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Meet the Leaders: Dan Staackmann

Morton Grove's mayor is profiled in our ongoing Q&A series about leaders in the community. We ask both fun and serious questions. Staackmann used to drive race cars--now he steers Morton Grove government.

 

Patch:  What's a favorite book or movie?

Dan Staackmann: ‘Team of Rivals’ by Doris Kearn Goodwin. It’s the story of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet and presidential run. All the people who wanted to run against him, he put in his cabinet. His theory was that he wanted to have the best people in the best positions.

Who cooks at your house and what do they cook?

My wife does most of the cooking; she’s somewhat of a gourmet cook. It’s a hobby. I do the laundry and cut the grass.

What are your hobbies, sports or interests?

I would say all my free time for the most part is wrapped up in Morton Grove, the village. Back in the 1970s I used to race cars. So the only real sport I still follow is NASCAR. 

Earlier:

Have you been to any big races?

Many times. (He pointed to a photo in his office.) There I was driving a car at Waukegan Speedway in 1976.

Do you remember the results that day?

I won.

Where did you grow up?

In Morton Grove. I went to St. Martha’s and Niles West and Oakton Community College. I have a certificate in real estate, and I probably have about 160 hours of credits but don’t have a degree. I went to the Mundelein (College) weekend program.

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What's your profession or field?

I’ve been in the automobile repair business all my life. I work in Skokie.

What's an important value your parents taught you?

Honesty. Ethics. Ethics and honesty is very important to me. One of the first things I did when I was mayor is institute a very strict ethics ordinance for the village. I’ve been the mayor since 2009. Also a village trustee since 2003, and a park commissioner since 1987.

Do you practice a religion and/or hold spiritual beliefs?

I was baptized and raised in the Catholic faith. I am not as big a practitioner as a lot of people are. But I periodically attend church.

What are your views in terms of national politics, and do you tend to lean Democratic or Republican?

A lot of people think I’m an active Republican. I am not. I was involved with Republican party but that goes back 20 years ago. My only affiliation now is with the Action Party and my politics are what I call realistic. My sole concern is local politics, the office I hold in Morton Grove.

What are the top issues in Morton Grove?

The ongoing issue in Morton Grove is now and has been maintaining the level of service the residents have come to expect. Since becoming mayor my focus has been to get us into what is our basic responsibility--police department,  fire department, public works; protecting your life, health, property. I think we’ve done a pretty good job. When I took office in 2009 heading into the 2010 budget we were faced with a multiple million dollar deficit. We managed our way through with painful cuts while still maintaining base services we are supposed to provide.

In the process of making cuts and reprioritizing our budget, we’ve been shifting revenue sources away from real estate. We have not raised real estate taxes in a number of years.

We are trying to focus on revenue sources other than real estate taxes. We’ve been very successful.

In those efforts, our bond rating was raised. We have a higher bond rating in 2009 from people like Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s that rate us. It’s because of due diligence we’ve done with the budget. That’s something we all here are proud of. It was painful but it’s paid off. (He provided a document which indicated the village's bond rating was increaded from Moody's AA3 to Standard & Poor's AA. 

Where many communities  have had to cut services, we’ve been able to maintain them.

The federal government’s bond rating went down and ours went up. That may not sound exciting, but it’s a major accomplishment for a municipality.

What other issues are going on?

The topic at hand now is the transfer station question. There is no application (from the waste processing company). There was an inquiry. Staff researched it and found we should have a host agreement so we can protect the village in case they (the company) put an application in. There are a lot of very strict laws and procedures. The host agreement sets the ground rules and the procedure of how we do it.

Waste transfer stations are regulated by the state and EPA.  That supercedes the village zoning laws. It gives us the opportunity for the village to have a voice in how it would be.

A lot of people are concerned about it, a lot of people may be misinformed, but I believe the village did its due diligence. But there’s no application; if it ever were on table, there would be public hearings and the village would go through whole process.

What do you think of the site and its advantages and disadvantages?

Special counsel has advised the board not to express an opinion, and not to engage in detailed conversation about it. If they presented an application, the (village) board would act as judge and jury, and if the board rejects it, the applicant could cite prejudice in the process. Then it would go to a court and a judge would make a decision.

My information tells me that in most of those cases, the applicant wins. We want to make sure we are not cited for prejudice. There are a lot of legalities the average citizen may not understand.

What about economic development in Morton Grove?

