In his One View last week, John Murtagh raises a number of questions about the role of the Village Manager Association in Oak Park politics and its track record of endorsing candidates [Oak Park's election process deserves review, Viewpoints, Oct.].
Being a transparent organization whose doors are open to Oak Parkers of all political stripes and viewpoints, the VMA appreciates the opportunity to provide some background concerning our mission and candidate selection process. In doing so, we also hope to clarify some of the false perceptions that Murtagh's piece implies.
He says the VMA is a private club. The VMA is neither "private" nor a "club." In 1952, the VMA mounted a campaign to wrest control of our village government from aldermen more beholden to outside interests than to our citizens. At that time, village hall was paralyzed by patronage, partisanship and corruption. The VMA convinced Oak Parkers that we would be well served if elected village trustees concentrated on policy and hired a professional manager to administer day-to-day village operations. A referendum restructuring village government was approved by a 3-to-1 ratio. The achievements of scores of citizen leaders at village hall over the ensuing six decades prove that the VMA was right.
Murtagh implies that the VMA selection process for endorsing candidates is essentially a coronation carried out in secret by a small and exclusive group of special interests who then expend significant resources to make sure candidates that support their agenda are installed on the village board, where they vote unanimously. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The VMA selection process is a series of interviews of potential candidates. It is entirely open to citizens who would like to become involved in the process and with the VMA. These participants represent no special interests of any sort. Their political opinions range all over the map, from liberal to conservative and in between. The only requirement is membership in the organization and adoption of its guiding principles — that of accountable and responsive government, ongoing and inclusive diversity, and balanced and sensitive economic growth.
Murtagh's allegation that this process is closed is particularly off base. The selections process is advertised in local papers and through a letter to the editor encouraging participation. A wide membership mailing is undertaken, urging members to identify potential candidates or participants for the selection committee. The ultimate goal of the process is very straight forward: to endorse the best candidates who support the VMA's principles to run for elected office.
Once the selections process is concluded, the VMA takes a backseat to the candidates, who form a political party for purposes of campaigning and development of their own campaign platform. While the candidates selected carry a proud endorsement from the VMA, they are not, as Murtagh implies, the beneficiaries of undisclosed financial support from the VMA.
The VMA-endorsed candidates receive financial support comprised of individual and in-kind donations provided by Oak Park citizens. The VMA itself sometimes provides seed money out of its own budget to assist the campaign. The names, addresses and contribution amounts of these citizens and organizations are posted online at: http://www.elections.illinois.gov/CampaignDisclosure/CommitteeDetail.aspx?id=21570
Now, with the click of a mouse, Murtagh and any other interested Oak Parkers are equipped to review our disclosures and those of our endorsed candidates. You will see that the money comes from interested and concerned citizens, much like Murtagh himself.
Finally, Murtagh worries that "independent" candidates cannot compete with VMA (or Village Citizens Alliance) endorsed candidates. Perhaps he does not recall the successful independent candidacy of David Pope for president in 2005. Regardless, the VMA vigorously disputes the notion that the candidates and officials it endorses lack independence. Any reader of Wednesday Journal knows that, unanimous procedural votes aside, our current trustees disagree frequently. This is as it should be.
The VMA has designed its selection process to impose no political requirements on the candidates it endorses. We are proud of the leaders that our transparent selections process produces — independent, nonpartisan public servants.
We encourage citizens who are interested in, or have questions about, the VMA to visit our website at vma-oakpark.org. More importantly, we urge you to become involved!
Brad Bartels is an Oak Park resident and president of the Village Manager Association.