Round columns, square holes, vex commission

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The front porch issue, more narrowly the round vs. square columns on the front porch issue, has the earmarks of an "isn't Oak Park a goofy town" story?#34;the sort of story with TV reporters covering a village board meeting on the subject and John Kass resorting to his "People's Republic of Oak Park" inanity.

So before we get there, let's seek clarity. What does the village's Historic Preservation ordinance actually say about the powers of this commission? Is it advisory as many residents of the Gunderson Historic District said they believed last week? Or does this group of sincere citizen volunteers actually have the right to withhold a building permit necessary to rebuild a front porch?

The committee's chair says legal counsel is clear that the commission is charged with decision-making authority. Yet the commission's own guidebook seems to say that the commission issues only advisory rulings unless it is considering a specifically designated landmark structure.

For our part, we get the importance of historic preservation. Yet we also understand the distinction between a law's spirit and letter. The homeowners on South Elmwood want to replace a handsome but worn out front porch of a specific design with a new porch using a design that is different but completely in keeping with other homes in the immediate area. We find the argument compelling that the Gunderson homes were custom-built for their original owners and that the owner picked features such as the type of column holding up the front porch. If it was a matter of personal taste 80 years ago, why shouldn't it be today?

This matter seems destined for the newly minted village board. Members of this board have variously campaigned on a platform calling for greater historic preservation, a return to common-sense problem-solving, and a newfound respect for upholding the considered opinions of its commissions. It will be interesting to see how they balance those sometimes conflicting positions on this issue.

A rinky-dink government

With every contact, our impression of the Cicero Township School Treasurer's Office is confirmed. This is a real government entity, responsible for our local schools' cash, and it is run like a badly managed corner store.

Recently the organization's director Martin O'Connor proposed a budget which pushes his salary over $100K. The budget also called for a hike in insurance costs from $500 to $2,700 because he could only find one bidder. O'Connor proposed a $4,500 "shot in the dark" budget number to hire a consultant to protect against computer viruses. We can't help it?#34;we picture Laurel and Hardy pressing buttons and lots of smoking PCs.

Wisely, O'Connor has budgeted a hike in legal fees from $4,000 to $9,000 because he knows Oak Park's schools are working hard to find a way out of this ridiculous entanglement.

We hope they succeed.

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