Oak Park trustee urges civility on local websites

Ray Johnson calls for less 'strident' online comments after Obama's speech


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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

An Oak Park village trustee is urging local residents to be more civil while debating on local news websites.

Trustee Ray Johnson read a prepared statement after last week's village board meeting, noting that he found President Barack Obama's speech after the shooting tragedy in Tucson "incredibly moving." The president's call for civility should be heeded by Oak Parkers, said Johnson, who is running for re-election in April.

"While I don't get the sense that Oak Park is currently experiencing the kind of vitriol or politics of personal destruction witnessed elsewhere in the country, I do have concerns about the tone and tenor of some of the comments citizens post online to local newspapers," Johnson stated. "More often than not, these are posted anonymously; some of these comments are quite strident; they often include personal attacks on people, question the motives of others, offer no evidence for their sometimes sinister insinuations, and most recently included suggestions of criminal intent of other elected officials."

In an interview after the meeting, Johnson confirmed that he was referring to Wednesday Journal's website, OakPark.com. He said he was taken aback by some anonymous comments, such as ones made on stories about a petition challenge against three park board candidates, or any news that has to do with controversial development projects.

He understands that some cases call for commenting anonymously and emphasized that he doesn't want to silence discourse, just raise it to a higher level.

"We can have healthy debates. We can have opposing viewpoints. Let's just do it in a respectful way," he said.

Trustee Colette Lueck, who formerly served as head of the Oak Park Plan Commission, said she, too, has been surprised by how nasty people can get sometimes.

"There certainly have been e-mails I have gotten where I've really thought, 'Who do you think you are to talk to me like that?'" she said. "I mean, you're treating me like I'm an idiot, and you're practically accusing me of being stupid, and it's not acceptable that you treat your elected officials that way."

Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: January 27th, 2011 3:10 PM

Lee - A lot of people ignored anyone who even suggested that the real estate boom wouldn't go on forever. Some people in power would still like to pretend that boom's going to come back in a year or two. Regardless of whom the skeptics were, were they right? Have you considered making any sort of real argument with actual data?


Posted: January 26th, 2011 11:03 PM

"You can easily ignore me" Most people do, never fear.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 7:29 PM

You can easily ignore me. Citizens wishing to participate in Oak Park's government, unless they're identified by Village Hall as "stakeholders" and invited to private meetings, HAS TO listen to what board members say, sometimes ad nauseum, before being allowed to briefly comment.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 7:23 PM

I've never argued about any Village issues from a "this is just the way it has to be" inevitablity position. I have over 20 years experience with development, preservation, local history, and politics, including 12 years on a commission and a committee. I hope I'm free to express my views and present facts in their behalf. This is NOT the same as lecturing to citizens from a position of power, either as Plan Commission Chair or Trustee.

James from Oak Park  

Posted: January 23rd, 2011 3:44 AM

Gary S. wrote: "....lecture citizens in areas in which she has no obvious knowledge or experience." Kinda the same thing you do ain't it Gary?

Tom Smith  

Posted: January 22nd, 2011 3:39 PM

If anyone has ever been to a Board meeting or a Plan Commission meeting, the people sitting in those chairs can get nasty and uncivil, especially when they hear things they don't like. Also, the Village Board should first stop lying to its constituents, then people may not get so upset and despondent.

Christine Vernon from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: January 22nd, 2011 12:52 PM

These comments: "Contrary to Oak Park Happy Talk, civil discourse is discouraged in our political process"." "..people are not able, on a level playing field to air differences." (under the limit of 3 people pro or 3 con allowed to testify at Board meetings) "Our elected officials are conveniently protected from any dialogue.." "..no public comments this year at Village Board meetings." One party rule for 60 years has shown a participatory democracy is not happening any time soon in Oak Park.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: January 21st, 2011 2:45 PM

Dave - hate to disagree with a friend but here comes. 1) It was a hearing not an open forum. The role of a hearing is to enable the commission to collect evidence. The commissions are judge and jury. 2) I see no bias in the Yeas going before the nays. I believe that it is a standard process for the commission and was not used to hinder the nays. 3) I never hesitate to critize bad government processes. I am 100% impressed with the Plan Commission is doing its job -- they are objective!

Dave Heidorn from Oak Park  

Posted: January 21st, 2011 1:08 PM

If Johnson is concerned about, he should do something. Contrary to OP happy talk, civil dialogue is discouraged in our political process. The planning board has only pro people speak first, leaving project opponents late hours, an empty chamber, or, as last night, another meeting to voice concerns, avoiding any sharing of views. Our elected officials are conveniently protected from any dialogue on development and, except for Johnson, never respond to emails or comments. Shrill results.


