Steering committee to help guide Oak Park's comprehensive plan

Residents, business representatives key component of group

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

An updated version of Oak Park's 20-year-old comprehensive plan is one step closer to becoming a reality.

The village board provided initial approval last week to enter into a contract with Houseal Lavigne Associates, a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in community planning, for an amount not to exceed $200,000. John Houseal, a principal in the firm, is a River Forest resident.

That amount, however, is coming to the village through a recently secured Sustainable Communities Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and will allow village staff, various community stakeholders, and the firm the opportunity to create a vision of Oak Park's future.

A key component of the plan itself is getting input from a diverse selection of people across the village so multiple interests are considered as the consulting firm draws up its initial proposals.

This aspect involves forming a steering committee that draws from 17 voices. This includes village staff specifically the village planner; business service manager; sustainability manager; health director; community relations director; urban planner; village engineer, assistant to the village manager. The group will also include a plan commission chairperson; a plan commission member; two village board members; two residents and two business representatives.

Village staff in other departments will also be on reserve for special topics, like the police and fire chiefs, interim village manager, community development manager, among others. To keep the information organized, the consulting firm will create a website specifically for the comprehensive plan process.

"We think it is a very well-rounded committee," Craig Failor, village planner, said.

Failor explained that for the village to be eligible for the grant per the requirements of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the village must remain actively involved in the process. The $200,000 grant must be matched by the village in its staff time to ensure the process is moving along.

During last week's meeting, village board members raised a number of questions and concerns about the process of the steering committee.

Trustee Adam Salzman said the committee could get diffused with too many people involved and not enough communication between parties. He said it's critical there be outlets of communication to continually engage people.

Failor said the goal is to get as much public input as possible, but said it's always tricky keeping people actively involved. He assured there would be multiple opportunities for public input.

Trustee Glenn Brewer agreed the makeup of the steering committee matters, because adding too many people could "turn analysis in to paralysis," which he thinks would stifle progress.

The discussion of how staff heavy the process should be was a common theme among trustees and many of the board members agreed the language in the village documents may need tweaking. Trustee Colette Lueck said she learned the purpose of the plan is different than what she initially thought.

"The role of the steering committee isn't to create the plan," she said. "The role is to make sure the process is moving forward."

Lueck commented that the goals sought in the comprehensive plan reflect more of a strategic plan than the village's initial comprehensive plan created long ago.

"This reads to me like it's a very different plan," she said. The old plan held up well, she added, but agreed it's time for change. "I think of our current plan as it's really affirming what our values are as a community. There are some action steps or recommended steps but it's not very detailed in terms of implementation. It's a very broad and conceptualized plan."

The topic of including a representative from each business district was discussed as a way to include more input, but Lueck pointed out that may lead to business district association leaders only representing their area, rather than Oak Park as a whole. Having two representatives, she said, would allow two leaders to bring together the business community.

Because the new plan is expected to implement substantial changes, she affirmed it made sense to have the steering committee driven by the board and staff, but still with outside perspective.

"What I'm hearing here is heavy on the process and probably lighter on community input and that's probably OK," Salzman said. "Because if the job is to keep everything and everyone on task then it might be alright if you don't have a representative of everyone in the village on the steering committee."

Trustee Ray Johnson said it's important to emphasize that it's a requirement of the grant to keep staff involved in the steering committee. His concerns, however, centered on the fact the committee may be too light on public engagement because of the meeting times. The committee is likely to meet once a month, but early in the morning.

"I'm still concerned about that," Johnson said. "With schedules, we could have no residents."

Contact:
Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

22 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Q from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 6:36 PM

paying attention, it's a nice way to give out 200 thousand dollars of tax payer money. Does Oak Park really need an advisory committee to say what direction Oak Park should go in? What is wrong with Oak Park now? Nothing, except the contracts and dealings the board is involved with. That can be resolved during election time.

paying attention  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 6:11 PM

According to the approved scope of work for the Comprehensive Plan, there is a disproportionate emphasis on branding, marketing and outreach; along with an overabundant amount of committees and involvement by staff and preselected stakeholders. No chance of any authentic planning expertise emerging through this muck. It appears this will be another micromanaged vanity portfolio project for a few village board members and their gang of political allies.

paying attention  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 6:01 PM

According to the village board agenda, 3 planning firms were interviewed from 7 responses to an RFP. I have nothing against Houseal Lavigne, but it seems those connected with OPRF Community Foundation and Pope are favored over other firms. And why does the village throw so much work to Seven Generations Ahead, when they are legally bound as a nonprofit to provide services only for charitable purpose?

