Green Park residents issued a mandate for change last week by voting for a clean sweep of all challenged incumbents in this year’s election.
Former Ward 2 Alderman Tony Konopka was elected as the city’s new mayor by a mere four votes over incumbent Mayor Steve Armstrong, who had served in that post since 2001.
Political newcomer Anthony Pousosa is the city’s new Ward 1 alderman after collecting nearly 58 percent of that ward’s vote over incumbent Ward 1 Alderman Bob Reinagel, who had served in that role since 2005.
Another first-time political candidate, Tim Thuston, easily defeated incumbent Ward 2 Alderman Chuck Deters, who was challenged for the first time this year and had served as an alderman since 1999. Thuston received nearly 70 percent of his ward’s vote.
The only incumbent not challenged this year — Ward 3 Alderman Mark Hayden — will serve his fourth term.
Konopka, Pousosa, Thuston and Hayden were elected last week to two-year terms.
Reflecting on the fact that only four votes separated he and Armstrong, Konopka said he wasn’t particularly surprised that the vote was that close. Instead, Green Park’s new mayor said he is more appreciative that residents who might not have always agreed on every city issue could come forward and elect three new people to serve.
“I was really glad to see that you could get a group of people that didn’t necessarily agree all the time to come together for one purpose,” he said. “If more of that could happen in the city, I think a lot of things, a lot of good could come out of it.”
Pousosa likened the April 3 election to last year’s clean sweep of challenged incumbents in Sunset Hills and said both that race and the 2007 Green Park election will be remembered as years when residents regained their voice in city government.
“People are tired of not having a voice,” Pousosa said. “I think the complacency of the past, regarding elections and not feeling that you have a voice, I think that’s starting to change. People realize that if they vote, that might be the only way they can make their voice heard. I think that was evident in Sunset Hills last year and I think it was evident in this Green Park election.”
Thuston also was appreciative of his ward’s vote last week and said he, too, realizes that the city needs to work to rebuild residents’ trust.
“I feel it’s an earnest responsibility to help somebody speak for themselves,” Thuston said. “And if I can give voice to people’s ideas and voice to people’s concerns, I’m all for it. Instead of imposing my will and my justice on people, what I want to do is help them understand what they have to understand and then be able to let people know what we can do together to get things moving forward.”
While aldermen in February addressed one of the most frequently voiced concerns from residents by approving free once-per-week trash service, all of the newly elected officials said aldermen need to further study the planned Green Park Road reconstruction before any work begins.
As planned, Green Park Road would be widened by two feet in each lane to make 12-foot lanes on each side. The estimated $2.2 million project — 80 percent of which will be funded through a federal grant — would stretch roughly 6,000 feet along Green Park Road from Tesson Ferry Road to Lin Valle Drive.
But in January, 19 residents living along Green Park Road signed a petition indicating they would refuse to sign grading permits that would allow construction crews to enter onto their property for the road’s reconstruction. That reconstruction is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2008.
Konopka said that as mayor, he will put any plans for that road’s reconstruction on hold until he more thoroughly studies the issue and gets as much input from residents as possible.
“As far as Green Park (Road), I still think there’s a lot of unanswered questions,” Konopka said. “I do believe there needs to be some more town-hall meetings so people could voice their opinion in regard to what they want to see. I believe that up to this time, this whole Green Park thing all the time that it had been in the plans, I believe there was only one town-hall meeting and that pretty much was after the fact.
“So it might be a good idea to get what the feelings of the people are in regard to Green Park. I know there’s people that are entirely against it, there’s some for it, there’s some in between. So I think you really need to sit down and go over it.”
Pousosa and Thuston both proposed that the city should consider acquiring land on Green Park Road’s north side, much of which is part of Clydesdale Park, to make room for the road’s planned widening. That way, the road could be widened without affecting property of residents who live on the road’s north side.
“I don’t see any way that plan can go through as it stands without impacting the residents that live there immensely,” Pousosa said. “I think before this project sees the breaking of dirt, we need to look at trying to acquire land on the park side and make all the expansion on the park side as much as possible. We don’t know exactly how much it’s going to cost to relocate utilities. And I don’t think that they have allotted enough money to do that. And I believe that that’s probably the main reason that they were not willing to pay for trash.”
Thuston, who lives along Green Park Road, said that the road’s planned reconstruction was one of the reasons he first be-came interested in running.
“They’re talking about expanding the road and taking people’s driveways and I thought ‘Wait a minute,'” Thuston said. “Are we going to discuss doing possibly something else first? I mean, it’s the citizens’ city — not the government’s city. Let’s talk about it first.”
He further said he believes city officials were more interested in completing the project and finding funds for it in a timely fashion than doing what he believes should have been accomplished all along — planning the reconstruction right.
“We’ve got to look at the number of people, the number of cars on the road and look at different alternatives,” Thuston said. “Look at ways of possibly changing and increasing its viability, but at the same time, not destroying the property values in return for that. We should look at the side where we’ve got only three houses instead of 30-some houses on the south side. Look at the north side and say is there a way to tie that in and beautify it? Somehow, some way, tie it into the park. It could be a really nice addition to this area and it could be pretty darn cool if we spent the time and paid the attention to it and not necessarily throw money at it. But just take our time and do it right.
“I think we need to do something a little nicer than just ‘OK, let’s hurry up and expand the road and have the engineers tell us what needs to be done and, OK, it’s done, see you later, bye.’ I think that’s what we’ve done. We’ve said this is the plan, sign off on it, we know something needs to be done, OK, bye. They opened the door and slammed it as fast as we could stick our heads in.”