Leading up to his election as Oak Park village president last week, Trustee David Pope ran on a platform of leadership free of "raw politics." In the coming weeks, however, one of Pope's first priorities will be reaching a key political compromise with the new village board?#34;appointing a new trustee to fill his now-vacant seat.
Pope said Friday he is hoping to settle on a replacement as early as a village board meeting scheduled for the third Monday in May.
"I'm going to sit down with each board member and talk about our collective vision," he said. "I'm looking for someone with experience understanding the issues of our community who is above reproach. I'm going to identify a person to compliment the current composition of the board."
Pope said he's already asked for a list of candidates from sitting Trustee Ray Johnson and new board members, but all new and sitting trustees interviewed by WEDNESDAY JOURNAL last week declined to name names.
Pope emphasized that he's willing to consider all candidates put forward, but, when asked, he said he wasn't looking at the appointment as a chance to build inroads with the Village Manager Association (VMA). VMA-backed candidates failed to land any trustees on the board for the first time in 52 years.
"I ran on a platform of non-partisanship. I'm looking at this position without any regard to political affiliation," he said. "This ought not to be someone from the VMA, or not from the VMA. Either is possible. I'm looking for someone who can help us move forward."
Trustee Robert Milstein?#34;who says he now sees himself has a "senior member" of a new majority?#34;said he doesn't believe his group will accept any VMA-backed candidates. A majority of the village board must vote in favor of an appointee.
"I'm hoping he will not pick anyone of the VMA candidates defeated in the election. [The election] was a message to the VMA that their philosophy is not going to run Oak Park," he said. "I'll not in any way support any one of those three candidates. We're not going to be obstructionist, but he has to come through us."
Milstein said he'd support a compromise candidate, who hasn't necessarily had a lot of experience in government, but has "a sense of what's going on in the village."
"[The candidate] just has to stay up on things and be aware, astute and have an opinion," he said.
Trustee Ray Johnson, the only VMA-slated trustee left on the board, said he has talked to Pope about the appointment process. Johnson said he believes it is one of the board's first, "and most critical decisions."
"My first take on this is to have a person as soon as possible, so as we set our goals jointly, we aren't finding ourselves in a catch up mode down the road," he said. The board typically holds a series of "goal setting" sessions shortly after new trustees are sworn in.
Johnson also emphasized that the decision is going to require a "dialogue of cooperation."
On appointing a VMA candidates who lost in the election, Johnson said he was pleased Pope hasn't crossed anyone off the list yet.
"One of my main concerns in regard to anyone who was running in the middle of their term is that the voice of voters is what runs elections. So I agree with David that at this early stage we cannot rule out as a possibility someone who ran and did not win who would be a viable and appropriate appointment," he said.
However, he cautioned that the issue is "clearly sensitive."
"I don't want to say too much about anything because I really respect the opinions of my colleagues," he said.