Economic development in Morton Grove has picked up. When many communities were at a standstill, Morton Grove moved ahead.

Culvers may not sound like a big deal but it was a shot in the arm to Dempster Street. Fear City has brought a lot of notoriety.

There’s the Alzheimer’s-dementia center on Lincoln Avenue, and the 

With the completion of Dempster, we’re seeing storefronts starting to fill up. Slowly but surely, those things are turning around.

Now we’re looking at reconstruction for the Dempster Waukegan business district.

Any other issues?

The other thing we’re proud of, we’re getting many miles of residential streets repaved that were sorely needed, even through budgetary challenges.

We’ve done a lot of infrastructure work, replaced a lot of water mains, repaired a lot of sewers, reconditioned both water towers. In the later part of 2009, village staff put together an infrastructure plan, identifying and prioritizing what was needed. They came up with a priority list of $20 million in needs. We issued a $10 million bond. We’re just finishing that up.

We’ll be reviewing that and will be issuing another bond down the road. Many of the bids have come in lower because of the economy, so we could afford to do more than we anticipated. That helped us with the bond rating being improved because we could address infrastructure. That directly reflects in your property values. You want to buy a home in a community that’s solvent, where taxes and repairs are not going to increase.

We always have to balance infrastructure repairs with what residents can afford, and we put that all into a plan.

