National School Choice Week

Having fun with the students and teachers of the Montessori School of Long Grove on January 25, 2017.

Having fun with some of the students and teachers of the Montessori School of Long Grove on January 25, 2017.

What better way to liven up a gray and wintry day than by sharing lunch and enthusiasm with some of our local students? Last week I was invited to come visit the Montessori School of Long Grove, as a special visitor during National School Choice week. I had loads of fun getting to know the kids and even got to meet Shelly, the classroom turtle. As a bonus I was given a warm yellow scarf to remember the event, in fact we all did, as shown in the picture above. It was a pleasure sharing pizza and veggies with my charming lunchtime companions!

The children had many interesting questions about my job, and wanted to know about some current events like the discussions on how best to renovate our covered bridge. Since the school is located only a hop, skip, and a jump from the bridge, the Montessori students are very familiar with it and sometimes take walks in the warmer weather using it to cross over Buffalo Creek to the park. They wanted to know how they could get involved, if they wrote letters or made posters would the elected officials pay attention? I assured them that even our youngest residents have important voices! Not all the kids had the same opinions on what should be done (just like the grown-ups!) and we talked about how in a democracy, everyone doesn’t always agree but we respectfully listen to one another and then decide what the majority thinks is best. Who knows, maybe one day some of these Montessori students will be serving our town, our state, or our country as an elected official themselves? From what I saw last week, they are off to a great start!

Helping Cub Scouts “Build A Better World”

Cub Scouts from Kildeer Elementary Pack 56 and Country Meadows Elementary Pack 964 met with me at Village Hall on January 20th, 2017.

Cub Scouts from Kildeer Elementary Pack 56 and Country Meadows Elementary Pack 964 met with me at Village Hall on January 20th, 2017.

I can’t think of a better way to carry out the spirit of Inauguration Day today than by meeting with (and maybe inspiring) some potential future leaders of our country. It was my pleasure to welcome two 5th grade Cub Scout dens from our local elementary schools to Village Hall this afternoon, and work with them towards achieving their “Build A Better Word” requirement. The boys had great questions for me about my job as Village President, and also about some of the important current issues facing Long Grove. We discussed the Rt. 53 extension, video gaming machines in the downtown, revitalization of our historic business district, and the recent extension of our municipal water system.

To cap off the experience, we had a mini Village Board meeting in which the students got to role play as Village Board members, and sit at the actual table and discuss and debate an actual issue from Tuesday’s upcoming agenda. The topic: Report of the Village Engineer on the options for renovation or replacement of our iconic Covered Bridge. I got to have fun impersonating Mike Shrake, our Village Engineer, and explained the various options of restoring, rebuilding, or expanding our current one lane bridge to two lanes. Opinions varied with some favoring history, some concerned over safety, and others mindful of the fiscal implications. Strikingly similar to our real-life Trustees, I must say! The kids did come to a consensus that our Village Engineers should continue their studies of the variables.

Meeting and interacting with our youngest residents has always been one of the greatest joys of this job for me. The scouts asked me if I had been active in government as a student, and in fact I was a member of Student Council in high school. I learned that many of these boys are also involved in the student government at their elementary schools and have already started gaining leadership skills that will be useful throughout their entire lives. It makes me hopeful for the generations to come, and for all those inaugurations yet to be!

Role playing a mini Village Board meeting and debating a real issue from the upcoming agenda.

Role playing a mini Village Board meeting and debating a real issue from the upcoming agenda.

 

A Bridge Too Far?

The iconic covered bridge in historic downtown Long Grove is a symbol of our village around the globe.

The iconic covered bridge in historic downtown Long Grove is a symbol of our village around the globe.

At the beginning of this year, The Daily Herald asked Lake County mayors: What are you most looking forward to your town accomplishing/doing/changing in 2017? My response highlighted several infrastructure improvements slated to begin this year, such as Old McHenry Road resurfacing and streetscaping in the downtown crossroads. I ended with, “And most significantly, I look forward to input and direction from our residents, through open houses and public hearing participation, on the course of action that our Village Board should take regarding the reconstruction of our iconic covered bridge.” Well, ask and you shall receive!

