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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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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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