Two new members on Highland Park City Council signal latest shake-up in local government
Two new members will join the Highland Park City Council next month, signaling the most recent shake-up in local government for the North Shore suburb.
Gone are longtime council members Steve Mandel and Jim Kirsch — Mandel became a Lake County Commissioner in December, and Kirsch is wrapping up his third term after deciding not to run for a fourth. With their departure goes a collective 31 years of council experience.
Dan Kaufman, appointed in July 2011 to fill the void left by Nancy Rotering who was elected earlier that year as mayor, won a first full term on the council on April 9, along with newcomers Alyssa Knobel and Kim Stone.
They will share a dais with the three sitting councilmen — Tony Blumberg, Paul Frank and David Naftzger — who joined the board in May 2011. Only Rotering, who joined the council in 2009, has more than two years of experience on the panel.
"It's a new day in Highland Park," said Knobel.
New faces are commonplace at City Hall. Over the past 16 months, the city has seen several departures and new faces among top employees, including its city manager, deputy city manager, director, public works director and facilities superintendent. The city is also searching for a new community development director to replace Michael Blue, who left the city in March after 11 years.
"Things have changed for the better," Knobel said. "We have a proactive mayor. We have a council that's young and ready to dip their hands in, and each one brings a different perspective to the table."
Knobel, who chairs the city's Business and Economic Development Commission, seems a fitting replacement for Kirsch, who many acknowledged for his contributions over the last 12 years to economic development issues.
Stone's background and interest in environmental issues make her a logical fit to assume a position on the board formerly filled by Mandel, who pushed for sustainability measures initiatives.
"I think Highland Park has always been a leader on environmental issues," Stone said, mentioning the city's lakefront, ravines and parks as key assets. "We have always put a value on those things, so I definitely think that having that expertise on the council is important and something I bring."
Kaufman said his nearly two years of experience on the council gave him a leg up in the election.
"It takes a while to get into a rhythm and fully be able to take advantage of not only the city staff but collaborate with fellow members of the council, but also to get to know what's on the residents' minds and fully take advantage of their input, which I think is critical," he said.
All of the candidates eschewed the image of running on a single issue, and highlighted their varied experiences.
That was a view Rotering shared.
"What is the saying? Campaign like poetry, legislate like prose? It's easy to get quick sound bites while people are running, but I'm looking forward to getting the breadth of experience that (Stone, Knobel and Kaufman) are bringing to the City Council," Rotering said.
But one issue that seemed to fall from the heavens recently is a renewed interest in the city's infrastructure, thanks to heavy flooding following the April 18 rainstorm.
Stone expressed an interest in having the city help homeowners perform simple tasks to alleviate potential future flooding.
"It is not sexy, but I think it's kind of cool, because it's not rocket science either," she said. "Old fashioned things to try and capture the rainwater where it falls as opposed to directing it into the storm sewers."
Preventing rainwater run-off can reduce pollution in Lake Michigan and reduce erosion on its , she added.
"I think there are some things that we can probably change in terms of the city's code to make it easier for people to install some of these practices on their homes," Stone said, citing rain gardens as one example.
Knobel had a more conventional response to the storm, which she said prompted multiple calls, emails and texts from residents.
"Flooding is now an issue and that brings you right back to the infrastructure conversation," she said.
Knobel said she planned to make sure the city's capital plan includes ample funds for continual improvements to its sewer system as the council begins its budget discussions.
Kaufman listed infrastructure, along with government services, among four top objectives for the new council, as well as fiscal stability, economic development and human services.
"There is definitely a lot of work to do, and there's a lot we're trying to do to enhance services, but that's one good thing about the council," Kaufman said. "We take on a lot, and we're continually trying to maximize our resources and be responsive to our residents needs."