Posted: January 21st, 2011 8:29 AM

In the spirit of CNN, I apologize for an ealier post when I said "don't kill the messenger" - I would like to restate this as "don't BLAME the messenger." I will try to get away from such language; I hope this idiom did not incite anyone to actaully harm any mailmen, UPS, FedEx or any other messenger.


Posted: January 20th, 2011 5:34 PM

board@oak-park.us Send your feelings, commnents and concerns to this address. They will be part of the Offical Record, if you can not make the meeting tonight. But, if possible, please attend.

J.G. Morales  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 5:09 PM

@ Meghan - As a whole, people have been offering their personal perspectives and solutions. The "name calling" has been minimal by comparison. @ Mr. Johnson - Thanks for taking the time to post the information and email addresses.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 2:37 PM

@ Chris -- you are correct -- public hearings offer 5 minutes of commentary/person and anything over that can be provided in writing for the permanent record. My apologies for providing the incorrect start time//indeed tonight's meeting starts at 7pm. Thanks for catching that! In addition, citizens can write the entire board at: board@oak-park.us Emails to this address go to the full board, Village Manager and Clerk.

Chris Koertge  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 2:15 PM

@Deno - I don't believe that the three on each side rule applies to this evening's meeting. The chairwoman stated at the last meeting that testimony is open to the public. Register at the start of the meeting and you will be allowed 5 minutes to speak for, against or undecided on the proposal. It was referenced that the format would be similar to the hearing at the Library some months back. So get some thoughts on paper and come speak your mind tonight!

Deno J. Andrews from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 1:43 PM

I know several people, including myself, who have refrained from attempting to make a comment at a board meeting. Knowing the three-on-each-side rule, I don't see it being worth the time and effort to write an opinion on an important issue if I have can only hope to have a chance to present it to the trustees. This system discourages citizens from participating. The next step for many is to express themselves online, where it's easy to get carried away.

Chris Koertge  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 1:05 PM

@Teresa: I appreciate Trustee Johnson's information, but I believe it is incorrect. The Village website lists 7PM for the meeting tonight. A quick call to Village Hall confirmed that the meeting start does indeed start at 7, not 7:30.

OP Mom  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 12:55 PM

Teresa, I may be belaboring the point, but how many meetings have there been in 2011? Seems like a stretch to infer on January 20, with the statement "no one has appears at a Village Board meeting this year to offer public comment" is in any way reflective of typical public participation.

Meghan R  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 12:33 PM

I can see where Ray Johnson is coming from in regards to the comments left on WJ. Everyone is entitled their own opinion but if you're commenting on a problem and just complaining, why not offer some sort of solution instead? We're always looking at ways to better the community and improve so how do negative comments and personal attacks contribute to that goal? Instead of lashing out next time you comment, think of a solution and share it.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 12:30 PM

Hi Teresa - good point. I had assumed that the public was fully aware of the public hearings. John

Teresa Powell  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 12:25 PM

No speakers have appeared in 2011 at Village Board meetings. This answers the question posted below. While Mr. Murtagh may be familiar with the rules of the state of Illinois on Open Meetings, some of the respondents on this site may appreciate Trustee Johnson's information about tonight's meeting.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 11:48 AM

Kenneth J. Gergen noted psychologist and professor at Swarthmore Collego describes civil discourse as "the language of dispassionate objectivity", and suggests that it requires respect of the other participants, such as the reader. It neither diminishes the others moral worth, nor questions their good judgment. Not mentioned but a big factor in civil discourse is patronizing behavior. We know the village's meeting rules and its meeting dates and agenda. Thank you for your concern.

Chris Koertge  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 11:16 AM

The schedule posted on the Oak Park

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 10:27 AM

Mr. Murtagh and any interested citizen: Tonight's Plan Commission Public Hearing (7:30pm @ Village Hall)will continue to offer an opportunity for public comment in regards to the mixed-use proposal for Madison/OP Ave. Your viewpoint will be part of the hearing transcript and minutes which will be provided to the Commission and Village Board in advance of a final decision. Emails are also welcome and made part of the permanent record; planning@oak-park.us

Benjamin Hill from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 10:05 AM

I agree on civil discussion, even if heated. That said, while I have not gone to mtgs to air my views, it seems from comments, here and in letters over the years, that (1) people are not able, on a level playing field, to air differences and provide opinions due to archaic process (2) some concern over elected officials' alignment to citizens outside election years. Why not Increase online discussion, add moderation, and add more online polling and, gasp!, even binding online voting on issues?

