voting with touch-screen voting begins March 22 at locations throughout the county. Learn more at www.dupageco.org/earlyvoting.

 

Bio

City: Elmhurst

Age: 43

Occupation: Energy strategist/finance professional, Uniper

Civic involvement: Former high school tutor, Christopher House; participant/volunteer in MS Bike/MS Walk events; former board member, West Suburban Multisport Club

Q&A

Q: How do you view your role in confronting the pandemic: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree, or defer to state and federal authorities?

A: My role as an alderman in confronting the pandemic is a combination of all three. I must lead by example: wearing a mask, following local COVID-19 restrictions even if unpopular, social distancing, etc. I have an obligation to listen to constituents that express concern about restrictions and try to understand the reasoning behind their stance. I also believe that restrictions, although sometimes difficult, are enacted only because it is in our best interest to get and keep the pandemic under control.

I also think that it is my duty to provide accurate information to my constituents that will help them understand the myriad federal and state guidelines for confronting the pandemic. Federal recommendations from the CDC and regulations from Springfield change frequently and can quickly become confusing. It is my responsibility to stay current on the latest information and pass it along to constituents in an easy-to-understand format.

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Q: Did your town continue to adequately serve its constituents during the disruptions caused by the pandemic? If so, please cite an example of how it successfully adjusted to providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.

A: I think Elmhurst did a good job serving the community during the pandemic. The economic devastation caused by the pandemic could have easily blown a hole in Elmhurst's financial stability as it did to many cities nationwide. The city council quickly granted emergency power to Mayor Morley which greatly increased the pace at which policy changes could be enacted. The mayor, together with city council, then made decisions to help support our residents and business community, defer noncritical maintenance programs, and leave open positions that did not affect public safety among many others.

Through these efforts, the budget, despite roughly $9 million lower in revenues, was balanced. These actions gave Elmhurst a solid financial footing that allowed it to continue to serve its citizens during the pandemic with nearly no reduction in service level while setting it up well for the eventual recovery. Had Elmhurst not taken these steps, residents would likely see reduced levels of service going forward as the city dug itself out of a deep budgetary crisis and worked to eventually balance its budget.

Q: In light of our experiences with COVID-19, what safeguards/guidelines should you put in place to address any future public health crises?

A: To prepare for the next public health crisis, we must study which policies worked the best during the coronavirus pandemic and which need to be improved. Masking, social distancing, enhanced sanitation protocols all work and certainly should be step one in any future pandemic. Those who can work from home should as soon as the danger level is clear. For those that cannot, governments should maintain adequate stockpiles of protective gear.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

With an airborne virus, such as the one that causes COVID-19, we should explore the possibility of enhancing ventilation of indoor spaces where large numbers of people routinely gather, such as schools, restaurants, and gyms. With proper ventilation and safety protocols, these types of places may be able to be safely operated at reduced capacity even with an airborne disease. Finally, we need to make sure that local governments can easily communicate updates and safety information to residents and businesses. Communication must be easy to understand and be based on guidance from trusted sources. When changes are made, explanations need to be given for residents to be confident in resulting policies.

Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?

A: Elmhurst did a great job balancing its budget with nearly no reduction in the level of service provided to residents. It delayed its street paving program and other deferrable maintenance programs and left open twenty positions to reduce expenditures. This helped close the gap to better match reduced revenues. Going forward, the city is looking at several ways to reduce spending, thereby reducing potential tax increases. These include potential consolidation of some of the open positions, cutting costs in Fire and EMS responses, and examining legal spending. I think that these are a good start to reduce spending. A larger review of city operations should also commence to see if there are other efficiencies that can be gained.

Q: What do you see as the most important infrastructure project you must address? Why and how should it be paid for? Conversely, during these uncertain economic times, what infrastructure project can be put on the back burner?

A: The most important infrastructure project we must address is the repair and renovation of our water and sanitary sewage systems. Our infrastructure is nearing the end of, or is beyond, its useful life. Over the next decade, we have over $120 million of infrastructure improvements and maintenance that must be made on these systems to bring them up to modern standards and comply with IEPA standards. This comes at a steep cost, but these projects are crucial, and delay will only compound the cost in the future. A city consultant recommended funding these projects through water fee increases and issuance of long-term debt. While some level of increase in water fees is unavoidable, I think that after we emerge from the pandemic and solidify our finances, we should consider paying some of the cost currently covered by water fees directly from the city's general fund.

The $23 million renovation of the police station to make facility upgrades should be delayed, as there is some flexibility on timing of these according to city planning documents. While these upgrades are necessary, we should wait until our economy fully recovers before taking on more debt to commence this project.

Q: Do you plan to address businesses that don't adhere to the governor's order to close or restrict business?

A: Last fall, the DuPage County State's Attorney's Office advised police that only the DuPage County Health Department may bring complaints about violations of the governor's order to court, therefore I do not think Elmhurst City Council has any legal recourse to address businesses that violate these orders. Rather, police have been advised to provide education and encouragement to follow the governor's orders upon receiving a complaint.

As alderman, if I encountered a business that was in violation, I would certainly try to find a way to persuade them to attempt to follow restrictions or at least change procedure to lessen the risk. By speaking with the owner, perhaps a way that Elmhurst could help them become compliant could be found, which I would fully explore. Elmhurst has demonstrated support for struggling businesses during the pandemic, for example by allowing expanded sidewalk dining, and any reasonable request for assistance should be considered.

Q: Do you agree or disagree with the stance your council has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?

A: In 2019, the city council decided not to allow recreational marijuana sales in Elmhurst. At the time, I think it was a reasonable decision as it was unclear how the state law would work in practice and there was not a lot of support from residents. Now, I would be in favor of allowing recreational marijuana sales.

Several dispensaries have been started in surrounding communities who benefit from the tax dollars these shops generate, including from Elmhurst residents. I think that within the next few years, marijuana will be legalized at the federal level, which will allow dispensaries to use the banking system and not have to operate as a cash business. Elmhurst should revisit its decision and permit recreational marijuana sales subject to an approval process that involves consultation with residents near a potential dispensary location. As part of this potential policy change Elmhurst should evaluate and update, if needed, our current community and school educational programming regarding marijuana use and safety issues.

Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?

A: Diversity is on the top of many of our minds these days as is reconnecting with our neighbors after the COVID-19 pandemic. I would like to see Elmhurst join the two together to celebrate the cultural diversity that we have in our great community. I envision a weeklong celebration with art installations of different cultures around City Centre and other commercial districts, and educational events in conjunction with Elmhurst University, local museums and schools to help people learn from and about our fellow Elmhurst residents. It would culminate in a weekend festival at one of our parks with food, beverages, art, dance and musical performances from various cultures. I think it would be great to bring our local schools into this celebration, with opportunities for students to share, celebrate and educate our community on their cultural backgrounds. This is certainly not a new idea to the Chicagoland area, but would be an outstanding way for Elmhurst to come together, celebrate our diversity and highlight our community to the region.

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