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Oswego Election 2015: Joe West, Candidate for Village Trustee

Mar 17, 2015 09:35AM ● By Steven Jack

Name: Joe West

Employment: Able Engineering.  Member of Local Union 399

Family: Married to wife Lori for 38 years. Two daughters, Amie Wade (married to Ian Wade) and Traci Weiss (married to Brandon Weiss).  Two granddaughters, Alexandria Weiss, Kaileigh Weiss. Traci is the girl’s head varsity volleyball coach at Oswego High School. Amie was a behavior disability teacher at Oswego High School as well as both a girl’s and boy’s volleyball coach there. 

Education: Graduated from East Aurora High School in 1973.  Attended Marine Corp training in 1974.

Previously elected office: I have never held public office before

Relevant community service: Member of the American Legion Post 675 and the Oswego Senior Center

What makes you qualified to be a Village Trustee?  

Lori and I moved to Oswego almost 30 years ago from the east side of Aurora. I had friends that lived in Oswego and they spoke with such passion about the community.  One day Traci and I were sitting on our front porch and walked to the back yard to get her bike and her bike had been stolen – right out of our fenced in back yard!  Shortly after that, we bought our first house in Oswego in the Brookside subdivision.  

During one of our first days in the new house, Traci, with her new bike, went for a bike ride in the neighborhood and got lost.  If you know Brookside, you know that the subdivision doesn’t have regular square blocks.  She went to the church to tell them she was lost.  The gentleman there had noticed that a new family had moved in and assumed she lived there and brought her home.  At that moment, I knew we were in the right place.  

Since that move almost 30 years ago, we have participated in and have our own passion about this community.  We raised our family here, our daughters work and volunteer here and Oswego is in our blood.  I once heard a former Trustee say, “we want Oswego to be a place people move to, not leave from” and I think that says it all.  

I have a long history in Oswego and have the perspective of old and new.  In my career I’ve managed many building and development projects including managing contractors, employees and the operations budget so I know how to look at a development budget and find ways to reduce costs.  I am not trained as a politician and I am able to clearly judge right from wrong.  I manage with logic, thoughtfulness and common sense. 

I have a passion for Oswego; what it is and what it can be.  I am dedicated to working as a cooperative partner with other Village Board members and governing bodies to “change” the current atmosphere and get real things done to improve the overall quality of life in Oswego.  I have a dedication to working for the people of Oswego to maintain and achieve what they want their community to be 

What do you believe is the role of a Village Trustee?

The first role and duty of a Trustee is one of fiduciary character.  A Trustee has a legal and moral duty to manage in a responsible and productive manner and is under an absolute obligation to act solely for the benefit of the people the Trustee is serving.  What this means is that a Trustee’s first and foremost role is act responsibly and ethically and make good and sound decisions that benefit both the community and the residents.

What should be the No. 1 priority for the next Village Board?

I think the number one priority for the next Village Board is one of funding and determining where the funding is going to come from to address the needs of both short-term and long-term projects and challenges.  I know we have some funding in the coffers that may address some short-term needs but we have annual and long-term projects that will require funding.  

The Board will need to work with Staff, other local governing agencies, the State, and neighboring communities to create a strategy and plan for dealing with our funding challenges.  In addition, the Board will need to work with Staff to create a plan to prioritize projects based on funding available.  If funding is not adequate, then the Board will need address methods for obtaining funding such as grants, bonds, using fees from other major projects and other ways to fund needed projects.

What is your vision for the old Alexander Lumber Co. lot and the parcel of land that includes the old Village Hall and the former Oswego Chamber office?

I think our downtown can be a vibrant place to dine, shop and socialize.  It’s been sitting idle for many years and it’s a missed opportunity for Oswego.  I see Alexander Lumber as a place for all that to occur.  

I see it as a mixed used development that may also include upper level condos.  I see it as a place with outdoor dining opportunities being so close to the park and the river.  I think the old Village Hall and former Chamber office are also opportunities for quaint shops or restaurants.  We need to make downtown Oswego a destination where people from all our neighboring communities come to visit, shop and dine.  

What is your long-term vision for Main Street?

I think Main Street should retain its historic charm, with the library anchoring at one end. Offices and professional services may be interspersed with quaint shops and restaurants in the Downtown core.  Main Street should remain the focal point of annual community events such as the Christmas Walk, parades and art fairs.  

I know that downtown parking is an issue but with a low level, low visibility, parking garage off of Main Street we may be able to alleviate Main Street parking issues. Development and parking should be compatible to provide options so that people don’t have to walk “uphill” to get to the places they want to go. We need a cohesive pedestrian environment that accommodates access to retail, office, residential, and open space areas.

Main Street gives Oswego the small town, downtown feel.  It helps create such a great atmosphere and I often see people strolling the streets, entering the shops, the library, going down towards the walking path, and just enjoying our downtown. I also think that following completion of IL Rt. 71 improvements, switching the current truck route designation to IL Rt. 71 should be explored, relieving truck traffic volumes on US Rt. 34 through the Downtown.

