Roosevelt redo: An exercise in futility?

Opinion: Columns

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By Al Popowits

I accepted with alacrity an invitation to serve on the Roosevelt Exterior Design Committee to study the planned renovations of Roosevelt Middle School. I did so because of my appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the people who serve on the District 90 school board, in the school administration, and on the faculty of our three elementary schools. 

Our committee met five times, necessitating numerous hours at home and at the committee meetings. We studied maps and perused reports. Committee members were thoughtful, sincere and hard working. We were ably led and given ample opportunities to express views on various topics. 

Consensus was found on all but one issue, i.e., the north parking lot, located between the River Forest Public Library and Roosevelt Middle School. Some of us wanted the lot to remain open to the public and to retain as many parking spaces as possible; others wanted option #2, i.e., to close the lot to the public and reduce the number of parking spaces. Ultimately, the D90 school board chose option #2. While I disagreed with their determination, I believed it was appropriate for the board to have the final say. That is why we elected them.

You can imagine my chagrin when a group of River Forest residents learned through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that the school board did not have the power to make the decision. It seems that in 1997 there was an intergovernmental agreement governing the future use of the lot. I understand that these commitments have the force of law and that is why D90 is now before the village developmental review board. A public hearing will be held at 7:30 p.m. on April 3 at Roosevelt Middle School. 

The village board of trustees will ultimately decide if the school board can carry out its plans. The FOIA suggests that some people were well aware of this situation and chose not to disclose it. Under these disingenuous circumstances, the citizens' Exterior Design Committee made its decisions without important and vital pieces of information.

This lack of transparency, which may have gained a short-term advantage for some, will create a long-term problem for community-based institutions. Obfuscation feeds the cynical view that the game is rigged — that a citizen's investment of time and energy will only be used to create a "democratic façade" to cover preordained decisions. 

This unhealthy view does not encourage interest, much less involvement, in community affairs. To the contrary, it encourages political ennui. 

Is it naive for River Forest residents to expect more transparency in community governance? If it is, then we are all in trouble. 

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