Heated debate at Anan forum over D97 admin building

Residents spitball ideas, rally against D97 admin building option

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Garages with robots to park your vehicle, what to do about the closure of Dominick's and possibly switching to an aldermanic form of government in Oak Park were among the myriad topics discussed Wednesday night at an informal meeting with residents hosted by Village President Anan Abu-Taleb.

The forum, held with Trustee Peter Barber, was the third held by Abu-Taleb since being elected village president in April. During the campaign, Abu-Taleb promised to hold the informal meetings, which are held every other month, in an effort to give residents a chance to speak their minds about issues in the village. Wednesday's meeting was held at the Oak Park library on Lake Street.

Rick McNamara, owner of Shirtworks on Marion Street, floated the idea of including a parking garage at the proposed Colt site development on Lake Street in downtown Oak Park – but one that would use a robotic computer system to park the cars.

"It's been done in Germany, South America and Japan and here in the States as well," he said. "You drive up to the entrance, you get out of your car and the computer takes your car and parks it close to the other cars, so you gain 20-30 percent more parking in your parking area."

He acknowledged that such a proposal might not be feasible, adding, "But we could look at it."

McNamara also said he's hopeful that the proposed Colt development will go beyond environmental LEED certification for building construction and make the development energy independent through a combination of geothermal, wind and solar power.

Residents also voiced concerns about the pending closure of the Dominick's grocery store at 259 Lake St. Resident Karen Mansfield said she's concerned that once the store closes at the end of the year there will not be a walkable grocery store in the area. "The village is going to lose sales tax revenue," she said. "How are we going to attract a new food store?"

Barber said the village board shares her concerns but added that Safeway, parent company of Dominick's, owns the property, not the village.

"Village staff and the staff of the Oak Park Development Corporation have definitely had lots of conversations from the owners and we've been given good signals that there is going to be something, but I can't really tell you more than that," he said. "I don't know much more than that, but I can tell you it is a priority."

The hottest topic of the evening was over discussions at village hall concerning the possible construction of a new District 97 school district administration building on land behind village hall. Chris Williams, who lives near the proposed building site, asked what would happen to the existing administrative building located at 970 Madison St. The existing building, which is in need of repair, he said, would end up being another vacant building.

"It's going to fester," he said.

Abu-Taleb reminded residents there is no formal proposal on the table for the project and that residents opposed to it haven't given the idea a chance.

"When people think about D97, it's not just a letter and two numbers; this is probably the second largest employer in our community," Abu-Taleb said. "More than 800 people work for D97. They need an administration building."

Resident Barbara Mullarkey said she's heard that the project could run $3 million to $10 million.

"I would hope that people would want money of this nature to be spent on students, not buildings," she said.

She said talk of the proposed building has sparked interest in the village of switching from a trustee form of government to an aldermanic form of government. Having trustees representing various parts of the village, rather than having all trustees elected at-large, "could make a better government," she said.

Abu-Taleb said he had not heard discussions about such an overhaul of village government but noted, "I kind of like the idea."

A date has not been set for the next community forum, which is expected to be held sometime in February. Village trustees and representatives of D97 will hold a joint meeting Saturday, Dec. 14 at 8:30 a.m. at village hall to discuss ideas for a new elementary school administration building.

Email: tim@oakpark.com

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Posted: December 14th, 2013 2:21 PM

I watched the proceedings this morning on tv. I was aghast at the behavior of the elected officials. I hope they all watch themselves to see what the public saw. Body language (crossed arms), snickering off mic after someone spoke in opposition of the new building and showing general impatience with how many vocal concerned citizens had come out on a snowy morning. Kudos to all the fine citizens who came out and spoke in opposition! You should be proud of yourselves.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: December 14th, 2013 10:57 AM

Mr. Spatz's presentation was a demonstration of confirmation bias, the tendency to favor data that confirms personal beliefs, leading to poor organizational decisions. People display this bias when they gather data selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The info presented by Mr. Spatz could have just as easily been used to support a case against D97 proposed village hall location, but Mr. Spatz selectively interpreted the data otherwise, often in the face of contrary evidence.

dystOPia from OP  

Posted: December 14th, 2013 10:15 AM

Listening to D97 Board President Bob Spatz's explanation of how the existing admin. building is beyond repair, begs the question, how did D97 allow their building to reach this point? It was appraised for $2.4M in 2007. It appears D97 ran the building into the ground by deferring maintenance and repair in recent years. Buildings of this vintage are not disposable. Instead of rewarding D97 with a new building, the D97 board should be held accountable for not maintaining this capital asset.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 9:27 PM

As I said "... that behavior gets in the way of hearing one's **VALID** points on this important topic."// Looking forward to hearing constructive discussion in 11 hours.

