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In an unusual local occurrence, six candidates are vying to fill three open seats on the Deerfield Park District Board of Commissioners.
Incumbent members Gil Antokal, Greg Lapin, and Rick Patinkin are running against Deborah “Debbie” Serota, Michael Brown, and Joel Seeskin.
Early voting began March 22, and Election Day will take place April 6.
Michael Brown, a senior IT project manager, has lived in Deerfield since 1994.
Joel Seeskin, an operations manager, has lived in Deerfield since 2008. His past involvement in the community includes serving as a member of the Mitchell Park Advisory Committee.
Deborah “Debbie” Serota, a program director, grew up in Deerfield and moved back in 2019. Her past involvement in the community includes serving as a member of the Mitchell Park Advisory Committee and the Deerfield School District 109 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.
Rick Patinkin is the president of the Deerfield Park District Board of Commissioners. An attorney at law, Patinkin has been a commissioner for 24 years. In addition to his work with the Deerfield Park District, he has previously served on the Congregation of B’nai Tikvah of Deerfield, Deerfield Public Schools District 109 Caucus and Bicycle Path and Northwest Quadrant Task Force. Over 12 consecutive years, he managed or coached teams on the Deerfield Youth Baseball and Softball Association.
Gregory Lapin, an engineer, has been a Deerfield Park District Board Commissioner for 12 years. His past involvement includes being a member of the Village of Deerfield Cable and Telecommunication Commission and Village of Deerfield Emergency Services and Disaster Agency.
Gil Antokal, a mortgage banker, has been a Deerfield Park District Board Commissioner for 20 years. His past involvement includes being a member of the Deerfield Community Relations Commission, Deerfield Youth Council, Deerfield Quarterly Community Blood Drive and a commissioner for the Deerfield Youth Baseball and Softball.
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted Park District revenues. What action does the board need to take to respond to those realities?
Brown: While fee-based revenue is down, tax revenue remains the same. It’s important to defer “wish list” projects and re-prioritize projects that will help the community recover in the short term. As a member of Deerfield Family Theater (a Park District program), we are working on creative ways to provide a great production with reduced budget and smaller anticipated audiences. A similar exercise for each department or program is important.
Seeskin: Fee-based revenues were down dramatically in 2020 due to declining enrollment related to COVID-19. First, the Board should carefully vet all planned capital expenditures. Second, the Board should encourage new types of programming that can be done online and can be for residents of all ages. Lastly, the Board can enact policies that require moving traditionally indoor programming outside to the greatest extent possible. Deerfield residents deserve nothing less.
Serota: While the board should prioritize continuity of the high-quality programming that has always been enjoyed by residents, it is of utmost importance that this be done in a fiscally responsible manner. The board should work with the staff to identify any inefficiencies, and what funds can be reallocated, to cover any shortfalls. The board should take all possible measures to ensure that no additional burden falls on taxpayers.
Patinkin: Nothing! With vision in budgeting and long-range planning, and our remarkable staff’s ability to adapt, the loss of approximately $3.75 million in 2020 revenues resulted in a net loss of under $44,000, through reduction/deferral of budgeted expenses and capital projects. Notwithstanding, we still completed significant capital projects and were one of the few districts in Chicagoland to open a pool, day camps and programs at multiple facilities.
Lapin: One year ago the Park Board responded to the reduced revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We furloughed part-time employees for one month and delayed some planned capital improvement projects for 2020, balancing our budget despite loss of revenues. Our budget for 2021 anticipated further losses. It was balanced and approved by the Board in November 2020. There is no other response needed until the 2022 budget.
Antokal: The Park Board has been very proactive in addressing the fiscal realities of the past year. Adjustments have been made to the long-term Capital Plan to move projects that could be moved a little further out in the plan. Even though 2020 was a challenge we finished the year very close to our budget. Similar budgeting, drawing on experience and paying close attention to how fiscal 2021 might turn out, produced plans that are realistic and properly responsive.
What role should the Deerfield Park District play in local sustainability and environmental efforts?
Brown: The Park District is perfectly positioned to work with schools, GoGreen Deerfield and even the new waste management company for Deerfield in spearheading new classes in recycling and conservation, identifying opportunities for solar installation or green roofs, and creating cross-generational learning opportunities to better our community.
Seeskin: The Park District Board should be a local leader with regard to sustainability and environmental initiatives. Renewable energy solutions like solar power are great for our environment and provide a ROI on taxpayer dollars. There should be regular environmental audits and goals set towards becoming more carbon neutral. Investment in educational environmental programming should also be a major component of the Park District’s mission.
Serota: The Deerfield Park District should lead the community in sustainability and environmental efforts. They should work closely with organizations like Go Green Deerfield to champion and model sustainable practices for the community. For example, as Commissioner I’d advocate for initiatives like solar energy being utilized on Park District properties, or green roofs being planted on Park District roofs.
Patinkin: A leading role. The District has an ongoing and yearly reviewed five-year strategic plan. Please visit the District’s website, click on “About Us,” scroll down to and click on “Strategic Plan” and then scroll through Strategy 4 “Going Green/Environmental Stewardship” on pages 23-33 to see all of our objectives in this regard and the status of, and our success in, meeting those ongoing objectives.
