Last week's election in Oak Park was a thorough-going repudiation of the tenor of government in Oak Park these past years. The establishment candidates in town regularly pulled out the village's "public opinion survey" and said it proved that people were content with the direction of local government. What it proved was how tone deaf these VMA candidates had become. What they missed, and what cost the VMA the village presidency and every trustee slot, is a palpable upset over closed government, an inarticulate vision on development, and a yearning for better listening skills and more civil discussion. Maybe Oak Parkers are happy with garbage pick-up. They are, however, demonstrably unhappy with their government.
That led to a wholesale turnover of the village government to an independent president and a New Leadership Party trustee slate. All involved in that victory have reason to be proud and pleased. Now, one week later, they need to put the confetti back in the can, their egos back in check and get ready to govern. They were elected to renew the spirit of this government in progressive and welcoming fashion. This is a new day, not payback time.
So here are three things the new president and board majority ought to do in short order.
? Add a trustee: The election of Trustee David Pope as president creates an important and immediate board opening. How quickly and how well Pope and Majority Whip Bob Milstein can fill this post will tell much about the next two years. Our advice: Rule out any person who has previously run for village government election. No VMA hangers-on. No John Troelstrup from the NLP side. In fact, rule out anyone active in the past campaign. Reach down into the talented ranks of Oak Park's commissions and pluck a clear-headed, non-affiliated up-and-comer. Have that name ready to go at the first meeting of the new board.
? Make peace with the parks: As the surprisingly successful park district referendum showed last week, this park board is in touch with the community. Three years of preparing the ground with remarkably strong and broad-based planning committees set the stage for a real understanding of the challenges the parks face. Passing the referendum was step one. Now, in what ought to be a slam dunk for a new village board, the village and park boards need to settle an agreement that provides transitional funding for the parks over the next three years, transfers ownership of the rec centers to the parks and resolves a handful of lingering governance issues. The park board has a proposal in front of the current recalcitrant village board. The new board should pick it up and pass it in May. This is a win-win.
? Back off on the staff: The village government has been in a political conniption fit over the past years. It was not staff-induced. The new board majority should actively stay with their campaign promise and move slowly to get to know its senior staff. There is time for evaluating and making changes down the road. And in the meantime, no showboating, no cheap shots allowed in this area.
Every day, every village elected official needs to remember that voters roundly rejected disdain and disconnection. They'll reject it again in two years no matter what party banner it flies under.