By Joe Boyle
Two local mayors who plan to retire this spring said that they still have more work to do before they leave office.
Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton has served in that role for 20 years. Business development was the highlight of his career, he said.
“The businesses we have added up and down 95th Street was great for the village,” said Sexton, 68. “And we are proud of the fact that we have provided a lot of open space for our residents.”
Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury will also be stepping aside this spring after serving two terms in office. Her focus after leaving office will be as an optometrist. She owns and operates Complete Vision Care in Oak Lawn.
Bury said that the pandemic has had a negative impact on the local economy.
“We want to keep services going and we are doing it with limited resources,” said Bury, 59. “Number one, you want someone there when you call 911. This is what keeps me up at night.”
Sexton said issues he will be dealing with before his retirement include finding ways to develop more financial resources to combat COVID-19. The virus also resulted in the cancellation of various activities, including the annual Independence Day Parade and A Christmas Dickens event in December.
While the village has ruled out adding a marijuana dispensary, the Evergreen Park Village Board dealt with the aspect of adding video gaming to some local businesses. In the past, Sexton did not support such measures. However, the pandemic has changed the thinking of the mayor and the board.
The Evergreen Park Village Board approved an ordinance in October that will allow for video gaming to operate in 12 restaurants under certain specifications.
However, Sexton said this only allows certain restaurants to install video gaming. Decisions still have to be made on what businesses are eligible and how many will be distributed.
“It’s a way of enhancing the state of businesses that have been hurt by the pandemic,” Sexton said. “That’s why we are doing this.”
The mayor said that he is not interested in awarding licenses to hotdog stand-type businesses or to cafes. The licenses will be given to established restaurants who could use the financial assistance, he added.
One of the reasons that Sexton is retiring is that he is confident that Trustee Kelly Burke, who also serves as the Democratic state representative of the 36th District, will be a solid replacement who will focus on business development. Her experience in Springfield will be a great asset, Sexton said. Burke does have an opponent in the April 6 election but she is considered the heavy favorite.
Sexton was also a trustee for 14 years and spent five more as a village clerk. He began serving Evergreen Park as a public official in April of 1987. He has been a resident of Evergreen Park since 1977.
The new outdoor Plaza shopping strip revitalization along Western Avenue has been a highlight, he said. The development further north, the Evergreen Marketplace that includes Menards, Meijer and other stores, is another achievement, the mayor added.
“And our police and fire departments are second to none,” Sexton said. “And that’s another reason people come to live here. They feel safe and protected and want to stay here.”
Bury said that COVID-19 has brought on other issues that concern her.
“It’s unfortunate that the pandemic has turned into a political situation than a public health one,” Bury said. “Getting people to understand that for the good of everyone has been difficult. The focus should be on us being aware and by following health guidelines that could get us there faster.”
Bury’s goals since becoming mayor in 2013 was to to promote small business growth and activities in the village of nearly 58,000. She also emphasized working with area schools, the Oak Lawn Park District, the Oak Lawn Library, Chamber of Commerce, Advocate Christ Medical Center and charitable organizations to move the village forward.
Bury is confident that future of the village is in good hands with Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th), who she has endorsed to become the next mayor. Vorderer will face a write-in candidate but is considered the favorite in that race.
“If the board was not as cohesive as it is now, and if Trustee Vorderer was not interested in the position, it might have been different,” Bury said of her decision not to run for a third term. “Trustee Vorderer has the experience with public safety as a police officer. His experience allows me to walk away.”
Bury said that even when she was first elected, she had considered only serving as mayor for two terms.
“At first you just want to stay forever,” Bury said. “There is that honeymoon period and it is a lot of fun and is exciting. But as you go on it is really hard. I think you need a certain freshness and sometimes it is best to move on and let someone else take over.”
But while the position of mayor can be difficult at times, Bury was glad to serve and said she will continue to be active in Oak Lawn organizations and possibly the public sector.
“I can’t have a conversation about this without thanking the people of Oak Lawn,” Bury said. “I have met so many great people. It’s been a privilege to serve them.”
As the last few months wind down on a long political career, Sexton said Evergreen Park will be OK. However, he reminds residents not to let their guard down in regards to COVID-19 despite vaccines in the future.
“This pandemic is not over, no, not by a long shot,” Sexton said. “It is a bit of an uphill climb. (But) we will get there.”
Sexton added that although 2020 has been difficult, the village has no outstanding debts.
“We still have some work to do, but we are definitely in good shape,” Sexton said.
Bury also looks forward to the day when the vaccine doses will help put an end to the spread of COVID-19.
“I think my mission is to get these vaccines out,” Bury said as her last goal in office. “If we can do this effectively, it will be great for everyone. It will allow people to go out and for businesses to operate. I just think it will be a golden period. I can’t wait to hug family and friends again.”