Lapin: Park Districts set an example for environmental efforts. For years sustainable items have been included in our development plans, such as recycling receptacles, permeable pavers, rain gardens, removal of invasive plants, reuse of rainwater in park bathrooms, riverbank stabilization and, where possible, native plantings that don’t require chemicals, watering or regular mowing. Future planned projects include installation of solar panels. Informational signage educates the public about sustainability efforts.
Antokal: Continue the ongoing Board policies. Over the past few years, some of the implemented ideas include full park renovations, streambank stabilization and restoration of over 100,000 square feet of wetland area in the Briarwood Nature Area. Continuing the improvement of walking trails and all established through fiscal prudence.
What programs or amenities that are not currently offered would you like to see introduced?
Brown: I’d like to see the Park District work closely with Commonwealth Edison, AT&T or Comcast to install Wi-Fi routers in and around the parks. Additionally, many of the parks have unobstructed rooflines that can be used to install solar panels to help service lighting or other electrical needs within the parks.
Seeskin: An inclusive Park District encourages public comment and ideas from the community. During my campaign, I’ve heard many ideas from Deerfield community members that all merit a degree of due diligence. Wi-Fi in our parks, creating additional bike paths, synthetic grass fields, etc. I’ve learned very quickly that the Park District’s greatest assets are Deerfielders themselves and together, we can all work to improve the quality of our service offering.
Serota: I would like to start the process to improve on the offerings currently available by engaging community members. While I understand that the board has historically conducted surveys and offered advisory committees, I have heard from many who have participated in these forums that they did not feel their voices and ideas were truly heard. Bringing new ideas to the table will improve our Park District for the entire community.
Patinkin: A museum and education center in collaboration with the Park District, Deerfield Historical Society, and other bodies politic within the village, including the Village of Deerfield, the Library, Districts 109 and 113 and West Deerfield Township, which will allow our community to acknowledge and own our past and move forward in reinforcing together that we are a welcoming, open and inclusive community, where racism and inequality have no place.
Lapin: More outdoor activities in the winter. Currently, we have popular outdoor ice skating rinks. I would like to add cross-country skiing, such as along the cart path at the golf course. This would require equipment to pack the snow on the paths. We would also look into the rental of equipment to entice people who are new to the sport to try it.
Antokal: To gather ongoing information as to what is important to the patrons of the Park District the Board has promoted, solicited and encouraged members of the community to join the standing advisory committees. I would direct those that are interested in a much more comprehensive analysis of this to our website.
Do you believe communities of color are equally serviced at the Park District? If not, what will you do to guarantee that communities of color have equal access to opportunities offered by the Park District?
Brown: I believe communities of color are equally serviced by our Park District. That said, the tone and approach taken in several public forums regarding the renaming of Floral Park could certainly make those in a community of color wonder if they were truly welcomed in the community. Programs and facilities should be planned with an extra eye towards all members of our community, regardless of race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
Seeskin: I will use my voice as a Park Commissioner to pursue policies that promote fairness, equity, and accountability, values that I believe align closely with our community. While I am not currently aware of any instances where communities of color were served inequitably, if as a member of the Board I became aware of facts that changed my understanding, I would let my values be my guide.
Serota: While I believe communities of color are equally welcomed to utilize the amenities of the park, I do not believe they are equitably so. It is important to understand that while in more recent times there may not be explicit exclusion of people of color, there has not been explicit inclusion either. I would advocate that a diversity, equity, and inclusion plan be integrated into the next strategic planning cycle.
Patinkin: Yes, all Park District programs and facilities are nondiscriminatory and inclusive so that all people have fair and just access to the benefits of high-quality local parks and recreation.
Lapin: There are no barriers to using parks in Deerfield. Preferred availability to programs is based on residency. The Deerfield community is 89% white. The relatively few people of color who reside in Deerfield have the same access to parks and programs as any other resident. Additional diversity comes from families of students at Trinity International University, who can attend programs; we supply scholarships for those who cannot afford the fees.
Antokal: Without question, the Park District serves all communities equally and with respect. The Board is very proud of our record in this area and invite those interested to the incumbent’s website as well as the Park District website for a more expansive description of what is offered and available.
What will your single biggest priority be over the next four years?
Brown: I’d like to see the Park District play a leadership role in developing the Deerfield historical museum established as part of the renaming of Floral Park. This would also be a great opportunity to bring in some of our middle and high school teachers into the process of curriculum and exhibit development. Sustainability projects can also foster partnership with GoGreen Deerfield and science teachers in our district.
Seeskin: Helping the Park District and the greater community navigate pandemic, and hopefully post-pandemic, life. This means supporting an active community by encouraging outdoor activities, being a good steward of our tax dollars, listening to our residents, developing a robust pandemic preparedness plan, supporting new programming ideas and practices, and promoting intergovernmental cooperation. COVID-19 changed everything — no stone should be left unturned if it means helping our community recover and grow.
Serota: The single most pressing issue facing our community is the need to heal from the collective trauma of the pandemic over the past year. The community will be looking for the Park District to begin to offer more exercise and wellness activities, opportunities for socialization for our seniors at the Patty Turner Center, and enrichment activities for our kids.
