It was Nov. 2, 2010 at the Oak Park village board and the Madison Housing Development was on the agenda. When the development issue was addressed, the woman attempted to approach the microphone to make a public comment. She was told there would be no public comments at the meeting.
She was confused and enraged by the absence of public commentary and said so. She then debated and negotiated with the board's president pro tem. She was given one minute to speak. She identified herself as living on Kenilworth and said she was opposed to the housing proposal for the Comcast building.
While expressing her viewpoint she said: "I don't see why the Village of Oak Park needs a CHA-type building in Oak Park when all over they are tearing down CHA buildings."
During the board deliberations, board members criticized the use of the term CHA and one stated: "The term 'CHA type housing' to me is symptomatic of the rhetoric built on emotion as opposed to fact, creating images as opposed to details." The statement sounded sincere.
Now I am not a constitutional lawyer, but I thought freedom of speech in the United States had been granted to all and includes both words and acronyms. I don't recall reading in the Constitution that the Oak Park village board is allowed to modify the Constitution at will.
The event could be considered incidental and forgettable if the board were able to overlook the woman's comments. But the board could not let go. In their referral of the proposal to the Oak Park Plan Commission, the board carried its rage one step further by stating: "The board also wanted the plan commission to recognize the negativity that has been stated in the community relating this development to CHA Housing and believes it should not be allowed to percolate in the public hearing process." Only one person, the chastised woman, had appeared before the board, but that was enough to necessitate group punishment.
Some thought the board was tampering with the plan commission by attempting to compromise its view of the opposition, others just felt that the board was being fatherly and patronizing leaders. Again, the entire issue could have been forgotten except it was discovered that the board members' outrage was not spontaneous but strategic.
In January, 2010, a village board "action plan" stated, "The village should pro-actively address this issue to eliminate the potential for non-my-backyard (NIMBY) to this important project." The board approved the action plan as part of the overall plan approval.
The plan became the political platform to ensure that voices opposed to the development were silenced. The execution of the plan was masterful. Approval was received from the press, village commissions, plan commission, and village board with the acronym NIMBY attached at every step. At the end, the board used its bully pulpit to lecture the community and reprimand those whose views varied from its scheme. The NIMBYs were banished.
It is one thing to dictate the terms allowed in use at a board meeting, it is another to conduct an unsavory strategy to keep residents uninformed. I would love to say that I look forward to the board's response, but I am a realist. Their response now will not differ from the incomplete, insincere, vague, and opaque responses it gave to the community during its clumsy adjudication of the Madison Housing Development vote.