E-mail technology no excuse for confabs

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When is a quorum not a quorum? According to at least some Oak Park village trustees, when a discussion takes place via e-mail.

We respectfully disagree.

It would be a violation of the state's Open Meetings Act if three of the seven trustees sat down for a cup of coffee to discuss village business. It would be a violation of that law if three trustees hooked up on a conference phone call to discuss village business. And while the law may not have caught up yet with the technology upgrade represented by e-mail, it is clear to us that a round robin discussion of village issues conducted electronically is in violation of Oak Park's good government instincts.

It appears it is not so clear to Trustees Bob Milstein, Geoff Baker and Greg Marsey who defended the practice of e-mail discussions during a Saturday session in which the still-new board discussed its modes of operation. Baker told his colleagues that taking part in the e-mail dialogues allows him to be a better-prepared trustee when he gets to the board table.

While we could do without Baker's posturing and occasional tantrum-induced departures from the board table, at least we are, in those instances, getting to see an unvarnished process of decision-making. We are not interested in seeing "better prepared" trustees by virtue of electronic pre-meetings.

There are towns around us that have conducted their citizens' business in the shadows of unwarranted executive sessions and unauthorized "organizational meetings." Leaders in those towns have gone to jail, or may soon be sent there.

One of Oak Park's strengths has long been its determination to foster open government. We believe that the board members elected by the New Leadership Party believe deeply in those virtues. Many is the time we've listened to Trustee Milstein question whether past village boards have exploited the limits of executive session.

Now, as they adjust to life in the majority, those same NLP-backed trustees must be the ones taking the extra step to ensure both the reality and the appearance of transparent governance.

Ditch the e-mail.

 

One superintendent. One principal.

We are glad to see that the joint superintendent-principal post at Oak Park and River Forest High School is up for discussion once more. As the District 200 school board takes its first steps toward finding a replacement for Supt.-Principal Susan Bridge following her retirement after the 2006-2007 school year, it is wise to start with the parameters of the job itself.

A little history. For decades, OPRF had both a superintendent and a principal. They are absolutely distinct jobs. It was only during the 1980s, when a particularly severe budget contraction took hold, that the jobs were combined. The last time around, before Dr. Bridge was hired, the school board had decided to once again separate the posts. In what even Dr. Bridge may look back on as an error, the board let Dr. Bridge persuade them to keep the jobs linked.

It is clear to us that the job of running Oak Park and River Forest High School is growing only more complex. The educational demands belong in the hands of a dedicated principal. The management oversight should be entrusted to a superintendent.

As this issue is again considered, money and the organizational chart will be legitimately examined. The district has "staffed up" to create support for the joint position. That staffing will have to be undone if an affordable plan is to be crafted.

We are confident that as the board again examines this key issue, that they will move toward separate hires.

In the Community of Caring special section in our Sept. 29 edition, an article on blended families included a quote from Katherine Goldberg, youth services coordinator for Family Service and Mental Health Center. The quotation should have read, "Even when a child is pleased with a new family member, it is also a great time of loss. A blended marriage signifies the end of the original family structure, and a change in the relationship with mom."

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