The following information was provided by Joanna Sojka. Patch provides a platform for candidates to share their messages, and does not give endorsements. To share your message with readers for free, add it to the Local Voices section on Des Plaines Patch.
Name: Joanna Sojka
Position sought: Seventh Ward Alderman of Des Plaines
Campaign contact information. Please include any or all of the following: website, email address, phone number, Facebook page, Twitter account, mailing address, etc.
Email: Joanna@joannasojka.com (contact form also available via website).
Family Include as much info as you like (names, ages, number of children, etc.): Unmarried; no children.
Education Include degree(s) and school(s):
Northwestern University BA—Economics, Political Science, International Studies
Northwestern University MS—Administration & Social Policy
Occupation: University business and finance administrator
Political Party: None/Independent
Official name of your campaign committee: N/A
Previous Elected or Appointed Offices: N/A
Is there any additional experience you believe qualifies you for the position?
I work as a business and finance administrator at the University of Illinois where I use my skills and knowledge to help the University navigate a tough fiscal environment while it strives to fulfill its mission of providing a top-rate college education to its students. I believe this experience has prepared me to help Des Plaines keep its spending in check without decreasing the level of services to its residents.
What would your priorities be if elected to this office?
My top priority as Alderman would be providing the Seventh Ward residents with open, transparent access to city hall. The Seventh Ward is spread out geographically and very diverse. We have single-family homes, townhouses, duplexes, rental apartments, and condominiums; some neighborhoods are older while others are still being developed. As alderman, I would make it my priority to be aware of all the different needs of these neighborhoods and their residents. Along with regular Ward meetings, I would make myself accessible through a webpage dedicated to Seventh Ward issues. I would also disseminate a newsletter to keep residents updated on the most important happenings in city hall. Finally, I would solicit input and ideas from residents via social media and the Seventh Ward webpage. This is all in addition to monthly ward meetings and being available to meet in person. Any alderman that does not prioritize openness, transparency, and accessibility is doing their constituents a disservice.
Other priorities that I would focus on, if elected, include:
- Fostering a sound and stable fiscal environment by restraining spending and paying off outstanding debt.
- Keeping local taxes as low as possible without decreasing the level of services.
- Using casino revenue to pay down the City’s debt and toward infrastructure projects.
- Revitalizing Metropolitan Square by breaking down bureaucratic barriers for prospective business owners.
- Working with Police and neighborhood volunteers to keep our streets safe.
What are the most important issues facing Des Plaines and what would you do as alderman to address them?
One of the biggest issues facing Des Plaines is how casino revenue should be spent. I believe it is a big issue because the current city council can determine the guidelines for how this money should be spent in the future. Irresponsible policies that are put in place now could negatively affect Des Plaines for years to come.
Alternatively, a sound policy of limiting the use of casino revenue would restrain future City Council members from using it toward the operating budget or wasteful special projects. I am an advocate of sound fiscal policy that focuses on paying down the city's debt (another major issue for Des Plaines), controlling spending, and making cuts where it is prudent. One of the biggest cuts we can make is eliminating the interest that the city pays on its outstanding debt, which is why I support limiting the use of casino revenue toward paying down the debt. The lower the debt, the less we pay in interest, and the lesser the burden on residents.
What is one of the most important issues facing residents in your ward, and what would you do, if elected, to address it?
I believe there need to be better channels for communication between the Alderman and the constituents of the Seventh Ward. Just this past weekend, I was walking around parts of the former First Ward and dozens of households were surprised to hear that they were now part of the Seventh Ward. They also expressed concern that they were not informed of this change by the First and Seveth Ward aldermen.
I believe that all issues facing the Seventh Ward can be better addressed if channels for communication between the residents and the alderman are open and accessible. That is why I consider openness, accessibility, and transparency to be the most important issue—it is the gateway for reporting and addressing all other issues. I outline how I plan to achieve this in one of the above questions.
I have already used my campaign website to get feedback on some of the issues facing the Seventh Ward. Combined with the time I have spent walking around the Ward and talking to residents, I can say that some of the most commonly mentioned issues are:
- The need for more communication from the Alderman
- Continuing to push for a fire station north of Central
- Addressing the red light camera on Golf and Rand
- Making sure that a cell phone tower is not installed in Cumberland Estates
- Working with the Park District to make sure residents’ opinions are taken into consideration in park beautification projects.
