Is Oak Park village president spending too much time at village hall?

Trustees believe he might be, but Pope says it's not so

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

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.

Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

epic lulz  

Posted: July 17th, 2011 8:48 PM

Contra Patricia, I am delighted to finally see factions forming on the all-VMA board. Group-think and voting en bloc is one of the main causes of the string of disastrous decisions we are now having to deal with. I'd much rather take longer to come to a thoroughly debated and well-though out decision than to rush through bad unanimous policy.

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: July 17th, 2011 11:18 AM

Whether or not Pope spends too much time at Village Hall aside, I'm astounded at Lueck and Johnson public (and likely pre-planned) throwing of Pope under the bus. You think the board takes too much time to make decisions now? Just wait. It will get worse with infighting. Good grief.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: July 14th, 2011 4:51 PM

Well, first we need to find out exactly how much time he is spending at the village hall and what he is doing. There should be some way of tracking that. However, if we are transitioning (ha) to a mayoral form of government, let me put in a request for a return to an alderman system as well. Where I live, we seem to be invisible to Village powers. Meanwhile, why couldn't he sign papers and so on during the hour or so before regularly scheduled meetings.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: July 14th, 2011 12:03 PM

Yes, Pope's micro-management of the village manager and staff has exceeded his role and expertise. Barwin and staff are highly paid for the requisite professional skills to review and implement policy. Pope has no expertise or qualifications in village management, planning or development. Pope has also pursued personal policy initiatives w/o inclusion of board and commissions, such as residential brick streets, hotels, and downtown streetscaping. He is 1 of 7, not mayor or Chief Elected Off

Lueck is on to something here  

Posted: July 14th, 2011 11:19 AM

While I disagree with Enuf's comment about Pope's intentions and abilities, I do believe that he has blurred the line between policy and management within the Village. Pope does act and speak as if he is a Mayor, which undercuts the Manager's authority. Any administration (school, village, parks) gets confused when Board members reach beyond their role as policy makers and start to micro-manage. The Village is not well-served by the current strong-President / weak-Manager arrangement.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: July 14th, 2011 10:40 AM

The issue being raised concerns form of government, not time management. Since 2005, Pope has exceeded his role as board president. As per OP's council-manager form of government (vs. mayor-council), the elected board is the legislative body, with policies carried out by their hired village manager, who manages his hired staff. Board members and staff have yielded too much authority to Pope, whose Blago-esque ineptness and ego has resulted in many lawsuits and fiscally irresponsible po

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 11:39 PM

The Village Board decided a number of years ago to stagger the elections. Next up for voters will be village president and three trustee positions.


Posted: July 13th, 2011 11:16 PM

Don't you mean 2013? We just had an election, hello........

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 10:55 PM

I guess you're right, John. The Wednesday Journal has expressed concern about the lack of choice for voters in our local elections but I wonder if that's possible without some type of campaign finance reform. The Supreme Court ruled money was free speech and gave status to multi-national corporations. There's an onslaught of new laws designed to restrict voter rights. Lots to discuss on this issue.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 9:58 PM

Hi Jim - It's not too early to think about 2012. VMA usually picks its candidates selection process in Septmenber - less than two months ago.


Posted: July 13th, 2011 8:40 PM

Mr Johnson, is Mr. Barwin blaming Mr. Pope for his poor performance evaluation? He can't perform if Pope is constantly there? It looks like Mr. Barwin is playing the board and you fell for it hook line and sinker. You are no match for Mr. Barwin but Ms. Lueck is.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 8:22 PM

It's too early to think about the 2012 campaign but do hope that the next election offers voters a true choice. Uncontested elections are not good for the democratic process. People might be inclined to seek office if Oak Park was able figure out some type of campaign finance reform. Perhaps all contributions could be placed in a common fund that were accessible to all interested and qualified candidates. A level playing field would best serve the community by presenting voters with more options

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 6:38 PM

The 2012 Pol. Season opened with Ray's post. The article is not Marty style but it is Dan's. My bet is that President Pope is not running in 2012. He is ambitious and has little to gain by extending his term deeper into double digits. What VMA candidate would be the Pres nominee? Double-digit board member Johnson is the VMA shoo-in selection despite his 2003-2011 record which is mediocre at best. Glenn Brewer, if he runs, will not help the ticket much as he and Ray vote like twins. 2012 Fun!

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 3:26 PM

The relevant question, which is healthy to explore from time to time, is whether or not any one on the board is too directly engaged with Village staff. If a board member is directing staff or engaging directly with staff on a frequent basis, this can cause difficulty for the Village Manager, who is the CEO and the village boards only employee. The lines of authority are very clear in a village manager form of government; policy is made by the board / policy is implemented by the manager.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 1:23 PM

If you want a Board President that participates too extensively in the day to day business of the village, then a change to a Full-time Mayor form of government is needed. The current level of interaction between the BOARD, Pres. Pope is not the only board member in constant contact with staff, borders on interference with the role of the Village Manager and the CFO. The board's role is policy approval, fiduciary management, goals development, staff performance vs board goals.


Posted: July 13th, 2011 12:45 PM

Whats the real purpose behind this article Marty? Something doesn't seem to fit the WJ philosophy? God forbid we have an engaged Village President who knows whats going on at Village Hall.

Ken from Oak Park  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 12:30 PM

Agreed -- this is silly. With all that is going on in and around Oak Park you're going to be critical of a public official for being TOO committed to his role as village president?

Love Oak Park  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 12:14 PM

This is ridiculous. So how much time should Pope spend at Village Hall anyway? What is too much time? I'd rather have Pope at Village Hall than a disengaged President.

New OP'er  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 11:16 AM

So it is a bad thing for the Village President, a person elected by the people of the village, to know what is going on at the village hall? I am slightly confused. Maybe worry less about conspiracies and more about the real problems the community faces?


Posted: July 13th, 2011 1:00 AM

Where are the "other" trustees viewpoints on this non-issue? Must be a slow news week? Wasnt there a murder in RF? Didnt Oak Park just have one it's biggest power outages ?


Posted: July 12th, 2011 10:31 PM

Is Trustee Lueck asking for transparency at village hall? I couldn't agree more. "conversations" could be mistaken for backroom deals. David Pope is naive, Barwin isn't.

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