Patinkin: The completion, review and implementation of the impending communitywide attitude and interest resident survey to provide the programs, services and facilities desired by the community, in the existing facilities which should continue to be maintained in their optimum condition and enhanced or supplemented, when necessary, in a fiscally responsible manner. This survey will be designed to address ongoing Covid protocols and hopefully, no longer needed Covid protocols.
Lapin: I have been working on solar panels to save money on electricity and educate the public about their advantages, to convince others to implement solar at home. The first place in the district that would benefit is the Sachs Recreation Center. Its electric bill can exceed $10,000 per month and it has two large south-facing roof surfaces. If successful at Sachs, I will examine installing panels in other district locations.
Antokal: There is not just one but the current most pressing priority is COVID-19. The virus has impacted all parts of the Park District; golf course, pools, rec center, Patty Turner Center, summer camps, preschool and after school programs. So, getting back to more normal operations seamlessly and updating our parks and playgrounds per our strategic plan. We will continue to engage the community, maintain our natural resources while maintaining our fiscal strength and long-term stability.
What do you believe you will offer to the Deerfield and Deerfield Park District community that your opponents will not?
Brown: It’s important not only to have advisory committees and a forum for input from community members, but to truly listen to those voices and give community members ownership in helping shape our community. We’ve spoken with residents on several issues who felt the current board simply didn’t value the input being provided and/or had its own agenda on these items. The perception remains and has soured residents on several projects.
Seeskin: When facing the kind of issues our Park District is facing on COVID-19, racial justice, and inclusivity, I will offer a fresh perspective that doesn’t currently exist on the board. I will develop a plan to make sure we are more prepared for the next pandemic. I will look to rename Mitchell Pool and I will encourage community input in the development of ideas and capital projects.
Serota: I appreciate the leadership the incumbent candidates have provided over their collective 56 years of service. However, the values of the Deerfield community have shifted over that time and it is time for new leadership who can commit to progress, and who can represent the interests of currently underrepresented residents. There is currently no representation of parents with younger children on the board, and I seek to provide that voice.
Patinkin: 24 years as an elected Park District Commissioner preceded by 10 years on Park District Advisory Committees provide me with a thorough knowledge of the District’s history and operation. This is coupled with the fact that as the owner of a business for 33 years I have firsthand knowledge, experience, understanding, and appreciation of the economic and management concerns of running a business in a fiscally responsible manner.
Lapin: My considerable experience with parks in Deerfield: 20 years with DYBA and 12 years on the Park Board. I serve on the Board of the Illinois Association of Park Districts, seeing what other parks in Illinois are doing, and the Board of the Illinois Trust, seeing the best ways for public bodies to invest funds safely for additional income. A former Director of Engineering, I am skilled in problem-solving.
Antokal: The years of experience and professional approach to all things Park District. Keeping a finger on the pulse of the community as a whole to understand what is important to all of the patrons of the Park District; from young to older adult and what interests they may have, from the pools to the golf course to the rec center to the summer camps to the Patty Turner Center and much, much more.
What would you like voters to know about you?
Brown: I’m excited at the opportunity to bring some “why not” thinking to the Park District. Leadership is about facilitation — clearing the path for those who have a passion for a new project or idea, whether it’s inclusion and accessibility, sustainability and green initiatives, or even a new class at the Park District. There are so many hidden talents in our community. We all win when those talents are shared.
Seeskin: I am a husband and father of three children. I was active in youth sports as a kid and my first real job was at my local Park District center. I’ve seen the difference that an inclusive Park District can make because it made a difference in mine. I would be honored to serve and will work diligently to make a positive difference in the daily lives of our community.
Serota: Growing up in Deerfield, I spent my childhood playing soccer at Brickyards Park and softball at Jewett Park, attending Park District summer camps and enrichment classes, and meeting friends at Mitchell Pool. Moving back here as an adult, my wife and I intentionally looked for a house walkable to the many parks in the community. I look forward to contributing to the future of our parks as Park District Commissioner.
Patinkin: My lifelong commitment to social responsibility in general, and parks, recreation, nature, and the environment, in particular. For 37 years as a Deerfield resident, I have chosen to fulfill this commitment through ongoing volunteer service within the community and especially through service to the Deerfield Park District. My children grew up in DPD programs/facilities and I am now overjoyed to participate in them with my Deerfield grandchildren as well.
Lapin: I am proud of my part in the continuous improvement of the Deerfield Park District over the years, all with the minimum necessary increases in taxes that are usually below inflation. To see the very impressive list of accomplishments at the district during my tenure, go to ParkBoardIncumbents.com. I hope the voters see fit to allow me to help continue that trend.
Antokal: I am an unabashed Parkie. I love the Deerfield Park District and what it provides to the entire community. I have been a resident of Deerfield, for over 42 years. Aside from my own involvement, my children and now grandchildren have participated and are still participating in Park District activities and programs. In my 20 years on the Park Board, I have remained engaged, informed and open-minded. I am passionate, committed and will continue to work toward the best interests of all of the patrons of the Park District.
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