Daniel Lauber from River Forest  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 5:50 PM

I can personally attest that a proper RFP was issued for the $200,000 comprehensive plan. The RFP was posted on the village's website and is still there. As principle author of Oak Park's award-winning Comprehensive Plan 1979, I can report that the 1979 plan and its 1990 successor were produced through the Plan Commission without an unnecessary and bloated Steering Committee dominated by irrelevant village staff. That's not the proper way to do it.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 5:30 PM

To Paying Attention --Was the Comprehensive Plan Consultancy out for bids? If not; the process requires investigation. It is already apparent that everything is not being revealed about the project. More and more it looks like the village board is creating a facade for another DTOP strategy at the expense of the residents, the neighborhoods, and business.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 5:18 PM

Ray Johnson from Oak Park, thank you for your reply. Have you checked the repair job? As for contacting public works, I did that and found out they don't like to be bothered, but it was done, just took a few years to get it done.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 5:16 PM

Was the Comprehensive Plan Consultancy out for bids? If not; this adds to the collusionist nature of the

paying attention  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 4:59 PM

John Houseal is an OPRF Community Foundation board member and was on their selection committee with Pope that selected Seven Generations Ahead for the PlanItGreen project. Now Houseal's firm, Houseal Lavigne, is hired by Pope and the village board for $200K for the comprehensive plan. In turn, Seven Generations Ahead, a 501(c)3 nonprofit firm disallowed from providing professional services, is part of Houseal's project team. Is anyone paying attention to this stuff?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 4:26 PM

Jim - nice piece of writing. You captured the issue perfectly. John

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 3:45 PM

@ Mr. Coughlin -- lets have coffee. 708.358.5788....

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 3:44 PM

Public Knowledge LLC Management Consultants says, "A good steering committee for public sector projects is productive and fun. The first step in forming a good steering committee is to have a clear purpose. What is the OP Purpose? Clearly there is confusion on the role of the steering committee already. Ray Johnson sees it as a group (that) will assist in organizing the many community meetings and on-line input tools which will be part of the process for specific outreach to residents, taxing bodies, non-profits, business associations, Village partners, and more. DO WE REALLY HAVE TO HAVE 8 PAID STAFF MEMBERS FOR THIS? Trustee Lueck stated. "The role is to make sure the process is moving forward." And, "The goals sought in the comprehensive plan reflect more of a strategic plan than the village's initial comprehensive plan created long ago." THE VILLAGE HAS NEEDED A STRATEGIC PLAN FOR A DECADE. WHY NOT JUST DO THE STRATEGIC PLAN RATHED THAN FIDDLING WITH THE COMPREHENSIVE PLAN? Public Knowledge says there are five components to a good steering committee - 1) Sets the tone for cooperation, 2) Gives "authority" to matrix organizations (partners). HARD TO GIVE AUTHORITY WHEN THEY ARE NOT ON THE COMMITTEE, 3- Represents stakeholders that do not directly sit on the steering committee. SWELL, 75% OF THE COMMITTEE ALREADY REPRESENTS THE VILLAGE PLANNING AND THE RESIDENTS, 4- Ensures equality in decision-making (if a committee member is unsure of what this means in OP, she/he should just ask the board member sitting on the right), 5- Acts as the ultimate decision maker in handling political, legal, organizational, technical, cost, management, cultural and personnel issues. THERE SEEMS TO BE A VAST DIFFERNCE BETWEEN THE PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE LLC AND OP WAY OF DING A STEERING COMMITTEE. MAYBE THE NAME SHOULD BE CHANGED TO THE MEETING SCHEDULING COMMISSION.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 3:24 PM

Perhaps I should better explain my concerns, Mr. Johnson. The steering committee, as reported, will consist of Village Hall staffers, commission chairs, board members and a few who may or may not be in the loop. That does not seem to be a good representation of the entire community and basically ignores the importance of Oak Park's other taxing bodies. If we are seeking to create a comprehensive plan to address Oak Park's future needs and goals, I believe it would be beneficial to gather opinions and strategies from more than these 17 voices that trustees will select. Despite assurances that there will be plenty of opportunities for public input, it is difficult to understand why there is so much emphasis on Village Hall staff and political insiders being part of the process instead of bringing all of the local government agencies to the table. This would have been a terrific opportunity to demonstrate a real committment towards intergovernmental cooperation. I would much prefer to know all our local leaders and officials were actively involved from the beginning of the process rather them being asked to provide input and ideas after the committee and consulting firm's decides on how best to proceed. Of course, rely upon staff for their expertise as needed but let the overall direction and vision be determined and articulated by those who are responsible for our schools, parks, libraries and various social services. I trust that that the board is aware that it should not try to assert complete control of the process and view it's role solely as a community partner. Politics will gum up the works and compromise the integrity of the plan.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 2:55 PM

