By Dan Haley
I tuned into last week's Oak Park village board meeting out of sheer perverseness. Wanted to see how the board would extricate itself from the "Let's Kill the Pigeons" straightjacket the public health board had wrapped village trustees in.
The board was pretty smooth. In an action that suggested some degree of pre-planning, the board simply removed the item from the agenda, tut-tutted about how killing pigeons was not to their collective taste and that they were ready to move forward and seek non-lethal methods of keeping the pigeons from fouling the public way.
If there'd been a baseball game I would have switched over at that point. But there wasn't, so I kept watching the village board and was dutifully rewarded with one of the sharpest and most curious exchanges I've ever seen between Trustee Colette Lueck and Village President David Pope.
The subject was the nascent I-Gov committee which seeks collaboration and glad tidings among all the many local governments that pick our pockets for the public good. From the village board, Lueck and Trustee Ray Johnson represent the village's interests on I-Gov. And it is just possible that both of them, and I'd say some other trustees, too, are closing in on the "At Wit's End" of the spectrum with President Pope.
Possible that tension over, among other things, last minute $100K consultant agreements to accompany un-discussed multimillion-dollar federal grant applications might have spilled over into the conversation about the specific roles of the I-Gov committee and the little secret society known as the Council of Governments.
COG for short.
What is COG? As much as anyone knows, it is an informal, occasional, maybe monthly luncheon attended by the top elected and appointed officials in local governments. School board presidents and park district executive directors, etc.
Where they meet, what they talk about, is unknowable since, as Lueck pointed out, the meetings aren't public, aren't posted, have no recorded minutes and no action is ever reported officially back to the respective boards.
Reality is that COG is pretty much whatever the village president of Oak Park makes it. Some past presidents haven't had much use for it, preferring to maintain the silo mode of governance — every taxpayer-supported body for itself. But there's something about COG that scratches an incessant itch in David Pope. Forget the two-year-long, half-million-buck lawsuit between the village and the grade schools vs. the high school. President Pope just wants to get along. Along his way. And the fellow likes grand plans. Sometimes that's good. Not always.
The board discussion started when Pope told his board that his COG buddies had some questions about the role of I-Gov and how it would work. That got Lueck's dander up and led her to compare and contrast the operating styles of the two groups. I-Gov, she said, was officially authorized by each government body, hosts publicly posted meetings which are open to the press and citizenry. Minutes are kept. Members report back to their boards. I-Gov has no power to act without elected board's taking action.
For his part, Pope acknowledged that in their secret meetings COG members have begun to raise some questions about their own secretive nature in our otherwise completely transparent community. But he found himself saying, remarkably, (and I'm paraphrasing), "Sometimes we need to talk about things we don't want to read about on the front page of the local paper."
Is that right, President Pope? Not exactly in the spirit of this place, I'd say. And not necessarily sitting well with your colleagues on the board.