OP Mom  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 8:30 AM

An additional thing to consider..the meetings that are being referenced by posters are not board meetings. They are commission meetings. Although board meetings are important, the decision making process is a long one and by the time something comes to a vote, most board members have formed some opinion - weak or strong - due to recommendations coming from the commissions. The public must be heard at ALL commission and when heard, a lot earlier in the process.

OP Mom  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 7:52 AM

This year? Please clarify. 2011 or a calendar year?

Teresa Powell  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 7:01 AM

To clarify my last post, no one has appears at a Village Board meeting this year to offer public comment. If there is a desire to appear on TV before the Board, that's one opportunity that no one has taken advantage of.

Teresa Powell from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 6:59 AM

Mr. Murtagh and others claim that comments are stiffled at public meetings, yet there have been no public comments this year at Village Board meetings. Meetings of the Village Board or of a commission allow for public comment while public hearings provide for additional comment within the established structure. Rumors in this comment section of other procedures should be checked out rather than accepted as "fact".

OP Resident  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 1:39 AM

Anonymous postings will not protect your identity. If someone from Village Hall wants to know who you are; the Wednesday Journal is willing to hand it over. There is no right to privacy and all your information is the property of the paper. They are free to do with it as they please. Your e-mail address and phone number can and will be provided. Of course, you had better have some serious clout if you want to know just who is really who.

OP Resident  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 1:19 AM

I doubt people understand the relationship between Ray Johnson and the Wednesday Journal. There is no effort to challenge him on the issues or provide any critical examination of his record. Some will recall that Johnson was allowed to defend the refusal of allowing District 200 to examine the TIF district books. Did the Wednesday Journal take him to task for ignoring his pledge of transperancy and accountability? Instead, we got editorials slamming the school board for having the gall to ask.

Chris Koertge  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 10:08 PM

@John - A big concern when dedicating so much time to meetings on the Comcast development has always been the chance that we've been suckered into a kangaroo court. I know that possibility has caused some to choose not to invest time in opposition of the development. I trust and hope that isn't the case and that our elected officials are receptive to the facts and viewpoints that we are trying to present. Comments such as yours from this evening do fuel my concern. Time will tell...

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 10:06 PM

Will the real Dan Haley, please post up!


Posted: January 19th, 2011 9:59 PM

Mr. Haley, I would imagine that your time and paper should be spent getting to the bottom of the REAL stories - like why OP is censoring citizens at meetings. Why is it that a Tr. has to suggest that we all need to be more civil,when the vast majority of what is posted is FINE. Why it is much easier to take a few, and draw a wide brush. WJ could do a favor, read the comments. There more than a few stories to investigate. Like the abuse of TIFs, the abuse of Tax hikes, not respecting others.


Posted: January 19th, 2011 9:51 PM

Fact is, there is no way to enforce the use of real names. My reason for using a moniker is more about keeping my name out of google searches colleagues might run. I like to keep my personal and professional lives separate. On another note, I am appalled by the repeated censorship of the public in village meetings. Process is important, however I am starting to believe the Village, both elected and paid representatives, is hiding behind it to avoid hearing what they don't want to hear.

J.G. Morales  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 9:38 PM

Wow @ John's comments. If they're censoring people at meetings, the backlash should be anticipated...

Achievement GAP  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 9:32 PM

Is this OP or is this China? Last I head we lived in a Democracy. I would strongly suggest, that ALL against this terrible idea for OP, write a letter, and send to all Trustees. Would also strongly suggest email to them, and ASK that the letters/emails that you send be read Out loud into the record

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 9:27 PM

I posted earlier about enforced silence imposed on the residents at public meeting. It happened again. I went to the joint mtg. of the Univ. Access and Comm. Relations Coms tonight. The subject was the Mad Av Project. I was told that I could not ask questions of the presenters. That was not my reason to be there. I just wanted to make a comment. At the end of the presentation, the Univ. Access Com. left as did the presentors. At nearly 9 I was a given my 3 min. to a near empty room. Thx OP.


Posted: January 19th, 2011 8:39 PM

Tr. Johnson - is upset, because the Taxpayers are speaking out AGAINST a project he favors. He now wants to lecture us - just like Obama on being CIVIL? Look, if the people have said they do not want a CHA type residence in OP, and they are paying the taxes - than take that project a DUMP it. That is the message they should be taking. As to Tr. Lueck - she of course has little to question.

Nancy Trock T-Renegade Fitness from Oak Park  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 8:33 PM

Well said by Morales and those he mentioned. This is the first Wed.Journal email I ever opened to read more, because it is a very compelling case of adolescent drama and I got curious. That a trustee would feel the need to intervene to censor public discourse here really stinks.

