Secret votes, big demands

Opinion: Columns

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Been listening to a lot of candidates and otherwise elected and appointed local officials this past week. Mainly it is because the Journal is hip deep in our endorsement interview process. But I also moderated the League of Women Voters' annual lunch on Saturday and about every fourth person in attendance is on the April ballot. And then it turned out that several other elected folks just wanted a chat.

The good news is that there are a ton of candidates running for office in Oak Park and River Forest. My goodness, there are 10 people running for three spots on the Oak Park library board. Most years filling out an uncontested slate was seen as a victory for democracy at the library. Not having to beg Galen Gockel to fill out a term on the village board for a third time was having a well-stocked bench.

More good news: some of these candidates are spectacular, most are darned good, only a small handful leave me doubting the future of the enterprise that is Oak Park and River Forest.

That said, it was both amusing and frustrating on Friday morning at the Business and Civic Council's Oak Park trustee forum when only one of five candidates coughed up an actual answer to a direct question about whether they'd vote for the two tax hike referenda being put up by District 97 elementary schools.

The four other candidates used some version of "it would be presumptive of me to tell voters how to vote." Suddenly shy, I guess.

It was Deno Andrews who offered a "definitive Yes and Yes" to the question. However, he qualified it as an "angry Yes" calling the need for a referendum a "big travesty" caused by the "money taken out of the schools by the TIFs. The village has defunded the schools with TIFs," he said. 

Well, not exactly. School districts have signed on, sometimes reluctantly, to every TIF ever invented in these burbs. You can't have a TIF without buy-in by all the taxing bodies. That's state law.

Now that buy-in concept also, oddly, got a good play among even the shy trustee candidates on Friday morning. Always good to have potential electeds recognize that cooperation and collaboration among Oak Park's multiple taxing bodies is not only feel-good government but perhaps essential to ever slowing down the tax train in town.

So on one end of the "can't we all work together" pendulum is incumbent trustee Glenn Brewer who takes a share of credit for reinvigorating the I-Gov committee that brings reps from each government together for a good conversation. Reinvigoration is a relative concept as in the not so distant past it took I-Gov six months to write a One View to Wednesday Journal. But baby steps.

Then there is Dan Moroney, a trustee candidate who wouldn't tell voters his view on the D97 referenda but said that from this day forward any taxing body proposing a referendum should need to get "input" from all the other taxing bodies and that it should be a collective decision if that referendum is essential and the right amount.

Andrews went further, saying there needs to be some sort of legal requirement to make the taxing bodies work together.

We're looking at world government here. 

If I were king of the world, or even lived in Oak Park anymore, I'd have forced OPRF to come to the table a decade ago, when the park district wanted to work together on rebuilding Ridgeland Common, to discuss some sort of shared pool. And more recently, I'd have required that the park district and District 97 build a shared headquarters on Madison Street. And while I was on a roll, I'd have merged the fire departments of Oak Park, Forest Park and River Forest into a single fire district. One chief. Fewer pensions.

As in most things, though, persuasion is more powerful than edicts. And we're not electing village trustees to approve teacher contracts.

Contact:
Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

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