How can Oswego maintain the hometown feel while at same time encouraging development?

I think that is a challenge many of the past Boards have had and it remains one that the incoming Board will need to address.  I think it involves making good and sound development decisions that follow a strategic plan that is outlined to achieve growth and at the same time keep our hometown feel.  

We need big box stores but we also need small, family owned restaurants and shops.  Lori and I moved here almost 30 years ago, in part, because of that hometown feel.  We still feel that when we go to restaurants and shop in our downtown and I don’t ever want to lose that.  So we need to careful and cautious when making development decisions and need to determine if that particular development is right for Oswego; it may not be.  

I think smart revitalization in our downtown will also help us maintain the hometown feel.  It can be a place where the community comes together.  I also think there are other ways to maintain a hometown feel through community events, park district events and downtown events. The Christmas Walk, Wine of the Fox, art fairs, Prairiefest and other events help maintain the hometown feel and provide people a place to gather and socialize with each other.  

How do you propose the village fund its long-term needs for infrastructure improvement?

Growth created some of our infrastructure improvement needs.  Growth created new roads that need repair while older roads require ongoing maintenance.  I’d like to see staff’s cost analysis and hear how conclusions were reached.  

We need to analyze the ever increasing sales tax revenue received from past retail development as potential funding and look creatively at augmenting costs through savings spread over other funds or larger projects.  Road improvement planning is an issue the Board should deal with immediately.  Needed improvements put off this year will cost approx. 30% more next year so this is a critical area for the Board.

How can the village better use natural resources like the Fox River for its economic and cultural benefit?

The Fox River is a major waterway that bisects the community. The river can function as a public amenity that should be easily accessible and enjoyed by residents and visitors to the area. We need to preserve the Fox River’s water edge to ensure a stabilized ecosystem that will also invite people to enjoy the river. 

The Fox River and Hudson Crossing Park are major focal points for the Village and we should ensure that major community events take place there. Opportunities to more effectively build upon the benefits of the Fox River and Hudson Crossing Park should be explored. 

We need the Fox River to serve as a “seam” not a “division and any development ideas should support that idea.  I also believe the Board and Village staff should lead efforts to explore use of the Fox River as a water source to address the water challenges that are coming up in future.  

What role should economic incentives play in attracting new desirable businesses to Oswego?

Every Oswego village resident chose Oswego as a place to call home for important reasons.  Lori and I chose Oswego because of the great quality of life, the great quality of schools, and the great quality of our parks.  Those elements were an important part of both our daughter’s growing up in Oswego.  I don’t ever want to lose those qualities. At the same time, I enjoy that, unlike 30 years ago, we can make a short drive to a grocery store or retail store.  

Those businesses have enhanced the quality of life Lori and I have always known in Oswego. It can’t be realistic to stop or deny growth and/or to think that things will never change but our growth has to be managed effectively.  We need to think smart growth with an eye to the future.  Oswego is at a key point in its development and what history will write and I think we need to be mindful of making decisions with an eye to the future and not just a decision that makes sense for today.  

Development incentives may make sense in some cases.  Each request and development should be looked at both individually and as a part of the whole.  Does the development make sense for Oswego?  Is it a development that will increase value, either economic, social or cultural, for Oswego?  Is it a development that can help provide needed infrastructure improvements?  Will any incentives create value for Oswego?  These are all questions that need to addressed before considering development incentives.  

How do you plan to work with fellow Trustees to build consensus and arrive at decisions that benefit our entire community? If possible, please provide an example in your personal or professional life of building consensus in a group setting. 

This has been a challenge for the Board for many years.  However, in my almost 30 years of residency, I’ve seen numerous Boards who work well together as a team and have a significant level of respect for each other as well as shared goals for the community.  These have been Boards that have gotten a lot of really good things done.  

I think it’s of utmost importance to have a Board made up of Trustees who can build consensus, have shared goals and mutual respect but at the same time can also respectfully challenge and question each other without things getting personal or combative.  I would like to see the Board attend a session designed to help establish initial trust and a vision for working together.  I would like to see the Board meet as a whole or have individual meetings to establish ground rules for working together.  

I want to listen to other Trustee’s goals and objectives so I can better understand them.  I am committed to working together with the Village President to achieve shared goals.  I was honored to serve as a United States Marine where building consensus amongst your team was of utmost importance.  

I have also been a Chief Engineer for many years with a team of great folks working on my team.  I have been required to build consensus around ideas and execution of building improvements with my team, with managers and owners and with contractors. 

My team was fortunate enough last year to have reported the highest employee satisfaction levels amongst employees in the entire hotel and I consider that a great achievement.  I said in one of the previous questions that the first role and duty of a Trustee is one of fiduciary character.  In order to act on that duty, the Trustee must work cohesively with the team.