The Historic Downtown Long Grove Association (our local “chamber of commerce”), in cooperation with members of the Long Grove Community Church, Long Grove Montessori School, Long Grove Historical Society, and concerned area residents have launched an initiative to “Save the Bridge.” As of yesterday, a petition on change.org (click here to view) was started, and has gathered at the time of this writing over 1000 signatures. It has been overwhelming to see the beautiful memories and tributes flooding in from Long Grove residents, and those all over the country who grew up in Long Grove or remember visits to our town in years past. Our historic, one-lane covered bridge is even receiving love from such far-flung places as Norway, Japan, Ireland and Vatican City.

Why all the fuss? The covered bridge, which has iron truss supports dating back to 1906, is aging and needs replacement or a major rebuild. (click here for more history on the bridge) After years of study by prior and current Village Boards, the Trustees will be making a decision this year on whether to replace the bridge exactly as it currently looks, with a one-lane configuration, or to accept federal funding in exchange for building to federal standards, which require a two-lane traffic flow. It will be less costly to our village finances to accept the federal dollars, however the Village will still be responsible for 20% of the cost of this option. If the bridge is simply rebuilt to the current appearance it will be entirely on the Village’s dime. The Village Board has foreseen this expense coming for many years, and has earmarked funds in a capital budget for the bridge. (Click here for a recent newspaper article with more details)

The push and pull comes down to fiscal vs. tradition vs. safety. Many Trustees are supportive of the demolition and reconstruction to two-lane in exchange for saving money. Others want to keep the quaint appeal and favor the traffic calming effects of the one-lane in a heavy pedestrian area. I have stated previously that I have a soft spot for our charming covered bridge. I like it just the way it is and see no need to expand it to two lanes. I am firmly in agreement with those signing the online petitions–I love our covered bridge.

The Trustees have directed the village engineers to start the process for the federal funding option, which is a multi-year effort. Studies have been made, and are ongoing this Spring. In May, the Village is planning a public open house to further gather community input. A definite decision will be made after that time. Or maybe sooner if the public outcry is loud enough? Stay tuned to this blog for further updates.

January 11, 2017 UPDATE:  Click here for an article published today in The Daily Herald

January 12, 2017 UPDATE:  Click here for a piece from WBBM radio

January 13, 2017 UPDATE: Click here for an article published today by The Chicago Tribune

January 19, 2017 UPDATE: Click here for another article published by The Daily Herald

Happy Birthday, Long Grove!

LILG-60th-Birthday-Cake

(Note:  Earlier this year I wrote the following article for our Village newsletter, The Bridge. Following that publication, it was reprinted by our regional newspaper, The Daily Herald. Apologies to those of you who have read this before!)

On December 30th, our Village will be marking an anniversary as we celebrate 60 years since our incorporation in 1956. Prior to that time, this area had evolved from a rural commercial crossroads whose roots go back to about 1838. The idea to incorporate first surfaced when some residents in the early 50’s formed civic groups to represent zoning concerns, and soon the Lake County Clerk was petitioned to place a referendum question on the ballot. Former Village President Robert Parker Coffin (who served from 1959-1981) remembers that Long Grove was incorporated, “To protect it from being gobbled up by the surrounding communities which were in the early stage of increasingly vigorous expansion. We wanted to protect an environment and rural way of life that was fast disappearing around us. At the time (1956) Long Grove consisted mainly of dairy farms and residential estates. There were no subdivisions.”

The first Village Board of Trustees consisted of community members who were appointed informally to serve until the next election date in April. That election, a contested one, resulted in all of the previously appointed officials being duly elected. The trustees had been selected in an effort to represent every section of the new village, farmers and commuters. The first Village President was Guy Reed; the father of Barbara Turner and benefactor of what we enjoy today as Reed-Turner Woodland. In the beginning, the Village had no income for two years and everyone was a volunteer. The first full-time employee began on October 1, 1970. He was Superintendent Tony Berg, who carried out his duties from a basement office in the old creamery building. Our first Village Manager was hired soon afterwards. The early Village Board meetings were held in the Kildeer Countryside School cafeteria, which provided a small office for the Village Manager to use. Official village records were stored in the homes of elected officials.

