David Pope has been Oak Park's chief elected official since 2005, winning a second term a couple of years ago. Since then, the occasional murmur has popped up, on website comment boards or at village board meetings, that Pope spends too much time at Oak Park Village Hall.
Pope cares for his two young daughters and owns his own consulting practice. But without a set 9-to-5 each and every day, some have worried that he's treated being village president as his day job.
"To say that David is here more than the rest of us is the understatement of the year," Village Trustee Colette Lueck said at a board meeting on Monday. "We're here one night a week, maybe two. We're never here during the day, because almost all of us work."
The topic of conversation came on Monday, during a meeting to discuss the village board's rules of conduct, following the election of two new trustees in April. Trustees spent a few hours discussing how to refine their business at the board table.
Lueck worried that Pope's appearance at village hall during the day makes it appear that Pope has a bigger role than the rest of the board and might confuse village staffers about who is in charge.
And Trustee Ray Johnson also expressed concern that individual employees of the village have said things like "I know this is what David wants" or "this is what David shared with me."
"I think you may be, in a well-intentioned way, sharing your view, but you're the village president. But I think an employee wants to act on that view," Johnson said.
And some trustees said it seemed sometimes that Pope has a role in setting the agendas for what is discussed at board meetings, though Pope denied that he takes any part in agenda setting.
"I'm not sure I'm actually here as much you may be under the impression that I am here," Pope said.
Pope said comes in to village hall occasionally to sign documents, answer emails and phone calls, and to meet on "development conversations" or with officials from other government bodies. Village Manager Tom Barwin backed up Pope's claims, saying that he could probably count on one hand the number of hours the chief elected official spends at village hall each week.
Barwin said there are often people who, for whatever reason, would rather speak with the president than the manager. And he thinks it's important for a community to have the one-two punch of top administrator and top politician. That helps them build relationships with others in the political sphere. It also bore results in 2009, when Oak Park was able to secure $7 million in state and federal money to help redo Roosevelt Road.
"I'm completely confident that $7 million on Roosevelt Road wouldn't have happened if we didn't match the political side of what's happening with the administrative side," Barwin said.
Lueck acknowledged the benefits of combined leadership, but said it would be beneficial if the village board knew more about the day-to-day happenings at village hall.
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