You may know her as INB’s Fairmount branch manager, but now you can call her, “Madam Mayor.”
Heather McArty was recently elected as mayor of Oakwood, IL, a bedroom community of just over 1,600 residents.
Heather’s relationship with Oakwood began when she was traveling between Champaign and Danville for her job. She and her husband, Chip, decided they needed a central location to both communities. And there was Oakwood, with easy access to Interstate 74 and State Route 150.
While the town of Oakwood was new to Heather at the time, she was born in Urbana, and grew up in both Texas and Chicago. She was living in a Chicago suburb as a young adult and mom when her son reached school age. “We were visiting schools, when he was about to enter kindergarten, and I was alarmed to find metal detectors in the schools.” It was enough make her decide to move to Central Illinois where she had family connections and the pace was noticeably more relaxed.
So she migrated back to Central Illinois, and 20 years ago the family landed in Oakwood. Her kids went to Unit 76 schools in Oakwood, and Heather got involved by serving on the PTO board and supporting sports that her kids took part in. She served on the school board for six years.
Volunteer Work Leads to Village Council
While her kids went to Oakwood school, the McArty family actually lived right outside of the town limits, so she couldn’t serve on the village council. Instead, she served the community by volunteering for organizations like The Oakwood Area Food Pantry, a service agency that was close to folding before she accepted the role as executive director. The village has even recognized her for her volunteerism.
A year and a half ago, the McArty’s chose to downsize and made the move, “to town.” Now eligible to serve on the council, Heather chose to run for mayor. Her victory makes her the first female mayor of Oakwood.
While Heather doesn’t expect her new role will take up a huge amount of her spare time, she knows she has things to learn so she can make appropriate decisions.
She notes the town is also in the final stages of erecting a new village hall that will house the administrative offices and the police station. “We need to educate people on how tax dollars are and aren’t used,” she says, noting the hall is not being funded by real estate tax dollars because residents do not pay property taxes to the Village of Oakwood.
The village’s prudent and effective planning and management have brought them into a solid position as they step into the new fiscal year, explains Heather. Her first task is to prepare and submit the new budget to the village attorney to file. Her everyday job with INB will help her do this because she has experience with complex budgets, accountability metrics and leading people.
She adds: “COVID-19 has dramatically altered sales tax landscapes across our nation, but, fortunately, with the multiple truck stops, gas stations and fast food restaurants off the highway we have continued to experience stable revenue.”
Covid-19 Impacts Next Steps
Heather notes her work with the food pantry has given her a heads up when it comes to some of these issues. “I have a good pulse on the economic impacts,” she adds. At the same time, she knows she has things to learn. For example, as mayor, she is also alcohol and police commissioner and admits she’ll have an opportunity to learn more on these topics as she begins her mayoral duties.
She also realizes that Oakwood, like almost every municipality, will need to contend with the country’s political climate. Even with that challenge, Heather says, “I think my collective experiences in life are going to be positive attributes that help me address all issues.”
She also believes that Covid-19 has helped her appreciate Oakwood even more than before. “We were a tight knit community to begin with. Now, we’re yearning for our connections even more. We took the events and niceties that we did with our schools and friends for granted. Now that we haven’t been able to do them for a year, we’ll appreciate them more.”
Heather says Oakwood is known for its big homecoming and 4th of July celebrations. And as typical of many small towns, there is a Veteran’s Memorial and several parks. They’re close to both Kickapoo State Park and a great winery in a neighboring town. And, of course, there’s the highway system. “Within two hours, you can get to Springfield, Indianapolis and Chicago.”
When asked: “Does everyone really know everyone else in her adopted hometown? And is that good or bad?” Heather says, “Yes, they do know everyone. And if they don’t, they will make it their mission to know you. That welcoming environment is one of the reason we decided to put roots down and make Oakwood our home.”