In a galling display of partisan politics, replacement Village Trustee Jim Taglia was elected unanimously by the village board last week.
To be clear, I have nothing against Taglia. He's simply the beneficiary of the appointment though I find it distressing that he decided to remove his name from the ballot and resign from the Oak Park Township Board in advance of the village board's decision. And in a display of stunningly bad optics, his nameplate sat at the board table directly to the right of Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb until about two minutes before the public meeting began.
The timing of this appointment is both abrupt and heavy-handed, coming as it does two weeks after Abu-Taleb said he was inclined to wait until after the election and four weeks before the election itself. Taken in isolation, this could be construed as exercising his authority to name a replacement for former trustee Adam Salzman. But when viewed in context with previous actions over the past four years, this illustrates a troubling pattern:
1. Requesting a change in title from village president to mayor. On the surface, this seems like a small change but belies a desire to significantly raise the profile of a single board member above the others.
2. Requesting a salary increase to a six-figure income, 10 times more than the previous amount.
3. Amending the bylaws of the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation to allow Abu-Taleb, currently-appointed Trustee Peter Barber, and the village manager to become voting members of the corporation board, giving them significant voting power on a nine-member body. It's important to clarify that this is the village-appointed body tasked with referring new development projects to the board and that voting authority was not originally granted to any village representatives when the organization was reconstituted several years ago.
4. And now the speedy appointment of a political ally and publicly-supported candidate before the voters have a chance to evaluate that candidate at the polls.
Abu-Taleb is not solely to blame. In fact, he's been clear and consistent both on the campaign trail and in office in his stated desire to streamline the process of government, and I suppose he views this latest appointment as a means to that end. The rest of the board has also been largely complicit in this outcome. Indeed, Taglia's appointment could not have gone forward without their vote.
Process matters. Checks and balances matter. Transparency matters. And the vote to confirm Mr. Taglia matters.
And now more than ever, independent thinkers on the village board matter. So if you're as concerned as I am by this unchecked consolidation of power, I strongly encourage you to vote for independent candidates Dan Moroney, Deno Andrews and Simone Boutet for village trustee on April 4.
Oak Park resident
and former village trustee