Gloves come off as Oak Park trustees debate development

Roles of village staff vs. OPDC the topic

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park village board gave the Oak Park Development Corporation — the village's main catalyst for economic development — a clear message Monday evening: fix yourself, or funding may change.

It's been widely known there have been unanswered questions of who is responsible for what in the village when it comes to promoting Oak Park's business community. It's been said there are too many voices, and voices that aren't talking to each other.

This theme became transparent Monday when trustees were sharp to criticize progress from both the village's internal perspective and its partnering agency. Trustee Bob Tucker summed up much of what his colleagues said by quoting a friend who recently discussed the issue with him.

"There are a lot of people playing the game, but on different fields," Tucker said. "There are two issues here."

The two issues Tucker referred to involve deciding if the village should hire a community and economic development director to head a newly created department which oversees planning, building and property standards, housing and business services. The second issue is defining what role OPDC plays in Oak Park's economic development vision and to what extent the agency should continue to be funded by the village.

Currently, the village funds roughly 80 percent of OPDC's budget — or $300,000 — for the organization that staffs four full-time employers. A 2014 budget proposal from Village Manager Cara Pavlicek suggests cutting OPDC's funding by a third; trustees and OPDC leaders had plenty to say about that recommendation, too.

Village President Anan Abu-Taleb, who has been vocal in criticizing Oak Park's economic development progress, was frustrated that he learned about the funding cut proposal from OPDC leaders and not personally from village management.

The conversation of the evening included Willis Johnson, former president of Downtown Oak Park and the owner of the Lake Theatre; Paul Zimmerman, past president of the Roosevelt Road Business Association; and Thomas Gallagher, a longtime villager active in development who serves on the OPDC board.

Johnson said Oak Park suffers from "two nagging problems that are long term": economic development and having a unified voice in Oak Park. He suggested OPDC has the most knowledge and qualifications to determine a development plan.

"Regardless of which direction it goes, it needs to be one voice," Johnson said.

He also spoke about the needed changes in the building department, a touchy topic that trustees later reiterated, and how there needs to be a more streamlined, focused process for helping Oak Park businesses.

Zimmerman, the former leader of the Berwyn Development Corporation, said what Oak Park needs is to offer incentives to developers and business to come to Oak Park. He cited the business growth on Berwyn's side of Roosevelt Road and compared it to Oak Park's side. Zimmerman suggested Berwyn has a dynamic group "pounding the pavement" to attract businesses, which he said Oak Park lacks.

"If we want to continue to be the vital, economically diverse town …we have to spread the tax base," he said.

Multiple village board members have said throughout the economic development talks that Oak Park must do this in order to avoid burdening residents with higher property taxes to keep up with the rising costs of government.

Gallagher spoke briefly about both topics of the evening and said Oak Park needs a vision that encompasses an entrepreneurial spirit and a development leader who can bring real growth to town. He suggested this is not present at OPDC or the village today, and said the best step begins with a "reconstituted OPDC," and not in village hall.

"It's not about management. It's about development," he said. "The village needs a developer, not an administrator."

Reconstituted, reinvigorated, reinvented and re-envisioned: the r words remained a theme of the evening.

'It's simple and complex'

Marty Noll, OPDC board chair, sat in the hot seat most of the night presenting a case for the development group, taking questions from trustees and asking to come back to the board with its vision to take Oak Park to the next level. He said currently, the group is doing the "chicken and egg" dance, not knowing what the village wants before it can decide how to act and move forward.

He said the OPDC board plans to create a presentation for the village, but does not want to reorganize its entire structure without knowing the village will be receptive to its thoughts.

"You need to decide," Noll said. "I don't want to create us and then have you say 'It doesn't work, we'll see you next year.' "

Noll said the village controls OPDC operation without proper funding, guidance and a vision and that Oak Park has "tied the hands of OPDC." What the organization needs, he said, is empowerment to move forward under a jointly agreed upon and "reinvested" OPDC.

"It's simple and complex," Noll said, referring to upgrading OPDC as the village looks to add another internal director position. "Village staff does not have and is not the right organization. …One new addition will not alter the village's reputation in the village. I believe it will continue to fall short."

