Change is just ahead at Oak Park Village Hall with the election of Anan Abu-Taleb as a village president independent of the Village Manager Association. But it was 60 years ago when 91 percent of Oak Park voters, fed up with Republican corruption and cronyism, followed the lead of the nascent VMA and changed the village's form of government. Gone were the influences of outside political machines and put in place was a village manager concept where elected officials set broad policy while professional staff, headed by a village manager, carried out the day-to-day execution.
The first village manager hired in Oak Park back in 1953 was 34-year-old Mark Keane. It was his job to change the culture of local government, a task he pioneered during his 10-year tenure as village manager. Mr. Keane died on April 12, 2013, surrounded by his large family at his home in Sedona, Ariz. He was 93.
Mr. Keane played a vital role in establishing professional city management both in his work in three communities and then as a deputy assistant secretary in the newly created federal department of Housing and Urban Development under President Lyndon Johnson. Mr. Keane then became the longtime executive director of the International City Management Association, where he served for 15 years.
After leaving Oak Park in 1962, he became city manager of the rapidly growing city of Tucson.
In a 2000 interview with the Journal's Ken Trainor, Keane remembered his Oak Park years with affection. He recalled elected leaders with respect, calling the early VMA officials, "really outstanding people. I've never had a better group to work with."
Internally, he had to clean up a history of poor financial management and worked to bolster department heads who were not corrupt but were used to working under the thumbs of politicians. Keane recalled the police chief he inherited, Tom Kearin, who sought more guidance than Keane was prepared to offer. Early on, Keane said, Kearin came to him with a politically sensitive matter and asked for instructions. Keane told Trainor he had instructed Kearin to go back and work it out himself.
"He could hardly believe it," Keane said. No one had ever allowed him to assert his authority. As a result, Keane said in 2000, "he became a better chief."
His greatest accomplishment, he told the Journal, was hiring a professional village forester just as Dutch Elm Disease was beginning to take its massive toll on Oak Park's urban forest. He said the village instituted a vehicle sticker fee and used it to fund the forestry department. "Saving the trees for Oak Park was the greatest thing we did," he said.
Born in Chicago, Mr. Keane graduated from Purdue with a degree in public service engineering. He served in World War II, deployed in both Italy and North Africa. He attained the rank of Army captain.
Just before his Army induction, Mr. Keane married Carolyn Mims at Camp Shelby, Miss. The two had eight children. Mrs. Keane died of cancer in 1977. Four years later, Mr. Keane married Judith Mohr, another public service manager. The two traveled widely, including trips to Korea, China, Turkey and throughout Europe. They moved to Sedona where both were active civic volunteers.
Mr. Keane last visited Oak Park in 2003 when the village celebrated a half-century of the village manager form of government. He served that year as the grand marshal of the 4th of July parade.
Mark Keane is survived by his wife Judith; his children, Dan, Dennis, Brian, Peter, Mary, Barry, Nancy, Mark and Monty; 19 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Two of Mr. Keane's children, Paul and Mark Jr., preceded him in death.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Sedona Sunrise Adult Care Center (sedonasunrisecenter.org).
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