We interviewed newly-elected DuPage County Forest Preserve Commissioner, Shannon Burns about her candidacy, election and vision for Forest Preserve Department.
DPDC: So what made you want to run for Forest Preserve Commissioner?
SB: Interestingly, I never really thought about politics but I had been a community organizer right out of college, so I was familiar with community issues. When I got married we bought property that borders one of the Forest Preserves. At one point the Forest Preserve Dept. decided to put up a 26,000 sq. ft. maintenance facility right up against our property. You don't buy property next to the Forest Preserve to look at an enormous garage. The community protested and the Forest Preserve Commissioners wouldn't talk to us at all. They didn't have any official unbiased environmental impact study. We had people who were qualified to do them and offered to do one for free and we got no response at all. I thought, "this is not how elected officials are supposed to act." So I decided to run.
I ran in 2010 and I stuck to issues and didn't go negative and though I lost, I learned a lot from the experience. Then in 2011 I was accepted into the Illinois Women's Institute for Leadership which is an intensive program for Democratic women to learn political leadership skills. It lasted nine months and I learned a bunch more and ran again in 2012. This time I won. In the meantime I got certified as a Woodland Steward from the Morton Arboretum which means that I am the only member of the Board with formal land management training.
DPDC: What is the current political composition of the Forest Preserve Dept? Are you the only Democrat?
SB: The Forest Preserve Department became independent from the County Board in 2002 and since then I am the first Democrat. The County Board was entirely Republican from the Kennedy era until very recently.
DPDC: What do you bring to the table and what specific issues will you focus on now that you're Forest Preserve Commissioner?
SB: I have training and experience in helping people reach consensus. I have an MBA. I managed a large hospital. I have a doctorate in adult education, so I understand how to bring people in. And I'm a generally cheerful person. I believe that the members of the Forest Preserve leadership should be well-rounded.
As far as issues, there are budget issues that will need to be addressed in the next few years. At almost every turn, there are people trying to get their hands on little chunks of the Forest Preserve. I can speak to why it's important to keep the land in the Forest Preserve. We're going to have to decide on historic preservation of buildings on Forest Preserve property in the near future. There's a bridge that is in the works over County Farm Rd that once complete will form a bicycle trail from the northern part of the county all the way south of Naperville. These are some of the specific issues.
DPDC: What does your election mean for the residents of DuPage Co.?
SB: I think it means that DuPage County is increasingly unwilling to just vote for Republicans because that's just what you do in this county. Residents of DuPage are sending a big message that we want someone who will do the job, not just a party label. What I hope it will mean is that I will get the job done, avoid party lines and bring money into the county to preserve the land. The best thing we can do is forget party labels and just get down to business.