Noll proposed economic development be moved out of village hall entirely, and instead allow village officials to have more of a voice on OPDC's board and not the other way around.

"This may change how OPDC is operated," Noll said, which he later confirmed could mean a change in the staff and its organizational structure. The change would involve getting one voice for development under one roof to set identifiable goals and objectives.

What the village board thinks

Monday's meeting about economic development shifted largely to the role of OPDC in the village, but the question of hiring a community and economic development director within the village still remains a question for the village board.

Village Manager Cara Pavlicek stood by her hiring recommendation and said with a "slimmer staff" it's necessary to get the reports from across the four departments under one person. Having four directors report to the village manager is not efficient, she said, and it creates gaps in communication. In response to a trustee's question, Pavlicek confirmed implementing one director doesn't necessarily entail adding another $135,000 salary to the payroll; it could mean shifting the current department roles. That's up to the board to decide, she said.

The trustees agreed when it came to OPDC, a new vision is needed. What role that might be led to an array of perspectives. Each trustee agreed, however, that economic development needs to be centralized under one voice.

"There's not a question that we have an internal problem when it comes to economic development here," Trustee Collette Lueck said. "I'm not sure why they haven't been resolved. We hear it over and over again. …I do think whatever solution we have, there has to be one person accountable."

She suggested having en economic development director in the village to deal with internal issues, while having OPDC report to that person could create "duel accountability," which she said could be a beneficial change.

"Otherwise, we end up with what we have now," Lueck said. "I don't see how keeping the same structure we've had for 40 years can work."

Lueck said her vision entails having an economic director work with an external agency to create a partnership that develops a marketing plan for the village and its corresponding agencies. Other trustees backed this concept.

Trustee Ray Johnson jumped on the criticism of the current building department, and said it's time to speak the truth.

"I don't know how many other times we can say that to that department. When we have public criticism, we must criticize the department publically," Johnson said. The trustee also suggested the village should get the Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce involved with OPDC to see what a merged vision looks like.

"I think we have a fairly interesting proposal from OPDC. We obviously need a lot more on that," Johnson said.

Abu-Taleb continued his suggestions that the village isn't equipped to deal with economic development as presently structured and said it's time for Oak Park to "double down in a re-invested OPDC," and help Oak Park reinvent itself. He also said OPDC needs to "get their act together," and prove it can move the village forward.

Trustee Glenn Brewer questioned if OPDC has the right people for the job, and said what's needed is a "substantial change in culture." Johnson also said he's not ready to take a risk on OPDC, and said next year's budget may be a time where OPDC has to dip into its reserves and prove itself to the village before the village continues to fund the organization from its limited budget.

"You need a reliable, experienced staff to carry out its mission," Brewer said. "I don't believe OPDC has the ability to do this."

Noll agreed the current partnership between OPDC and the village has not worked well, and said now is the time to show the two can unite.

After the robust conversation, trustees agreed they will review OPDC's proposal at a special meeting before deciding how to move forward with OPDC and also if the village should continue its plan to hire a community and economic development director. Trustees concluded by agreeing with a suggestion from colleague Peter Barber.

"I'm very open to whatever the best solution is," he said. "I don't want to waste time. I'm open to whatever makes sense. …it's needs to be expedited."

Email: Twitter: @AnnaLothson

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Posted: October 22nd, 2013 7:32 PM

The village's staffing issue is not understaffing in terms of having employees, its the unnecessary staffing of departments that are not essential services and then a bare bones staffing of essential services. OP has a lot of feel good departments and subdepartments and is convinced that it is necessary to have them all when in fact you will be hard pressed to find some of them in existence almost anywhere else that is this size.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2013 2:53 PM

@OPMB, I recently found out that the person you speak of highly, is in the Office of the Village Clerk, not in the department of Business Services. The organizational chart, showing the BLO (Business License Officer) as the sole staff member under the Business Services Manager, is what is being proposed by the Village Manager. I didn't know that the Village Manager has such authority over an elected office, so now I'm even more confused.