Well, times have changed since those early days. We eventually acquired a Village Hall in 1977 after the old Drexler Tavern had been saved and moved to where it is now, adding a proper meeting room. Today Long Grove has one part time and four full time employees who work out of that same building, serving approx. 8,500 residents in 60 different subdivisions and neighborhoods. Our Village has grown to encompass roughly 18 square miles, which includes approx. 3,000 acres of protected, dedicated open space.

From our humble beginnings sixty years ago…Happy Birthday, Long Grove!

Tapping into the Future–Part 2

The expansion of our municipal water system has enabled two new things to come to our downtown--water hydrants and Buffalo Creek Brewing!

The expansion of our municipal water system has enabled two new things to come to our downtown–water hydrants and Buffalo Creek Brewing!

In July of 2015 I wrote a blog post about the expansion of our Long Grove water system, entitled Tapping into the Future. Fifteen months after our Village Board approved the preliminary engineering contract, we now have fire hydrants in the historic downtown! The construction crews have been busy working all summer and fall to extend access to public water, and the new infrastructure is now in place. In the next 30 days the system is expected to be pressurized.

Bringing quality water from the deep well at Sunset Foods into the downtown has been a long-term goal and priority of many individuals who have served on the Village Board. The Trustees who came before me had the initial vision, and through the years numerous Boards have been diligently working towards opportunities to make this a reality. The sale earlier this year of the four lots on Archer Road and the development of the Harbor Chase assisted living community at Routes 53 and 83 have helped fund this capital project, with tap in fees and future water usage charges to fund the system going forward. The additional water supply will now provide better fire safety for our historic buildings, and help retain and attract new businesses to Long Grove.

And we are already starting to see some results! The former Red Oaks property is under new ownership and being converted into a Fred Astaire dance studio and grand ballroom. Just behind on Historical Lane, in the home of the former Studio of Long Grove art gallery, Buffalo Creek Brewing is finalizing plans for a craft brewing operation, taproom, beer garden, and eventual banquet facility. The Village Board recently approved zoning, special use permits, and liquor licenses to put this in motion. The brewery will obviously be a heavy water consumer, and both new businesses have made a financial commitment to connect to the new water system.

Doing large scale infrastructure improvements in Long Grove is a particular challenge; we levy no municipal property tax so borrowing money to fund the improvements up front is difficult. But now that the downtown revitalization ball has started to roll, I have every expectation that it will gain more and more momentum in the months and years ahead. We are continuing to make progress towards the future, and by “tapping” into our resources….who knows how many more opportunities will start to flow?

Our Daffodil Tradition

Now is the time to pick up some free bulbs at Village Hall, to plant for springtime beauty!

Now is the time to pick up some free bulbs at Village Hall. Plant them this fall for springtime beauty!

Long Grove has a long-standing tradition with the daffodil, and if you’ve lived in the Village for more than a year you’ve seen them. Every spring, the roadsides are lined with thousands of yellow blooms signaling the end of the winter season and bringing the promise of warmer days ahead. Each year the Village of Long Grove offers free daffodil bulbs to our residents for planting in the public right-of-way. And I’m happy to announce that the bulbs have now arrived! They can be picked up now while the supply lasts, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For a little background on this tradition, we reached out to Long Grove Park District Volunteers Jane and Ken Wittig to do some research and I would like to thank them for providing the following history:

Where and when did the Long Grove daffodil tradition start? It has been going on for a long time–this year will mark what may be the 45th anniversary of the daffodil planting practice. No one knows exactly how many bulbs have been provided by the Village over the years. The Village Board allocates a fixed dollar amount to the project annually, and buys as many bulbs as possible with the budgeted funds. Last fall we provided 4,200 bulbs for residents to plant. If that number was consistent over 45 years, about 190,000 daffodils would have been available to beautify Long Grove. 

The daffodil idea came from a group of civic minded women who were the founders of the Long Grove-Kildeer Garden Club in the early 1970’s. The moving force at the front of the idea was Betty Coffin, whose husband, long time Village President and Trustee Robert Parker Coffin, convinced the Village to agree. The project launched as a community effort, with volunteers from the Garden Club, Park District, and Scout troops planting the bulbs. Among the enthusiastic participants were Timmie and John Clemetsen, Lee Bassett, and Barbara Turner. Funding came from the Village and from builders who donated bulbs for planting along the right of way in areas where they were developing homes. The idea was popular, has continued through economic ups and downs, and is still going strong today. We now depend on individual homeowners to carry on the tradition.

