2 seek GOP nod for DuPage forest board presidency

A pair of familiar faces are hoping to take the top job on the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s board of commissioners next fall.

Current commission members Joe Cantore and Mary Lou Wehrli will face off in the March 18 primary, each Republican hoping to clinch the seat now held by longtime board President D. “Dewey” Pierotti Jr., who has occupied the position since 1994 and is stepping down at the end of his current term. No Democrats have filed to oppose the primary winner in the Nov. 4 general election.

A lifelong Naperville resident, Wehrli in December survived a challenge to some of the signatures on her nominating papers to remain on the ballot. She joined the forest preserve commission in 2012, after filling a wide variety of local and regional roles. Her experience in elected office includes six years on the Naperville Park District board, from 1999 to 2005.

Wehrli, 61, is married to Herb Nadelhoffer. In addition to her commissioner duties, she does sale and design work for Wehrli Resources, and property management for Wellstead Management.

Cantore, 42, was elected to the forest preserve board in 2002. He previously served for four years on the Oakbrook Terrace City Council. He lives in Oak Brook with his wife and the couple’s infant son and works in real estate management, along with his work on the commission.

Because the commission presidency comes with considerable power and a substantial paycheck, and because it has been held for a long while by the same individual, The Sun asked both candidates to compare and contrast their management style with Pierotti’s. Here is how they responded.

Cantore

My management style is one of inclusiveness. The DuPage Forest Preserve District has always been an organization that other similar minded and missioned organizations have looked to as an example. I want to continue that by taking into consideration the input from commissioners, staff and the public and make decisions that are in the best interests of the people of DuPage County.

One of the other important components of any successful management style is the ability to build a consensus with the other members of the board. With over 11 years of experience on the commission, I have had the experience of building a consensus with other commissioners on issues dealing with my district and theirs.

As Forest Preserve President, I believe I can have a greater impact in accomplishing the District’s mission by helping establish policies and practices that would ensure sustainability for future generations. The mission and vision of the forest preserve district is one that personally resonates. Put simply, I love the Forest Preserve.

Wehrli

My management style differs greatly in that I am a participative leader. I am inclusive. I believe in active listening and informed collaboration. I look to the strengths of each Commissioner as we work together to bring cost efficient, desired services to the residents of DuPage County. I actively work to bring partnerships together. I am present. I do not take a pension. I do not make political appointments. I will not put my name on forest preserve signs.

 

Whoever prevails in the election, the winner will see a significant pay raise. Pierotti currently receives salary and benefits that total $149,577 annually. The base pay for commissioners, whose position is designed to require no fewer than 20 hours per week, is $53,500. Including her benefits, Wehrli currently receives $74,236 per year. Cantore’s annual pay and benefits total $80,710.

 

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Name: Joseph Cantore

Age: 42

Home town: Oak Brook

Current profession: Real Estate Management; Forest Preserve District commissioner

Family: Wife and newborn son.

Publicly elected offices currently or formerly held: Forest Preserve District of DuPage County commissioner, 11 years; Oakbrook Terrace alderman, 1998-2002

Additional appointments, memberships and other local affiliations, past and present: chairman, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County Recreation Committee; Oakbrook Terrace Planning and Zoning Commission member; Conservation Foundation member; Illinois Arborist Association member; Marmion Academy, volunteer teacher; volunteer police officer; Meals on Wheels volunteer; Visitation Parish, Elmhurst, member.

There has been talk of re-assimilating the FPDDC into the jurisdiction of the County Board. In your view, what are some of the functions the District serves now that might be hindered by reincorporation?

Consolidating taxing bodies that duplicate services makes sense, saves taxpayer money, and improves services. Where possible, government should seek to streamline efforts. However, the concept can be taken to an extreme. Consolidating the Forest Preserve District back into the county is an example. The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County has a completely different mission and vision than the county; the Forest Preserve District is about conservation, the county is about development. Merging the two will create conflicts that would jeopardize the ability of a single board to properly represent the interests of DuPage County residents.