Posted: October 17th, 2013 10:32 PM

I am tired of hearing Cara Pavlicek whine about how she needs more high salaried department managers to help her manage the village. We need more police officers, firefighters and employees who actually assist us. If Pavlicek cant manage the village without an army she obviously wasn't the right choice for Village Manager.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: October 17th, 2013 10:15 PM

@OPMB, I'm sorry you took my questions as criticism. I ask questions...when I have questions. And I have questions when I don't understand something. From your comment, it would appear that the Business License Officer is *not* an officer who issues business licenses. Got it. Thank you for the clarification.

OP Minority Business  

Posted: October 17th, 2013 5:56 PM

Bridgett - Before you criticize the "Business Licensing Officer (BLO)" you should learn first what the BLO does. I have always been able to call the BLO and get a return call or when I go to Village Hall (VH) I always see the BLO. I can't say the same for this Daly person. I call 3 times to Daly and NEVER got a return call or when I stop in VH several times, this person is NEVER there?? What does this Daly person do or where is this person or report to?? I guess OP does not care about minorities

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 16th, 2013 8:13 PM

Bridgett - You may be right, but that raises the two questions -- Who does handle strategy development in OP? Who should be handling it?

OP Business Owner  

Posted: October 16th, 2013 7:12 PM

I own a business in Oak Park for the last 18 years. I have heard of OPDC, but never had anybody from OPDC visit my business. And what is this business services and if this Daly person is in charge of it, what does he/she do? The Village Board should fire this person, because this person has never done anything for businesses in Oak Park. When I have a problem I go or call this person in the Clerk's Office for help and this person always helps me. Keep this person! Who's in charge the VM or VB??

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: October 16th, 2013 4:17 PM

@JBM, I disagree that the Board thinks that they are to develop strategies--at least, that's not the impression I got at Monday's meeting. I heard individuals on the Board say that they didn't know HOW something needed to be done. I think the disagreement between the members of the Board has to do with what person/entity/structure most effectively can develop the strategy. Some feel it can be done within the Village Hall model, others feel the opposite. That's where I think the tension exists.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 16th, 2013 11:35 AM

One of the flaws of OP government is that the village board see itself as being responsible for developing strategies. Board members rarely have the time or expertise to develop strategy. But even if they did, they shouldn't. A board overly involved in strategy development become advocates for their own view. They lose their objectivity along the way impeding broad discussion. The board role is to set a vision, create clear goals that the staff and partners use to guide the actual strategy(s) development. It is then sent to a board for approval. Boards approving and forming policies from their own strategic viewpoint do a disservice the the residents. How can board members represent their constituents when they are representing their own strategy first. It is hard for board members to delegate strategic development responsibilities to others, but it is the best way to move creative, researched and option loaded ideas through an organization. Additionally, the VM does not lead strategic development either. The VM's role is to expand the board's direction, add clarity, coaches the strategy developers and approve the steps taken by subordinates. The best strategies bubble up; not down.

longtimevillageemployee from op  

Posted: October 16th, 2013 10:00 AM

Too early to tell on village manager, but you hit the nail on the head on her lackey Daly. Thinks she runs the show and treats most people like yesterday's news.... Time for change please. What exactly does Loretta do?


Posted: October 16th, 2013 9:07 AM

"Village President Anan Abu-Taleb, who has been vocal in criticizing Oak Park's economic development progress, was frustrated that he learned about the funding cut proposal from OPDC leaders and not personally from village management." That's the ole Barwin method of managment. OPDC is not the only partner agency looking at cuts that this board knows nothing about. Pavlacik and her little lacky Daly think they're above reproach. It's time for some fresh people in VH.


Posted: October 16th, 2013 7:12 AM

Pavlicek is systematically destroying Village Hall, one methodical, secret step at a time. Yes, she is diabolical.


Posted: October 16th, 2013 6:39 AM

Typical politicians - blameyour team for lack of vision and strategy. Strategy starts withthe Board and the OPDC executes.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: October 16th, 2013 12:50 AM

Eek, just to clarify, I do not find Cara to be diabolical. I thought I wrote the opposite. I'm sorry my previous hyperbolic comment caused confusion.