Rachel from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 7:55 PM

Recipients of the normal TIF surplus distributions include; The library, D200-high school & the village among others. Whatever, D97 wants a new building so forget all the others... According to state law, reg. TIF distributions, if the village does something for one taxing body it has to do for the others, they are trying to circumvent that... they are scheming... This is not about a new building in our neighborhood or about air conditioning, it is about the shady financing schemes of the TIF.

Rachel from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 7:40 PM

Bridget, my husband, Rick Boultinghouse questioned the financing schemes going on behind closed doors. This included one mechanism where the village would fund the D97 building in lieu of normal TIF distributions. Annan jumped on Rick for using the word "schemes" without answering Rick's question, (guilty much). Rick has spent countless hours working on this D97 project. Guess how much $ he's made for his efforts? $0. This project is ill conceived and shady.

Matt from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 7:33 PM

A response to Mr. Abu-Taleb's quote in support of the people who work for D97. How many are administrators? My kids go to Longfellow. I voted for the $6 million levy increase. I invested in my kids, not a new real estate development. A new admin building is not what the kids need. Or air conditioning. The loss of green space and increase in traffic would seriously affect the quality of life in this neighborhood, mostly for the kids. This "Village" is a concrete jungle. Find an existing building.

Smells Bad from Done Deal  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 5:36 PM

Screw the neighbors Screw Madison Street Screw the taxpayers. U will love it!!! Now that is progessive.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 3:45 PM

Mr. Bracco - I apologize tor assuming you were a VMA. I also apologize to you and Gail for even bringing up the VMA. My post was inappropriate.

joe from south oak park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 3:28 PM

I sense much butt hurt in this thread.... folks need to lighten up. It's Friday!

Marty Bracco from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 2:39 PM

John, I am not a member of the VMA, so I won't attempt to speak for them.

Chris Williams from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 2:30 PM

Bridget - are you comprehending this? If Anan and Barber want to ignore a valid question and whine about their feelings, as a political tactic, I will respond with a tone that is appropriate. Once again: if we see honesty and actual valid arguments on Saturday, it will be fine. Anan disrespected me when he tried to distort the issue into me being "upset about my house." Please. I don't tolerate nonsense. My tone was generous, in the context of things.

Chris Williams from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 2:25 PM

Bridget from Oak Park: let me come and build an underground parking garage next to your house. Then you can tell me to moderate my comments. Bottom line: Anan and Barber tore into Rick, and I don't play that game. I will not tolerate obfuscation. I and my neighbors have been through this before, and we're pissed that we have to go through it again. Oak Park has a long history of financial stupidity, and maybe it's because people like you want to submissive. I am not submissive.

Chris Williams from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 2:22 PM

Bridget from Oak Park: so, to continue, my comment about them being "politicians" was exactly correct - because they refused to answer the valid question Rick posed to them. Again, please understand that I will not tolerate being bullied and disrespected by the people who represent me. So, yes, let's hope we see some honesty on Saturday, and things will be much better.

Christopher Williams from Oak Park   

Posted: December 13th, 2013 2:20 PM

Bridget from Oak Park: I too hope we don't have a repeat of Wednesday, when Anan and Peter Barber decided to try to shame Rick Boultinghouse and pretend that people opposed to the building are acting out of selfish concerns. I saw Anan and Barber act somewhat like bullies, and I stood up and defended him, and us. Your comment is off base, to put it generously. I only reacted that way because there is some serious obfuscation going on. I won't tolerate it.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 1:46 PM

Marty and Gail - Is this an official VMA viewpoint?

Marty Bracco from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 1:14 PM

I agree with Gail in that the alderman form of govt. would be a mistake. If my history serves me right, OP went away from a Mayor/alderman system in the 1950's due to rampant corruption (a la City of Chicago). We're a 3 mile by 2 mile rectangle, or about the size of one ward in Chicago. I also don't think another commission is needed. Plenty of those too.

Interesting Ideas from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 1:00 PM

@John Butch Murtagh- now you're talking!

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 12:56 PM

I think we underestimate the work load of board members. Consider the amount of reading and discussing that goes into preparation for every board/committee meetings. Consider the overall time available to board members while having a full time job. Consider their family responsibility. Board members do not have a staff. The village staff role is to develop programs and get them approved by the board. They answer board members questions, but that's about it. Bottom line; they are not necessarily aware of every detail of every issue. So it is not surprising that they are not always as knowledgeable as advocates (for instance ?" D97 move to Village Hall) who have thoroughly researched a subject and have a strong sense of the neighborhoods' views. Oak Park Commissions report to the Village President. Their role is to provide insight (sometimes very detailed and with recommendations) to the board. It is a complex process. Perhaps, a new commission should be established to provide a "Sense of the Community" on issues. The commission role would be to provide the pros and cons of issues. The commission would not make recommendations, would not be advocates, and would provide a simple (one page) summary of the pros and cons. The issues could range from bicycle helmets to the Forest/Lake development. The summary would not be technical. It would be a "Cliff Notes" for board members only. There would be a representative from each neighborhood on the commission as well as other members identified by the board. It is valuable for all neighborhoods to know what is taking place in other neighborhoods. The idea is simple, the reports should be simple, and the design should have a single goal ?" support the board's need for information and viewpoints.