@ Q from Oak Park: I forwarded your original concern to Public Works and within 24 hours, the worst of the retaining wall was repaired. Staff concludes that as the site is part of a redevelopment proposal, there is no need at this time for additional repairs. There is no public safety concern based on their opinion/view. In the future, it is much more effective to report problems directly to publicworks@oak-park.us as there is no way for staff or Trustee's to follow all comments noted here.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 2:42 PM

@ Mr. Coughlin: I'm not sure why you think any group will be "excluded", when I noted that the steering committee is designed to ensure the very outreach you suggest, and we all agree is needed, which will take place during the many scheduled public and stakeholder sessions.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 2:30 PM

Ray Johnson from Oak Park, did you get word back on when the repairs are going to take place to the retaining wall for the parking lot across from the Marion street L? It's been about a month and nothing has taken place in the way of repairs. You don't want to be known as the trustee who couldn't.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 12:54 PM

@Ray Johnson, I understand the concept but disagree with your position that this is an effective way to generate vital input from the community, especially our local taxing bodies. They certainly have the expertise and experience in how best to promote outreach efforts to their constituents and interested parties. Limiting the input and influence of Village Hall staff and political insiders may not produce the ideals the trustees are seeking but will represent a more inclusive and diverse approach to creating a vision for the community's future. I am supportive of the need to create a more comprehensive plan but do not the see the benefit of excluding so many important agencies from providing strategic input.

Kyle  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 12:34 PM

Is this the 1990 Comprehensive Plan that had goals to "expand the village's tax base in order to maintain a high level of services, programs, and facilities. To encourage a broad range of convenient retail...To maintain a high level of citizen involvement?" How'd those turn out for us? LOL

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 12:33 PM

The term "steering committee" does connote a group which will drive the input into the Comprehensive Plan, which isn't really the case at all. This group will assist in organizing the many community meetings and on-line input tools which will be part of the process for specific outreach to residents, taxing bodies, non-profits, business associations, Village partners, and more. I prefer to think of the initial group as a 'work group', which will assist the planning firm outreach efforts.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 12:16 PM

The steering committee should have included representatives from all of our local taxing bodies. It is very disappointing that the Village Board chose to completely exclude these important community agencies from the process. Intergovernmental cooperation must be the key component to successfully creating this vision for Oak Park's future. Stacking the committee with so many Village Hall staffers and political insiders will result in less community wide representation. Oak Park needs to produce and promote a plan that offers mutual benefits and is truly comprehensive.

Observer  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 9:57 AM

I have never understood the point of a comprehensive plan, for the Village Board never follows the plan. They always change it based on what the developer wants or whose ego needs to be boosted or who has their hand out looking for money. This is a total waste of time and resources for it will change the next time a developer rolls into town making empty promises and promising to build ever taller buildings symbols to the Board's severally flawed legacy.

Steve from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 9:15 AM

The best the taxpayers can hope for is that the 75% of the committee members have thin fingers and warm hands.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 21st, 2012 11:57 PM

"A key component of the plan itself is getting input from a "diverse selection of people across the village". Diverse? 75% of the members of the Steering Committee will come from staff, Plan Commission, and the Village Board. All of them had some level of participation in Sertus, South Marion, Madison Diet, Grove Apartments, and other projects that used the 1990 Comprehensive Plan like a punching bag. Did everyone miss Ray Johnson comment that "With (meeting) schedules, we could have no residents.") Of course, his statement implies that two board members (w/ or w/ojobs) would be available. Ray must not have checked the 2010 Census. There are more than 5,000 residents in Oak Park over 60. Aren't some of them retired with open schedules? Aren't some of them still lucid? The two resident rule is a disgrace, and Salzman's statement ("What I'm hearing here is heavy on the process and probably lighter on community input and that's probably OK,")is an insult. Are Oak Park residents unable to understand planning processes despite the fact that more than 60% have college degrees and more than 30% have advanced degrees? Brewer's comment stating that too many residents could ""turn analysis in to paralysis," Yep, those residents would screw things up. Trustee Ray Johnson said, it's important to emphasize that it's a requirement of the grant to keep staff involved in the steering committee." REALLY, did the Fed say that 75% staff and village officials sounded right and 12.5% for residents and business seemed appropriate? Two business reps are hardly enough. DTOP has to have a slot. That means one other business or business association will be appointed. Small businesses need not apply. The OP paternal aristocrats are staking the deck again. Will the silliness of the board ever end?

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