Stop by Village Hall now and pick up your bulbs for planting this fall. You will be thankful (and so will your neighbors) this coming April!

“I Thought It Was Menopause, But It Was Just The Village”

Preparing to cast my vote during the 2016 Spring elections. In the next municipal election in Spring of 2017, my name will not be on the ballot.

Casting my vote during the 2016 Spring elections. During the next municipal election in Spring of 2017, my name will not be on the ballot.

To combat stress and keep my memory sharp, I play an occasional game of Bridge with a lovely group of ladies. We are all of a certain age. Recently, the table talk was about the trouble several of us are having getting a decent night’s sleep. Starting last summer and all through the fall and winter, I have not slept well and many mornings woken up before daylight and been unable to stop worrying, mostly, about Long Grove. But in May of this year, I came to a decision that has given me such a sense of peace. In fact, I have been sleeping like a baby all summer long. I have decided not to seek a second term as Village President. The realization hit me during our bridge game conversation, “I thought it was a menopause, but as it turns out, it was just the Village!”

When I ran for office I fully expected that the job would require a major time commitment and involve some difficult and controversial decisions. While true, this does not deter me as I am a hard worker and not afraid of taking a stand on an issue or breaking a tie or two (or in this case, 14 15!) for the good of the whole, regardless of the personal backlash. I have simply wanted to contribute my genuine love and concern for the community, and my experience as a leader to help our residents through some challenging years. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve Long Grove in this capacity. At the end of my term I will have spent six years volunteering on the village board and I believe I have given to the best of my abilities in this position. Throughout it has been a learning experience and I have many good memories to carry forward.

However, what I was not anticipating was the degree to which this job would impact my quality of life. Serving as a mayor is truly a 24/7 responsibility, no matter the size of your town or the magnitude of the issues. I am thinking and working on some aspect of the Village of Long Grove nearly every day. This has increasingly become the case as our village board continues to struggle to work together as a team, despite mutual acknowledgement that this is what is most needed for success. It is frustrating and exhausting to have to make the dysfunctional, functional. What I have experienced is that very little of my time and energy is left over to give to my loved ones, myself, and other worthy causes and activities that I enjoy. I do not regret the sacrifices made, but it is time now to reset my priorities. This decision has taken into account the advice and feelings of many caring people who have supported me over these past years. The satisfaction of serving my community has been great, but I’m ready to move on to the next adventure.

I am hopeful that several candidates from the greater community will be motivated to come forward and throw their hats into the ring. Change is good! Many residents have been highly engaged in the variety of controversial issues that have come before the board in recent years and perhaps we will see some of these outspoken individuals step up to the challenge of elected office. I have often remarked that the position of Village President was not one that I was seeking, but rather I found that the position was seeking me. Long Grove is now seeking a future leader who has the capacity to serve something bigger than self. Someone who can listen to others and take advice, is even-tempered, and possesses the skills needed to work towards compromise on the many diverse issues and potential changes on the horizon. Perhaps that person could be you?

Such a Financial State

(L to R) Long Grove Village President Angie Underwood, Hawthorn Woods Mayor Joe Mancino, and Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger at the July 14th Lake County Municipal League Meeting.

(L to R) Long Grove Village President Angie Underwood, Hawthorn Woods Mayor Joe Mancino, and Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger at the July 14th Lake County Municipal League Meeting.

Last month I attended the quarterly Lake County Municipal League meeting and had the opportunity to hear our State Comptroller, Leslie Munger, speak in her hometown of Lincolnshire. What resonated with me the most is the precarious financial state we find ourselves in at the moment. Let’s just say that the news was not comforting to hear.