John Singleton from Los Angeles  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 12:54 PM

Jeff - You are South Central. Be sure to wear the right colors.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 11:55 AM

Hey, I might consider running for alderman for our neighborhood, knowing how rich you can become. But seriously, those of us who live between Oak Park and Ridgeland Avenues and south of Lake Street and North of Madison can use an identity. Are we North Siders or South Siders? Do we have a park? Nope. All of our kids have to take a bus to school.

Interesting Ideas from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 10:59 AM

No doubt, neighborhood representation needs to be better. I can just imagine that in Oak Park, if you carve it up into wards, no one will be able to agree on anything and Village government will get slower and more indecisive. On the other hand, you could increase democracy with neighborhood referendums, changing the code to allow neighborhood veto on certain projects. Give the residents more of a direct role in the process. That's the OP way. Not empowering aldermen to create fiefdoms.

john butch murtagh from oak park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 10:49 AM

(continued) Our current form of government is weak because its representation of neighborhoods is weak. Aldermanic forms of government increase representation as does the newly formed Oak Park IGOV committee that is represented by all taxing bodies. An excellent start for IGOV would become involved in the OPV/D97 issue.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 10:47 AM

Merrian-Webster defines Politics as "activities that relate to influencing the actions and policies of a government." That is; we are all politicians. Politics becomes negative when representation is centered in the hands of a few. Voting for elected office in OP is low compared to all surrounding communities. To some degree that says we do not have enough people involved in influencing decisions in Oak Park. Our current form of government is weak because its representation of neighborhoo

Interesting Ideas from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 10:03 AM

Re: Aldermanic form of government- I think this idea is rooted in a valid concern. But the way to address is not by having aldermen. We don't need competing neighborhood interests slowing down decision making. However, I do think we could increase accountability for decisions by having each trustee be assigned to a neighborhood as that area's liaison. Then, like our beat officers, the trustee would have to attend local forums and answer to residents in a particular part of town.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 9:18 AM

In order to make the Dec. 14 joint meeting meaningful, D97 needs to post the following public information; Exisiting Building Conditions Assessment, Space Needs and Programming Analysis, New Building Cost Estimate, and most recent Existing Building Appraisal. According to the D97 website, there are currently 50 employees located at Administration Bldg., 11 (22%) of which are Admin. Assistant / Secretary positions.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 9:13 AM

I am looking forward to the meeting tomorrow morning. I hope that we all can be respectful. I understand certain people's frustrations, however I wish not to have a repeat of certain parts of Wednesday night. As an example: using the word "politician" in a derogatory manner towards elected officials who pour hundreds of hours in to serving this community, for paltry pay, is not helpful and, that behavior gets in the way of hearing one's valid points on this important topic.

Dave from Chicago  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 9:04 AM

Having just left Oak Park, God bless the person who put changing Oak Park's form of government into the conversation. At-large village board members take no responsibility for any individual decision. They are free to dream up wonderful ideas that have nothing to do with what voters want, like the public housing project on Madison, like continually wasting money on downtown projects. It's taxation without representation. Without accountability for decisions, Oak Park isn't even a democracy.

Want to Stay in Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 8:29 AM

"NOTICE OF PROPOSED PROPERTY TAX INCREASE FOR OAK PARK SCHOOL DISTRICT NO 97" This is on page 40 of the December 11th Wednesday Journal. Note, your property taxes are going up AGAIN courtesy of D97. Is this necessary? How much of this is going to fund a brand new administration building? Residents need to speak up tomorrow and on on December 17th. I know everyone expects D97 to ignore taxpayers interest's, but we have to let them know there is substantial opposition to increased spending.

Chris Williams from Oak Park   

Posted: December 13th, 2013 8:27 AM

Especially love the comments from: Oak Parker; 7ofus; alberg; DeJordy (great comment); huh?; and John Murtagh. Great comments! Come to the meeting on 12/14 and speak some truth!!!

Christopher Williams from Oak Park   

Posted: December 13th, 2013 8:24 AM

Love the comments here! Thank you all. This is so important because the Village and D97 are trying to frame this as a small group of residents worried about their personal self-interest in terms of a new building. But these comments show that anyone who learns about this plan has the same response: how does a new building make financial sense, especially in the context of Madison and Madison TIF funds? This project does not make sense. D97 may need new offices, but not a new building.