How do you believe gaming tax revenue collected by Des Plaines should be spent? What should it be spent on?
Gaming tax revenue should be used only toward paying down the city’s debt (less debt means less interest to pay off and more savings for tax payers) and toward much-needed infrastructure projects. Because the amount of revenue collected can fluctuate greatly from year to year, it should not under any circumstances enter into the city’s operating budget, nor should it be used for projects that will benefit special interests. The most responsible and equitable way to use gaming tax revenue is toward paying down debt and infrastructure improvements because all residents would benefit from this use.
There have been a number of proposals to expand gaming in Illinois. If elected, what would you do to protect Des Plaines’ interests with respect to gaming?
If elected, I would practice caution and restraint in making decisions to avoid prematurely supporting any action that would not be beneficial to Des Plaines. The cost of hiring lobbying firms would have to be weighed against the benefits. I would need to make myself familiar with the actual proposals, the threats to Des Plaines’ interests, and the various options that are available at the time. I cannot say what I would do without knowing all the facts.
The city has $58.3 million in debt in the capital improvements fund, the tax increment financing funds and the water and sewer fund. Approximately $4.4 million in the capital improvements fund will become callable in 2013. If elected, would you support refinancing this debt or paying it off immediately, and why?
If elected, I would review the city’s books and consult with city staff (the experts on this matter) to gain a deeper understanding of the pros and cons of paying off the debt immediately versus refinancing the debt. Assuming there are no extenuating circumstances of which I am currently unaware, I would advocate paying off the debt sooner rather than later if the city’s reserves allow it. Debt breeds interest payments that Des Plaines residents will have to pay off at some point. Paying off debt brings savings through the elimination of future interest payments. This is why I advocate using gaming revenue toward paying down the debt.
Downtown Des Plaines has a low occupancy rate in the retail spaces in the Metropolitan Square development. If you are elected alderman, what would you do to address this?
I do not advocate manipulating the market by artificially reducing rental rates or offering tax incentives to businesses. These methods might entice a business to move into Metropolitan Square, but they do not guarantee a business will stay. When rental rates go up again or tax incentives expire, the business could move right back out. Furthermore, homeowners would most likely bear the cost of these market manipulations.
To entice businesses to Metropolitan Square, I support breaking down bureaucratic barriers that might discourage potential business owners. I believe information and city staff should be easily accessible to aid prospective businesses in their decision to set up shop in Des Plaines. The process should be outlined step by step and be as seamless as possible so that prospective business owners know exactly what they need to do and who they can call for help. It is not easy to encourage new business growth in the current market, but the city should do everything it can so as not to discourage it.
The Des Plaines Police Department is involved with a number of lawsuits, including, most recently, accusations that a former commander falsified records. If elected alderman, what would you do to address the litigation? What would you do to gain the public’s trust in the Des Plaines Police Department?
If elected, the first thing I would do is research—meet with city staff, current Aldermen, and the police force to figure out what went wrong. Where was the oversight? Where did the breakdown in communication occur? What controls could have prevented this from happening? What is the current relationship between city council and Des Plaines Police? Getting answers to these questions is crucial in order to figure out the most effective way to move forward.
I believe the most effective way to regain the public’s trust is to highlight what went wrong and what is being done to fix it. Laying out a plan that addresses the above questions and publicly sticking to it would help assure residents that city council is addressing the issue and keeping the constituents informed.
Why would you do a better job representing Des Plaines than your opponent?
I am the candidate advocating accessibility, transparency, and openness between city council and the constituents. I am the candidate that will make sure residents of the Seventh Ward are not only aware of the issues that are being discussed in city hall, but the candidate that will reach out to them through various channels of communication to get their input on matters that affect all residents of Des Plaines. I am the candidate that has made communication a priority and will thus make myself accountable to the residents of the Seventh Ward.
I am also the candidate with a clear vision for Des Plaines. I am not focused on one or two issues; I am offering a broad perspective on how to approach the decisions for which city council is responsible. Issues change from week to week, year to year, and street to street. The elected Alderman will hold office for four years and the issues that are important today will likely not be at the forefront a year or two from now. The residents of the Seventh Ward need an Alderman that can make sense of a variety of issues and address changing priorities over the next four years. I am the candidate that has the skills, the practical experience, and the passion to help shape Des Plaines into a truly great city to raise a family, open a business, or just visit on the weekend. I am the candidate that is excited to serve Des Plaines!