I think the dialogue my fellow commissioners and I have had with the other members of the county board along with our representatives in Springfield have demonstrated our strong opposition to consolidation of the Forest Preserve District. We have also concurrently engaged our lobbyist downstate to assist in getting our message to our state legislators.

The other component of this involves people and organizations like the Conservation

Foundation, Sierra Club, and other like-minded groups getting involved to discourage this initiative and change some the hearts and minds of lawmakers, showcasing the positive contributions that have taken place and letting them know how far all of our conservation efforts will be pushed back if the consolidation initiative is passed.

Public engagement is the final part of the puzzle. I truly believe that the vast majority of the taxpayers and voters would be outraged if the true facts and figures of the consolidation of the Forest Preserve back in to the county was presented to a broader audience. The people who are intimately involved with this issue are all “inside baseball” so to speak, so the public tends to hear whichever side is louder. Consolidation sounds great. Until you hear the other side of the story. It’s ALL of our job to get the “other side of the story” out there.

In what areas is there room for improvement at the District?

There is always room for improvement. The District has made huge strides in many different areas during the last 11 years during my tenure. Our focus is gradually shifting away from large acquisitions to smaller acquisitions and we are more focused on really taking care of and paying attention to our existing holdings. We are also focused on smaller acquisitions that work with our existing holdings that provide improvements like trail links, etc.

I think there is also room for improvement when it comes to community engagement and involvement. Everyone at the Forest Preserve, from the commissioners to the staff to the volunteers, are proud of what the District has accomplished and want the public to know about the great things going on here. We also want to know what the residents of DuPage County think and what they want to see happen in their forest preserves, now and in the future.

Over the past years, the District has also taken many positive steps to improve transparency and accessibility to what the Forest Preserve has to offer, ensuring we are on the right path to what the residents of DuPage County expect from their forest preserve district. Two examples of this are the Forest Preserve website, with its transparency portal and all of the other features connected to it, and our quarterly evening meetings, which give the public who cannot normally attend a day meeting because of work commitments the opportunity to attend a Forest Preserve meeting.

I will also continue to actively work on increasing public participation in our preserves and programs. I believe our forest preserves are valuable resources that ultimately enhance the quality of life for all DuPage County residents. Studies are showing that the more time people spend outdoors, the more creative and productive they become. Stress is also significantly reduced when people spend time in nature. Any resident of DuPage County can benefit from our forest preserves, and the best part is, they have this tremendous resource right in their own backyard!

 

Name: Mary Lou Wehrli

Age: 61

Home town: Naperville

Current profession: Wehrli Resources – sales, design; Wellstead Management – property management; Forest Preserve District commissioner

Family: husband Herb Nadelhoffer

Elected offices currently or previously held: Forest Preserve District of DuPage County commissioner, 2012-present; Naperville Park District commissioner, 1999-2005

Additional appointments, memberships and other local affiliations, past and present: Naperville Parks Foundation director; Forest Preserve District of DuPage County Historic Structures Committee; Naperville Park District board president; Westside Home Owners Association president.

There has been talk of re-assimilating the FPDDC into the jurisdiction of the County Board. In your view, what are some of the functions the District serves now that might be hindered by reincorporation?

Dedication to the mission of the forest preserve would diminish.

Financial assets would be redirected away from the mission of the forest preserve district.

Stewardship of 25,000 acres of forest preserve assets would weaken.

Land swapping and urban encroachments would become more possible. In the past, the county board put landfills on and built roads through forest preserve property.

Education would become less of a priority.

Cultural assets would have challenging futures.

In what areas is there room for improvement at the District?

The biggest improvement has been hiring the new Executive Director, Arnie Biondo. Other improvements underway include: the Commission is working towards its FIRST Strategic Plan and FIRST Capital Improvement Plan. Cultural resources are undergoing a much needed policy evaluation. Human resource and budget efficiencies present room for improvement. Online registration and web streaming of public meetings is also in the works! There is also room for improvement in how the District communicates with customers.

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