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Lakewood trustee running on a reform slate, forming new party

LAKEWOOD – A local good-government group founded by a trustee and funded in part through his government salary is looking to run a slate of fiscally conservative and reform-minded candidates in the April 4 election.

The Lakewood Tax-Fighter and Better Government Project, emboldened by an advisory anti-tax referendum that more than 90 percent of village voters approved Nov. 8, announced Tuesday that it would run candidates for the four open seats on the April ballot.

Trustee Paul Serwatka, who founded the group, plans to run for village president, while candidates Philip Stephan, John O’Hara and Amy Fues Odom will seek the three trustee seats up for election. If elected to a majority, the group said it will lower the village property tax levy, improve transparency and end what it calls unnecessary spending and projects.

Serwatka said this isn’t about anybody’s political aspirations, but for voters in April to have a chance to elect candidates who can usher in real changes, rather than one trustee – himself – who acts as a “thorn in the side.”

“We have a chance here to elect a slate to completely transform our village,” Serwatka said.

The group is not only collecting signatures for the candidates, but also to form a new political party, the Lakewood Tax-Fighter Party, with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Besides starting up a website and email newsletter, the group gathered the needed signatures to put an advisory question on the Nov. 8 ballot asking village residents whether any taxing body should be required to go to referendum for any tax increase – local governments subject to the tax cap law do not need voter permission to increase the levy by the rate of inflation or lower. It passed by a 92.4 percent margin, with more than 2,000 voters in favor and 166 opposed.

As part of the accountability platform, all four candidates pledged to step down from office if a majority of residents lose confidence in their ability to govern. Although Illinois law does not allow voters to recall elected municipal officials, the candidates pledged to resign if 60 percent of village residents sign a recall petition.

Serwatka defeated an incumbent to his trustee seat in a 2015 write-in campaign in opposition to the board’s entertaining of a tax increment financing district at Routes 47 and 176, anchored by a now-abandoned plan for a sportsplex.

He announced in September that he would contribute his monthly $98 salary as a trustee, a check he had traditionally signed back to the village, as seed money to get the accountability project off the ground as a tool for keeping residents informed of issues in village government.

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