J.G. Morales  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 7:16 PM

More to the point... If so many people are up in arms about a give proposal(to the point that it needed to be addressed), this should tell our elected officials that the people do not support their plans. As elected officials, how the constituents feel about an issue should be a major concern. It's more important even than how they choose to express these concerns.

J.G. Morales from Oak Park  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 7:05 PM

Sometimes motives are questionable. I think it's inherently part of being American that we question anything we find to be suspicious... and respect the rights of others to disagree. This is something that should be well understood by anyone in politics. The only unhealthy things would be to ignore truths or suppress honest expressions because others feel disagreement is impolite? Is "political corruption in Illinois" a naughty phrase? *smh* I agree with Greg, Rich, and OP Mom.

Greg Kuenster  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 7:00 PM

Trustees: Parents with children feel threatened by a ghetto of up to 51 single parent children joining our community. If you cannot understand this fear, parents may think you idiots. If you keep insisting Whiteco and proposed hotel are beautiful, many may think you are stupid. Many compare these ideas to those of George Bush. You are driving us right into the ditch. Please speak with your citizens. In my opinion, you are out of touch.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 6:42 PM

As for Trustee Lueck, I suspect some of the vitriol she's encountered might come from her clearly observable tendency to condescendingly lecture citizens in areas in which she has no obvious knowledge or experience. Looking at national politics and working down, I'm not sure that being elected to office automatically entitles someone to any more respect than that due any of us.


Posted: January 19th, 2011 6:41 PM

Excuse me, but there is absolutely no proof that the massacre in Arizona had ANYTHING whatsoever to do with American citizens exercising their God-given, Constitutional right to politely and respectfully disagree with their leaders opinions and policies. Furthermore leaders should be responsible and NOT be using the terrible tragedy in Arizona to try and stifle and eliminate peaceful dissent by American citizens, i.e. the so-called, inappropriately named "fairness doctrine".

Gail Moran from oak park  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 6:38 PM

Point proved, Trustees Johnson and Lueck. Thank you for saying it. (And I, too, always use my real name when commenting on newspaper articles.)

JFK, cont.  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 6:27 PM

but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.


Posted: January 19th, 2011 6:27 PM

Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment %u2014 the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution %u2014 not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply "give the public what it wants" %u2014

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 6:16 PM

Trustee Johnson simply feels threatened in any forum outside the controlled environment of council chambers, where; a) the agenda is determined by village prez, b) public is req'd. to complete the Instructions to Address the Village Board form, c) public comment is limited to 3 minutes, and is not intended for a dialogue, but d) board members always get the last word, if so desired. And if this proves too uncivil, the board hides in a closed door Executive Meeting, secured by Attorney Ray Heise.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 6:14 PM

Trustee Johnson's observations of local political discussion seem oddly filtered. I've made reasoned, factually supported criticisms of recent Village policies and have consistently been subjected to personal attacks from VMA regulars. Almost no one has challenged my assertions; they've just called me names and said I should go away. Perhaps Ray might consider reining in his own crew of character assassins. If he did, though, he might have to seriously address real issues in his campaign

Brian Crawford from Oak park  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 6:09 PM

Ray Johnson is a decent man and he is 100% right on this.

Tom Scharre  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 6:01 PM

Whenever I post on this site, I do so under my own name. In fact, I personally wish that anonymous comments were not allowed; if you want to say it, sign it. But I also believe we should focus on behavior,not thoughts; on actions, not words. And, finally, I believe that village government should not chase after and sound off on every hot-button issue that hijacks the national microphone. That's what the ADD-impaired cable news cycle is for. Stick to your knitting. I hope that's not too uncivil.

RichF from Oak Park  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 5:55 PM

It's alright for the politicians to tell us all to be civil, but they seem to tell us otherwise by how they campaign for their positions with all the slandering of their opponents. Also, how can you be civil to a politician that makes promises during a campaign that they have no intention of following through on once elected?

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 5:49 PM

The message from Trustees Johnson and Lueck ignore the fact they are contributors to the chaos on the blogs. When residents wanted to speak about the Madison Avenue Housing Proposal they were told there would be no public input. The board then sent a note to the planning commission saying that chair should not allow the term CHA to be used by residents at the hearings. I guess NIMBY is OK. Freedom of Speech is a two way street. It's the board's role to foster open dialog not censor it.

OP Mom  

Posted: January 19th, 2011 5:40 PM

If the "controversial development projects" Trustee Johnson is alluding to is the Comcast project, I have to respectfully disagree. Although there are exceptions, I believe the dialog on the Comcast project has been largely quite contructive. Disagreement in and of itself does not equal disrespect.

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