By Michael Romain
On February 28, 2013, I interviewed then-Trustee Edwenna Perkins as she was gearing up for the last leg of her mayoral campaign. Quite honestly, as she was talking about her ambitions and plans for the Village, I didn’t think that she’d actually have the opportunity to implement them. She was a long shot candidate back then. Now, with her swearing- in less than a week away, this interview takes on an entirely new significance. Perhaps the public can use this as a tool (albeit limited) for gauging her effectiveness as mayor over the next four years:
How did you get started in politics?
I’ve been around for a while, but I never had a desire to run for office. However, I’m a person that follows the Lord. He told me to run […] My mother loved this town and she did everything she could to uplift it. For some reason, out of the four of us — three girls and a boy — I wound up with the political side of my mother. So, in 2000 I ran for trustee and won. I won again in 2004. Then I ran as an independent from 2004 to 2008. In 2009 or 2010, someone challenged my candidacy and [I was put off the ballot].
In your campaign literature, you talk about a $6 million surplus the Village had that was subsequently squandered. Explain this.
In 2000, the town went into receivership, which is when the state comes in and takes over. Prior to 2000, we had a finance director who mishandled the Village’s money. When I became trustee in 2000, I convinced then-Mayor Ralph Connor to sue both the finance director and the firm she worked for. We sued and, in 2004, won $4 million. We got an additional $2 million in tax revenue when an auto dealership came to town. So that’s $6 million. Citizens just have to FOIA the budget [the Freedom of Information Act allows the public to access and retrieve pertinent government documents].
Before 2004, Maywood had $6 million in the bank and AAA credit. Now, we’re in the hole $4 million and our bills are late. Chicago has us on a payment plan for water. Allied [the firm that collects garbage] put us on a payment plan. There is $1.6 million owed to the Village by businesses and citizens. If we collected that, we can get out from under the money we owe for water. The only thing that is supposed to come out of the water fund is water. But [past Village Manager] Jason Ervin came in and decided to pay salaries out of the water fund. When he decided to do this, the Board should’ve said no, but they didn’t.
For eight years, this administration has been recklessly giving away TIF money. The abandoned Widow’s Home on 1st and Lake was bought by a guy for $225,000, but the Village gave him $800,000 out of TIF money. My request to them [the Mayor and trustees involved] was to get a real estate appraiser to appraise the property and then pay that appraisal price. I asked for the name of the person who brokered the deal, but I did not get a name.
The Village gave Pronto’s Cleaners on 1st and Lake $1 million for their property, which they tore down. They were supposed to put condos on it. That never happened, but the developer got over $75,000. Nothing happened. This is money spent at the Board’s discretion. The Mayor and the Board have given away money and the Village has gotten nothing in return.
So how is the TIF process supposed to function?
You have a developer come in who wants to develop something. He comes in with a proposal and the board makes a decision, but prior to that the board of trustees should conduct a TIF review. The TIF review board consists of representatives from the schools, park district, library, etc. Each representative comes to the meeting and the Village gives a presentation to the review board . The review board is supposed to listen and then make comments, because the TIF money comes off the top. It’s not free money. It’s coming from your taxes, but it doesn’t come in your general fund. It’s set aside for blighted areas.
But Maywood, like Chicago, has spent TIF money on areas that aren’t blighted. In Chicago, the people sat there and let Daley do [things like set aside TIF money for the Loop] and they were wrong! We let the current board of trustees in there and they gave away money to 5th Avenue. That’s not a blighted area, but we let people over-charge us for property thinking they would replace it with something else. The board gave one man money to develop 1st and Lake and he sat on it for three years and put nothing on it! He’s a millionaire!
What do you think explains the lack of public knowledge about local government issues?
Why don’t most people know about this stuff? Because we don’t have a newspaper. Most of our seniors are not computer savvy (and I’m one of them). People don’t attend the board meetings. Less than seven people on average attend on any given night, not counting the department heads who have to attend).
What will be your main priorities as mayor?
As mayor, I’d get all of our TIF audits up to date. There hasn’t been a TIF audit since 2007, I believe. To be certain of the last time the Village completed a TIF audit, FOIA-request this information. Anyhow, I’d get our audits. Then I’d get a sufficient board review process in place. Once those things are in place, we’ll proceed to move forward on economic development, but it will only be after that period. Unless we know how much money we can spend, we can’t plan. You can’t spend what you don’t have. We don’t even know how much we’re behind.
If elected, what will be your investment strategy?
We have business that want to come to Maywood, so I’ll be inviting all of those people to the table. I don’t have personal interests I have to cater to, so they won’t have to go through all of that. I also want to set up an entrepreneur’s workshop to teach young and middle-age and old people to be entrepreneurs. But I’ll have a place for them to come learn. I’ll teach small businesses how to get bonded. This is why some black men can’t get jobs. They can’t get bonded. And they don’t have the material to know how to do this. So we should bring them into the Boys and Girls Club and show them how to do this.
Why didn’t you pitch this idea to the Board while you were a Trustee?
I’m not on the team. I’m an independent. I don’t have a broker’s business or an insurance business. I’m here for the people and our time to rise up out of the ashes. We have educated people here and all of them are not pulling down their shades and playing with their tongues. But you have to fight. Nobody’s going to give you anything.
Tell me a little about yourself.
My husband just retired after 46 years of working. He’s an associate minister at First Baptist Church in Melrose Park. I spent 32 years, 6 months and 2 days at the Maywood Post Office before retiring. I was a window clerk for 18 years. For 13 of those years, I trained other window clerks. I only had one person fail the test and he didn’t want to pass. However, after I left, he didn’t have a choice and so eventually he passed. But I taught him that that person you see in front of you, the customer, is your paycheck. So, you can’t mistreat them. See them as your paycheck. I gave 150 percent everyday. I didn’t go there to stay, but 30 years later….hey (she laughs).