Karen Gray-Keeler is in a unique position. The former Caucus Party president is seeking her first term as a Skokie trustee.
However, Gray-Keeler is already filling in as an interim trustee for Michael Lorge, who recently became the village’s corporate counsel. Gray-Keeler will be serving the community until the April elections. After that, nine candidates will be seeking one of the six seats available.
Gray-Keeler, a Skokie resident for more than 25 years, is hoping she can continue to serve the village beyond her interim.
“I am very, very new as a trustee,” Gray-Keeler said. “So far, I've had one meeting and I've been meeting with a lot of different people.”
The mother of three also served on the plan commission and added that the learning curve hasn’t “been that steep” since she’s stepped in as trustee.
When speaking with Gray-Keeler, one thing is clear: She is big on economic development.
“Economic development, it's really what drives everything,” Gray-Keeler said. “We've had a tax freeze for 22 years [and a lot] of that has to do with economic development. It's also finding other sources of funds - that aren't coming from homeowners - but for example, the sales tax.”
Gray-Keeler pointed out sales tax behemoths like Old Orchard Mall and Village Crossing, with the former accounting for about 40 percent of all sales tax generated in the village.
“Something interesting about Old Orchard is three-fourths of accounted sales are from non-Skokie residents,” she said. “Obviously, people's property taxes have gone up, but the village hasn’t had a property tax increase in 22 years.
“A big part of it is that the village made a big commitment in making sure we’re making the best use of our tax dollars,” Gray Keeler added.
Gray-Keeler on hiring more police -
“I'm a mother of a police officer,” Gray-Keeler said. “I am very focused on community safety, my personal safety and the life of the police officer. It's not just hiring more police officers as the solution; you have to also make the most of your current police officers.”
Gray-Keeler said she would like to see Skokie hire more police officers, but added that there are numerous costs associated with hiring more officers.
“It's a 20 to 30 year commitment - there's uniform expenses, pension, insurance - there are a lot of expenses when hiring just one officer,” she said. “If we said we are going to hire a bunch of police officers, it could have a catastrophic impact on property taxes.”
Gray-Keeler added that more neighborhood watch groups can be very beneficial to the community.
“I started the neighborhood watch in my area quite a few years ago,” Gray-Keeler said. “It may sound kind of silly - but my neighborhood became more neighborly [after starting the watch].”