Oak Park residents should know that their State Senator, Don Harmon, is sponsoring a bill (S.B. 1296) to weaken the Open Meetings Act for certain communities. The most interesting component of this bill though is that it would not affect any of the communities that Senator Harmon currently represents. However, one community that it would directly affect is the Village of Forest Park, where I, along with four others make up the Village Council. While I appreciate Senator Harmon's interest in Forest Park, I am dismayed by his desire to make it easier for Forest Park elected officials to meet behind closed doors and outside the public view.
Since being elected in 2003, I have fought hard to make Forest Park government open and accessible to all residents. I have reported illegal meetings between village officials to the appropriate authorities. I have succeeded in forcing the Forest Park Village Council to be more open with our taxpayers on such things as tax referenda, consultant fees and new developments.
Pursuing transparency in Forest Park government has had a very positive affect on our community. Today, numerous residents are involved and attend Village Council meetings regularly. Now, people feel more comfortable expressing their views at meetings of the Plan Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals. This valuable resident input has resulted in better project designs and more creative uses of properties. It has also helped maintain much needed controls on government spending, which has been very beneficial in these tight financial times.
Forest Park is definitely on the move. As commissioner, I am extremely pleased by this progress and believe that continued public input into an open government process will only enhance Forest Park's success. So, Sen. Harmon, I appeal to you to not turn back the clock on open government and withdraw SB. 1296 now. Or if you truly support the concept of weakening the Open Meetings Act, then amend your bill to only affect the communities you represent and leave Forest Park alone.
Theresa (Terry) Steinbach
Village Commissioner, Forest Park