Illinois has not had a budget in place for over a year now. In June of 2016 some “stopgap funding” was passed that will be in place until December. Some of the groups receiving this temporary funding are: K-12 schools, Universities & Colleges, nonprofits providing human services, Veterans homes, Lottery winners, 911 call centers, road construction, and local governments. While the stopgap funds are allowing these organizations and projects to continue until the end of the year and through the fall elections, Comptroller Munger described these measures as a “band-aid.” Right now Illinois has a backlog of $8 Billion in unpaid bills, which is estimated to grow to $10 Billion by December. Currently our state has accrued $116 Billion in unfunded pension obligations. Sobering statistics, indeed.

Long term, Illinois needs a plan. Comptroller Munger feels that just raising taxes is not a solution, as we already are burdened with high property taxes, particularly in Lake County. Some of the ideas she put forward to improve the situation include:

  • Reducing Costs–through consolidation, and also being more efficient in our state government
  • Raising Revenues–by growing our economy and expanding our tax base
  • Lowering the Cost of Doing Business in Illinois–including eliminating burdensome unfunded mandates
  • Holding the Line on Property Taxes–very little increase
  • Constitutional Pension Reform–must be achieved to curb the rapidly escalating financial obligations

So with all of this doom and gloom, how do we all remain hopeful that things can and will change? Leslie left us on a positive note with her view that the financial challenges of Illinois can be overcome with state legislators who are willing to work together to reach a consensus and compromise. Illinois is blessed with many assets such as:  transportation, a skilled work force, high quality education, abundant water, rich farmland, and a strong IT and advanced industry.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that the November elections will spark some positive change, one that will result in a workable plan to get our state back on track financially. It is possible. And it is up to all of us to let those in Springfield know that we expect nothing less. Hearing Comptroller Munger speak motivated me to call and email my state senator with my thoughts and concerns, and ask what I can do to help. You can do the same. Like it or not, we are all in this together!

Ask The Mayor

Responding to a resident question at a recent meeting in Village Hall.

Responding to a resident question at a recent meeting in Village Hall.

One of the things that I do on a regular basis as Village President is respond to questions from our residents. Hardly a day goes by when I am not interacting either by email, phone, traditional letter, or in person with someone who has a question, concern, complaint, compliment, or problem that they would like for me to solve. By and large, I enjoy working with the public and this desire to be of service was the main motivation for me to run for office. Of course, we all know there are individuals in every community who can be difficult and think nothing of treating elected officials with disdain. But the vast majority of residents that I hear from simply seek to understand, and it is satisfying to know that I can usually help. Below is an example of a recent inquiry I received, about the lack of sidewalks in Long Grove, and my response:

President Underwood,

I have lived in Long Grove my entire life, and I have not yet involved myself in the Village’s proceedings. Recently, though, I began to wonder why Long Grove does not have any public sidewalks or pathways. When I asked around, no one seemed to have a sufficient answer. Lincolnshire and Buffalo Grove, and many other surrounding towns, have sidewalks. Has there ever been talk of building sidewalks or pathways along the roads, or at least along the major roads, of Long Grove? I would be able to walk or bike to local stores if these were available, but as the roads are now, it is simply too dangerous to leave my driveway without driving. I believe our village would be much safer and healthier if we were provided with viable sidewalks along our roads.

I’m sure I don’t have to convince you of the benefits of public sidewalks. Implementing the sidewalks would probably entail massive construction operations at a large cost. What is the main factor restricting Long Grove from building sidewalks?

If possible I would love to be involved with any progress in this area.

Thank you for your time!”

My response:

“Dear (name withheld for privacy),

I am a big fan of the many walking trails in and around Long Grove, and I would love to see more sidewalks for connectivity. The reason you don’t find many public sidewalks is due to our minimal form of government set forth in 1956 when the village government was established. Long Grove provides only minimal services to the residents (no large scale water & sewer, police protection through the county sheriff, majority of roads are private or state & county owned, etc…) and in return for this we pay no Long Grove property tax. Since the village does not levy any property tax, our income is very limited and consists of mostly sales tax income, building permit fees, and small miscellaneous revenues from things like fines, vehicle stickers, and video gaming. We do receive some income through the state of Illinois such as motor fuel tax and LDGF funds, but these are very precarious given the state’s current financial woes. You are correct in your thoughts about the large costs of building sidewalks. At this stage, it presents a real challenge to a village with a very limited income. Your examples of Buffalo Grove and Lincolnshire both charge a local tax, and this allows them to have a larger municipal budget for infrastructure such as sidewalks. The village tried putting forward a referendum two years ago asking for a small tax earmarked to pay for maintenance for our public roads, and it was defeated by 80 percent of those who voted.