7ofus - NONEWBLDG  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 8:21 AM

The admin building does not house 800 employees, they don't house even 80 employees. For large meetings (usually held off hours or on institute days) look to Brooks or Julian. They have lots of room. To spruce up the current facilities, make the necessary repairs then hold a contest for budding student artists and enjoy their murals. We know how much the district loves their children and the work would be a constant reminder why the admin is there in the first place. Boom! Problem solved!

Neighborhood reps  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 7:24 AM

I don't know that we need to go back to alderman. But having reps from neighborhoods (like the Beat Officers) would be an improvement. It would allow residents to highlight our specific needs and maybe make sure Village Hall gives some attention. I wouldn't say neighborhoods get ignored. But some really focused local issues could stand to be highlighted or nothing will ever be done.

oak parker  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 11:20 PM

How about D97 renovating current space or purchasing the vacant Dominicks and renovating it. Thinking cost would be less than 10 mil. Think the village should focus on bringing new QUALITY businesses into community and filling up these vacant store fronts. I'm sure those working for D97 are happy to have great careers and not focusing on the building.

long time resident  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 10:34 PM

The D97 administrative staff are not homeless! They are not doing their work on laptops in their cars. They have a building. I have been in that building several times and the only major problem I've ever noticed is the poor quality of the sound system in the board room which often makes it difficult to hear what board members are saying. Surely that problem can be fixed for less than 10 million.

Bill from Oak Park  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 9:43 PM

I think it would be great to have an Alderman, more democratic and more responsive than the current committee. We are really too big to be a village. City of Oak Park. No New Building for D97 until we have A/C in the schools or a September start. Also want to know the state of pension obligations which look shaky according to our County treasurer.

alberg from Oak Park  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 9:35 PM

Let's have a discussion about how many admistrative employees Dist. 97 really needs instead of how nice we can make their working conditions. My observation over many years is that's where old Principals went to supplement their ample retirement pay. Dr. Harley and Glada Vaughn are two who quickly come to mind.


Posted: December 12th, 2013 9:22 PM

Is there anything unique about school administration that requires a dedicated building? Are there special things it needs besides desks, computers, telephones, meeting space and so forth? That stuff is plentiful in Oak Park.

huh? from Oak Park   

Posted: December 12th, 2013 9:10 PM

@Amy? Gaslighting taxpayers is so crass. With non-residential tax revenue disappearing so quickly, you would think they would want to work with us, the ones footing the bill for everything. And a referendum in 2017? This is the first I've heard of that.. After what they've done with the revenue from the last referendum, I will absolutely not be supporting a new one. Hey? When are the teacher contracts up for renewal? Let's see how much money we have for them, Mr. Triple Dipper Superintendent!


Posted: December 12th, 2013 9:06 PM

While I understand the need for suitable working conditions, I do not understand the necessity for constructing a new facility. There is an abundance of empty professional space in Oak Park that served well other businesses and employees before those operations closed or moved elsewhere. Let's make the most of the properties we already have.

Amy Williams  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 9:06 PM

@huh?, I'm totally with you! I think about 30 people work there - I know I read that somewhere recently. The 800 number is just another smokescreen...

Amy Williams  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 9:03 PM

If you're opposed to this project, please consider joining the NOD97BLDGHERE group - make your voice heard with the petition, even if you can't attend this ridiculously early meeting. D97 calls us "conspiracy theorists" & says we don't represent the majority of OP. Prove them wrong! Sign the petition at www.tinyurl.com/NOD97BLDG and like us at www.facebook.com/NOD97BLDGHERE. I have18x24 signs if you want one for your lawn or to carry to the meeting - poetgirl67@comcast.net

huh? from Oak Park   

Posted: December 12th, 2013 8:47 PM

Just curious... I mean, I know I am only a parent, but how many of those 800 employees work in the admin building? 10? 15? Maybe 20? How about let's RAISE monies by filling the empty Borders and soon to be empty Dominick's, Anan, before we spend $10(+ ) million? Or, if D97 has the money, maintain and improve the facilities for most of those 800 employees and the over 5500 children of us chumps, the taxpayers of Oak Park?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 8:13 PM

Heck of a lot better than the two neighborhood method - Downtown and All the Rest!

Gail Moran from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 7:02 PM

An aldermanic form of government for Oak Park - pitting neighborhood against neighborhood. BAD idea - seriously.

Still waiting to hear about  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 5:14 PM

a) the D97 referendum already planned for 2017 and b) the stolen iPad minis.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 4:19 PM

I am a bit confused on how D97's 800 employees became a factor. It has no relevance in the new admin bldg discussion. I am sure the public would be willing to hear from the 800. We would get more info than the D97 administration is providing re their need to move.

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