Help from Oak park  

Posted: October 15th, 2013 10:34 PM

Bless you sweet Bridgett. Finally someone to notice the truly diabolical nature of the Village Manager. Suspect every devious step she takes with that fake smile on her face.

roundandround in circles  

Posted: October 15th, 2013 10:32 PM

OPDC, the VOP, round and round they go, each one pointing to the next. Time to let others take over OPDC, you guys don't have much to show. Admittedly, VOP probably hasn't helped. Meanwhile, Business Services is supposed to speed up process of opening a new business, ask Lou Malnati's how that is going....Time for Anan and Co to show that they mean business. Also, please, Oak Park, don't play realtor and buy anymore buildings/property. Didn't work out too well in the past

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 15th, 2013 10:07 PM

Bridgett - Asking the right questions, for sure!

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 15th, 2013 9:41 PM

I think Cara is going the wrong way in terms of organization structure. 1) the village is not understaffed, 2) the village is already top heavy -- the community economic development is another layer, 3) The thing that is lacking is productive; not where the employees are sitting and who is reporting to who. 4) More leadership would be helpful.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: October 15th, 2013 9:37 PM

This topic has brought to light how some depts. are structured, and I am now interested in learning how other departs are structured. This organizational chart on page 6 ( raises questions like, why is there a manager managing a department of just one person? And that one person is the "Business License Officer." A full-time position for business licenses? And doesn't the Village Clerk take care of business licenses?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 15th, 2013 9:33 PM

Hjalmarsson - I agree with your viewpoint, though I still believe this is a "roll up your sleeves" moment. The grumbling over power has gone on for years in the silos. The silos need dismantling but now is not the time. Now is the time to rebuild the team, get realistic about budgets (expenditures and revenue), and the management of planning. The village needs a two year strategy or guideline to weather the current weak balance sheet and a five year strategy for growth. The two year strategy is 100% "roll up your sleeves."

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: October 15th, 2013 9:29 PM

Originally the plan was for an Economic Development Director. Somewhere along the way, Cara changed it to be a Community and Economic Development Director. So not only was the proposed position muddled, but notice that "Community" comes before "Economic Development." I don't know if Cara's motives are as diabolical as one commenter surmises, but the new job description that she came up with is indication that perhaps she really doesn't have a grasp on what an economic development director does.

Jim Bowman from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 15th, 2013 8:18 PM

Had to read the whole thing, Hjalmarsson etc. last, before I read something that was not in code.

Hjalmarsson from the blueline from Oak Park  

Posted: October 15th, 2013 7:08 PM

@JBM - I don't think this is about rolling up your sleeves. This is clearly about who's in charge, OPDC or the VM. Clearly a power play was made by Cara, that was sniffed out by Anan. She tried to weaken OPDC by defunding it and establish a position that she controls. IMO Cara's view is part of OP's problem. She has no development experience but wants control of it. The VM should not control this position. This is about the VM and the OP board ceding power to OPDC in regards to development.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 15th, 2013 6:34 PM

The village has 27 years of board service amongst five board members who served during the Pope Age. During that period we heard few complaint about staff or OPDC and too many compliments. The incumbent board members need to remember that they were part of the failures. They are not in any position to be the first rock throwers. I think it is great that the seven board members are energized and raring to go, but I still have to ask which way the board itself is going. Visions are great, but they are meaningless if a single multiple, incomplete, and questionable strategies still rule. It took a lot of time to build OP's Silo Problem. It will take a long time to get the Silos working together. Everyone (board, staff, partners, commissions, etal) need to get their house in order before attacking each other. Scuttling people or changing roles in the middle of a storm (Yes, OP has a storm) is not easy and frequently makes the storm a disaster. The hell with more meetings to identify the problems between board and partners, partners and staff, etc. Roll up the sleeves and do your job first before even considering organizational powwows.


Posted: October 15th, 2013 2:49 PM

During many of the meetings various people, including trustees cite the success of Berwyn. One reason for that success may be that the City has ceded over to the Berwyn Development Corporation all of its economic development work. Yes, the City still has authority over what goes where, but it follows the old dictum; lead, follow, or get out of the way. The Village should at the least do the last. As far as a new comm. & econ. development director, save the $135,000 & don't cut the OPDC funding.

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