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sherwin dubren August 29, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Firstly, I differ with the mayor on his remark about maintaining the level of service. There have been serious cutbacks in senior benefits. No senior bus anymore. Water discounts are being eliminated. What's next? The mayor likes bonds, but the residents eventually have to pay for them. It took many years to pay off the interest alone on the bonds for the Waukegan Rd. TIF, and we still owe millions on the remaining principle. Involving the residents in the Prairie View TIF was another case of risking our money to shore up the millionaires that own that shopping center. The recent additions to the village came at a price as their were many deals made to forgive payments on taxes. Hiding behind reasoning to protect the village from law suits is a poor excuse for opening the door for the garbage transfer company to come in. There has been a lack of communication with the residents and pointing to the village controlled media does not do the job of keeping the residents aware of what's going on. This has been a one party dominated government closely controlled by the mayor with no discussions among the trustees. At least one trustee is breaking the ranks because of this and another is running to replace mayor Staackmann. There is no unity here, no direction, and no communications with the residents.
Pam DeFiglio (Editor) August 29, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Don, let's please keep the tone of comments respectful. It's fine to disagree on the issues, but name-calling and personal attacks are not OK. Thank you.
Pat Craig August 29, 2012 at 02:20 AM
Like an old-fashioned blotter, Sherwin soaks it all up and gets it all backward. Unfortunately, his animosity against the current administration overwhelms fact and reason. Why should younger citizens subsidize a bus service little used? Regarding senior discounts , I believe in pulling my own weight and not relying on my neighbors to underwrite my bills. Apparently Sherwin differs. Unsupported statements seem to me Sherwins' stock-in-trade. Fact is, Morton Grove is fiscally better off now than four years ago, (and that is in a down economy). Encouraging business that produce sales tax income helps keep property taxes down. Yet, Mr. Dubrin, using the rhetoric of class-warfare and envy again makes unsubstantiated accusations while ignoring the very real gains made under the leadership of this Mayor. The blatant dishonesty of asserting that there has been a lack of communication with the residents is the same old song Sherwin has sung since he was roundly defeated in his run for public office. The Champion, Bugle and Patch are not controlled by the village. The village has a web site, a newsletter and a cable channel that informs our citizenry of upcoming meetings, issues and events, but you have to inform yourself rather than expecting to have the information spoon-fed to you. There are none so blind a those who will not see the truth.
Pat Craig August 29, 2012 at 03:04 AM
To denigrate honest labor is the epitomy of ignorance. I have found Mayor Staackmann to be an honest and caring human being who sincerely desires the best for Morton Grove and Morton Grovers. I would rather have an honest man who works with his hands in charge of the village rather than a glib political hack.
sherwin dubren August 29, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Well Pat, it is obvious that you are anti-senior and feel the village owes nothing to people who have been paying taxes here for many years. As for communications, the village puts out their sanitized version of the state of affairs in Morton Grove expecting us to believe everything they tell us. With respect to our two local newspapers and patch, there is something called a press release, which is unheard of in Morton Grove. This was most obvious when residents in the vicinity of the planned garbage transfer station knew nothing about the agreement the village signed with Lakeland. They found out about it months later by some quirk. One cannot expect the village to keep residents informed about every little matter, but this was one of the big ones that should have been made public way before any signings. Independent newspapers are one way to keep people informed about village matters. Expecting residents to check the web site and pay close attention to the agendas is asking too much. As for my run for office, I think for a new party with a budget less than 2000 dollars, we did pretty good with 17 percent of the vote. We were fighting established parties with big crews of volunteers and those with big contributions from businesses in Morton Grove. This should not dicourage other people to start new parties. We have had too much of the Action Party. It's time for a change. All those 'savings' in property taxes have been taken up with other disguised taxes.
Bill Wegner August 29, 2012 at 05:07 AM
17 percent is still a loss.83 percent didn't think it was a good idea then,and I'd be willing to bet even less are happy with the constant battering and one sided opinions you always have at the ready.Smile,enjoy life,it's to short to always be so unhappy.
sherwin dubren August 29, 2012 at 07:07 AM
Hey, Bill, what makes you think I am unhappy? I would be less happy if I were to bury my head in the sand like some other people and say everything is fine.
Pat Craig August 29, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Once again Sherwin you ignore fact to fit your own prejudices. I like seniors... I am one. Having said that, I don't believe that the village "owes" any age or ethnic group anything more than the services that are provided through taxes, (fire, police, public works). Seniors have paid taxes and have received services as have all village residents. Having attained a certain number of birthdays is no reason to place a larger burden on those who are younger. Again, you make unsubstantiated assertions regarding the information shared by the village. As usual, your assertions are nothing but horse exhaust. The information is there for you to find. If you are too lazy to do your homework, that's your problem. It is a citizens' duty to be informed. Also, you have been offered a chance to serve on village commissions. You have rejected these opportunities to be a part of the process and have chosen to throw rocks. Since you choose not to be part of the solution, it holds true that you are part of the problem. A constantly braying donkey is just annoying. As far as your run for office, 21% was the turnout in 2009. There are approximately 22,000 residents in Morton Grove and less than 1/2 of them are registered to vote. That means around 2,500 folks voted in the election. Assume your claim of 17% is accurate, it means that 83% of those voting just said "No" to Sherwin. Your "vision" was soundly defeated. There are none so blind as those who refuse to see truth,
Audrey August 29, 2012 at 05:31 PM
To change the subject aware from this private argument.... I like what has been going on in our town under Mayor Staackmann's leadership. I like that new businesses are coming in town, even in this terrible economy. I like that there are two new senior buildings. I like that they brought in a new senior center and it is even better now than we did in the past. I really like that our budget is balanced and our property taxes have not increased (but I am not at all happy about how much the school districts and library raised them!). I like that some of the streets in my neighborhood were paved. I love going to lunch at Culvers. There is so much to love about this town, and I can see a lot of change for the good in the past years. I hope to see it continue in the future. Thank you Mayor Staackmann and trustees.
Catherine Peters August 30, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Just one little correction, Audrey. Last year, in the first year that B-PAC members held the board majority, the library taxes did NOT increase. We decreased the taxes while maintaining the same budget for programming and library materials. The current board is committed to maintaining the high standard of excellence of the library without asking MG residents to foot the unreasonable bill of a new building.
sherwin dubren August 31, 2012 at 04:55 AM
Disagree with you Don. I get very good usage from the MG Library. I do feel that we should not invest in a new library building because we cannot afford it, and like you say, libraries are slowly being replaced by the internet, etc. In the meantime, MG could not advertise itself as a great place for families if we shut down our library. There are bigger ways the MG government wastes money. As for teachers, we don't need to pay them so much and give them obcene pensions. The kids are spoiled. In my day, there were no computers to assist us and somehow we managed.
Jac Charlier August 31, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Agree or disagree with somebody's position and record (other than corruption, immoral and unethical conduct on which we must disagree with the officeholder), thanks to Mayor Staackmann for serving. Some get involved, some vote but very few step forward to run for office.
Audrey August 31, 2012 at 10:26 PM
Catherine, you're right, no increase this past year after that big overhaul in library leadership. Thank you for cancelling those, in my mind ridiculous, plans to build a huge new library. The year before we did indeed have a big increase in the library portion of taxes, and that didn't go away. But I am very glad there are no longer plans to build a new one and you all have been able to operate the current one with the existing budget. Hope that continues next year, and well into the future.

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