All that said, we do have many public walking paths that have been required in all new developments starting in the late 1980’s. The goal is to one day get all these neighborhood paths connected, and we have a village pathways committee that meets quarterly and helps to advance this. We have had engineering done on a sidewalk to run from Heron’s Creek forest preserve all the way to downtown Long Grove on the west side of Old McHenry Road. Fifteen years ago the cost of this was well over a million dollars, and we did get some partial funding awarded from the state through a grant that the village submitted. This grant money has since been withdrawn due to the efforts by the state of Illinois to cut costs. The village has been supportive of the state’s efforts to complete the widening and improvement of Route 22, and a sidewalk along the south side from Rt 83 to Old McHenry Road is in the plans. The village asked for this and will be committing 20 percent of the funds for this pathway. Because of financial reasons with the state, this project keeps getting pushed further into the future, last I heard we are looking at somewhere beyond 2020 for completion. Aptakisic Road is being widened by the county, and sidewalks have been included on both sides in the plan as requested by Long Grove. So the village is trying to get these improvements made when we can, as county and state roads through our village are widened.

One thing you could do to get involved is to attend a village board meeting, and let your thoughts be known during public comment. Every year the board sets an annual budget, and if enough residents speak up more money could be allocated to pathways. You could also join the pathways committee–we are always looking for additional community volunteers. I first joined this committee fifteen years ago and look at where I ended up! Seriously though, let me know if you are interested, and I promise no one will coerce you into running for Village President.

If you want to know more please give me a call and I will be happy to answer your questions. Thanks for reaching out to me and for your concern in making our community an even better place to live.

Sincerely,

Village President Underwood”

 

Like a Pig on a Spit

Adam Ullrich of the Village Tavern helped prepare for the annual Veteran's Pig Roast on July 24, 2016.

Adam Ullrich of the Village Tavern helped prepare for the annual Veterans Pig Roast held on Sunday, July 24, 2016.

As an elected official, there are times when I feel like a pig on a spit–slowly raked over the coals primarily for the enjoyment of others; because they can, because they’re bored, because it boosts their ego. Hey, I get the dynamic–why else would I read the celebrity gossip in People magazine? But in local politics this type of harassment, while entertaining, comes with a cumulative downside. The flaming controversy over a raffle held at the Village Tavern’s Veterans Pig Roast this past weekend is a perfect example.

Chip and Mary Ann Ullrich, owners of the Tavern, have generously hosted this event every summer for the past seven years as a way to publicly honor and thank our military veterans. Chip himself is a veteran from the Vietnam era. Widely promoted and well attended, this celebration is seen as a positive reflection on our community. The pig roast and entertainment are free for our veterans, and the festivities also feature a raffle with the proceeds to benefit local VFW Post 5151 and Midwest Veterans Closet charity organization. This raffle required an application for permission of the Village Board, which was unanimously granted. The Village is supportive of the intentions behind this event, as are the many residents who volunteer annually to make it a success. A win-win for all concerned.

However, a local woman has caused a stink this past week in her attempts to get the raffle invalidated on the grounds that it is illegal gambling. She has made numerous calls to village hall, resulting in a FOIA request for staff to comply with, as well as time from our village attorney, village employees, the Ullrichs and myself. All of this to get notoriety for herself and publicity for her cause. Long Grove seems to be an attractive place for those who like to seek attention by agitating over an emotional issue.

In today’s turbulent times we have no shortage of serious issues to become worked up about. But a raffle to benefit legitimate local veterans organizations is not one of them. This week, staff time (taxpayer funded) and volunteer time (a precious resource) has been used once again to satisfy the demands of community activists looking for recognition in the name of their cause. In my term as Village President I have seen this dynamic over and again with various local issues. When the dust settles, little is ever accomplished aside from the fact that the battle serves to chip away at our limited finances and morale just a tiny bit more. Why is this tolerated? Is it serving the greater good and righting injustice? Maybe not…..but perhaps somebody, somewhere, is enjoying the entertainment?