Six Questions with Lake Forest Caucus President Kimberly Pfahl
By David A. F. Sweet Lake Forest Caucus President Kimberly Pfahl has lived in town since 2010. Armed with a masters of business administration degree from the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, she also holds an honors degree in mathematics and information systems from the University of Waterloo, Canada. She and her husband Andrew have two children, who will both be attending Deer Path Middle School this fall.
What have you been focused on since you became president of the Caucus in April?
My focus has been working with my executive team to plan our calendar and set our priorities for the upcoming year. Given Covid-19, the entire Caucus Committee did not get a chance to be in person last year. So we are having smaller ward meetings to welcome new committee members and reconnecting as a team.
"The Caucus does not have any responsibility for the operating decisions of the city. We are volunteers seeking other volunteers," says Lake Forest Caucus President Kimberly Pfahl. A big part of my focus will be continuing to get the word out to the community about the Caucus. It is important to continue to educate everyone about who we are, the important role we play in the city, and how residents can volunteer their time for various Lake Forest board and commissions positions.
Some North Shore cities pay their aldermen. Why do you think the Lake Forest Caucus model, which relies on volunteers, makes more sense?
The Caucus process ultimately saves Lake Forest residents money. It eliminates the need for extra staff functions to source and fill board roles. The Caucus oversees a very extensive process for finding, vetting and nominating candidates that would consume a lot of city staff resources. Residents save hundreds and thousands of dollars in staffing costs since our aldermen, board and commissions roles are unpaid positions.
The Caucus has been in place for 86 years, and the impact it has had on the city is evident. Lake Forest is a well-run city. We have great schools, achieved a coveted AAA bond rating, have amazing amenities and enjoy a community that cares. We have a wealth of extremely qualified professionals with skill sets that lend themselves exceptionally well to the 160 or so board and commission positions in the city.
What qualities do you look for in choosing candidates for mayor, alderman and other city positions?
Candidates' experience and contributions in various board and commission positions for the city are important considerations. A strong resume for volunteering for various city roles is important. These positions also require a good understanding of how the city operates. These non-partisan candidates need to understand how best to engage productively with the city staff and the community at large. It is important that they have demonstrated strong leadership competencies. These are large working teams and in these roles, you have to be able to foster collaboration with individuals with different perspectives. The ability to get individuals to come to consensus and move into action is also important, so that the good work of the city can get done.
What is the biggest challenge the Caucus faces?
This is my fourth year on the Caucus and our challenge is always the same … getting the word out about who we are, how we operate and the important work we do for the city. Due to Covid-19, we have enjoyed great growth in our community. There are about 1,000 new residents in the City of Lake Forest since 2020, and they are just learning about the city. Equally, there are several residents that have developed several misconceptions about the Caucus over the years. Education and awareness is always a major priority for us.
Does the Caucus ever change the ward maps based on population moves?
The Caucus does not have any responsibility for the operating decisions of the city. We are volunteers seeking other volunteers for the various board and commissions positions for the city. This is a great question and a common example of the confusion that exists in the community about our role and the scope of our responsibilities in the city. We seek, vet and democratically vote for the most qualified volunteers that fit job descriptions provided to us by the boards. How is the Caucus process different for elected and non-elected positions?
The process is generally the same. The majority of the board and commissions positions are non-elected positions. The elected positions for our city are the Mayor, Aldermen and School Board roles. For non-elected positions, we submit our recommendations to the Mayor for his final approval. For elected positions, we submit our recommendations to the full community in our public meetings, where the community can hear from the candidates directly and then the residents vote for final approval. Our charter is to ensure there is a strong skill and experience fit to defined role responsibilities provided by the boards. It is an extensive process similar to any hiring search effort with the goal of finding the best candidates for each position. The advantage of the Caucus process is that the Caucus Committee, which is made up of 43 local residents of different perspectives, evaluates and votes on the candidates which helps ensure the various needs of the community are factored into the decision process. We are a non-partisan organization that focuses on the needs of the community first and foremost, which is why I personally feel our city is so well run.