Simply looking at the agenda for Monday night's Oak Park village board meeting you'd have seen some seriously in-the-weeds discussion planned about zoning and variances — the sort of story that might make page 17 of the news section. But based on the sidebar conversations that have been taking place over the past 10 days between some elected officials — President Anan Abu-Taleb, trustees Adam Salzman, Peter Barber — and local business people, it was not a total shock that the "first reading" of agenda item XIV turned gradually, and then hotly, into the first flashpoint of this new village board.
It didn't come quickly, the decision to support the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, but on Memorial Day when State Rep. LaShawn Ford said he would vote this week in favor of gay marriage in Illinois, the choice seemed clear to him.
It was my intention to try to even up our coverage of Oak Park and River Forest's political seasons by writing this column about the exit and entrance of village board members Monday night in the village by the river. Unfortunately my plan to skip the early portion of the meeting, which, based on years of agenda watching, looked to be at least 45 minutes worth of governmenting, did not account for just how quiet and efficient River Forest officials had become.
Ray Johnson, the Oak Park village trustee who offered up the compromise that allowed Anan Abu-Taleb to be sworn in free and clear as village president on Monday evening, said afterward that he had spent a long weekend trying to sort out "why this is so hard" an issue to resolve.
Gov. Pat Quinn came to a packed Maya del Sol Sunday evening to sign the state law which could clear the way for the Oak Park village board to decide Monday night to sync the local liquor ordinance with the revised state law and open a path for Anan Abu-Taleb, village president-elect, to take office without controversy.
Sometimes there is a political problem and it needs a political solution. The current conflict related to Oak Park's liquor laws and incoming village president Anan Abu-Taleb's holding a liquor license is a political problem. Sure there are legal aspects and it bumps into ethical considerations. But those are relatively minor and easily resolved matters.
In the closing days of the election campaign for a new Oak Park village president, all the worst instincts of the Village Manager Association (VMA) came into view. It wasn't pretty. It wasn't fair. It wasn't effective.