Leslie Ruffing: 2021 candidate for Naperville Park District board
Occupation: Structured Settlement Annuity Broker at Ringler Associates
Civic involvement: Numerous volunteer positions; served as an election judge
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you, and if so, what is it?
A: My husband and I moved to Naperville nine years ago and have felt incredibly lucky to be raising our two daughters here. I have been dedicated to a variety of local volunteer opportunities with my focus in recent years on gun violence prevention and gun safety advocacy. Along with regularly volunteering at my daughters' elementary school, serving as a committee chairwoman for multiple PTA committees and serving as co-leader for my eldest daughter's Girl Scout troop, giving back to this community is important to me. I am passionate about public service, and after much thought and consideration I have decided to serve at a higher level. I made the decision to run for this office for many reasons, but one of the main reasons was the need for a more diverse park district board. I believe that the voices of parents with young children, especially mothers, have been absent from the board for too long. I intend to advocate for all residents' park district needs and believe transparency and integrity to be vital to a governmental body. I believe that better board representation will result in a park district that appeals to a wider variety of ages, genders, cultures and interests.
Q: Did your park district 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 continue providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A: I believe that the Naperville Park District did serve its residents well last spring and summer by offering virtual programs while the community was staying home to help stop the spread of COVID-19. They also did a great job of offering outdoor classes and events once it was safe to do so and followed the state safety guidelines well. Unfortunately, I believe the park district board acted inappropriately last spring when they moved forward with the expensive lawsuit. While the spring of 2020 was certainly a difficult time for many, and it is understandable how badly people wanted sports back, it is important to remember that the reasoning was not due to our governor's actions and guidelines focused on keeping the residents of Illinois safe. Rather, it was more attributed to the ever-evolving pandemic that was still very new to scientists and all decision-makers which made it difficult to predict how transmission of the disease would affect activities. Youth sports guidelines were continuously updated throughout spring and summer in an effort to protect the lives of children and their families, which should always be the biggest consideration for a park district.
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: Living through a global pandemic has certainly highlighted areas in which we can work together to achieve a healthier community. Simple actions like consistent hand washing, and keeping shared equipment sanitized should be a permanent part of our lives. Staying home when you are feeling sick, and businesses and organizations supporting their employees for doing so, so as not to spread germs is another way to continue to cut down on the spread of viruses.
As we transition to a new normal this spring and summer, it will be vital that the park district continues to follow the prescribed state guidelines when it comes to programming. The focus should be on providing safe, accessible outlets for residents anxious for activities both inside and outside of the house. Continuing virtual programs for those not yet able to participate in in-person activities should also be prioritized. The more we can work together toward a common goal, the more successful we will be.
Q: How has the pandemic affected the park district's offerings and use of facilities. Are there other ways the park board can fulfill the mission of a park district during these times?
A: The pandemic has affected many aspects of the park district to date. Indoor classes have just begun to meet more regularly in recent weeks. Unfortunately, some facilities such as Centennial Beach and the Riverwalk Café were unable to open last season and opening them safely this summer should be a top goal while continuing to follow prescribed safety guidelines by health experts. Programming was added in the form of virtual classes, and that has really benefited those who remain uneasy with in person activities. The park board had a real opportunity last spring to make decisions that would benefit the community as a whole and I am not sure they were able to do so. A few examples of missed opportunities would be: partnering with community groups and other local governmental agencies to promote widespread testing, helping residents financially who are struggling, and providing creative ways to keep children entertained while stuck indoors at home.
Q: How has the pandemic affected the park district's revenue? How has that been addressed on the expense side?
A: The 2021 park district budget will see about 80% of expected revenue come from tax revenue and charges for services. Last year due to COVID-19, the park district only received about half the revenue in charges for services as had been budgeted before the year began. While the park district has budgeted for 2021 to again not receive the same revenue they would in a typical year, they were able to keep the tax levy flat for 2021, which is great news. The 2021 budget has been reduced by over $15 million compared to 2020's budget, in large part due to the enormity of the 2020 capital projects.