Please allow me to affirm that I am a true believer in the Council Manager form of government. It has stood us in good stead for 50 years and has moved Oak Park far ahead of its neighbors who retain the use of the aldermanic form. It has allowed us to become the diverse, welcoming, prize-winning village we are, while our neighbors to the south suffer from scandals, intrigue and party politics.
In that regard, several disturbing recommendations were made at the village board's study session last Monday night. They were made by new trustees, and I would like to believe they were made from innocence, not as an attempt to change the government form. To my knowledge, we have had no referendum on changing our form of government. You were elected to serve under this form.
I will only address two of the issues that I see as challenging governance under our current Village Manager form. There are others, and I hope they will also be addressed.
First, a recommendation was made to discuss the forming of a Personnel Commission, although no specifics were given. Since commissions are formed to make recommendations to the board, such a commission has no function. One of the basic tenets of the Council Manager form of government specifically places all hiring and firing of staff in the hands of the professional manager. The single employee of the board, the Village Manager, is the only person such a commission would be responsible for. Unless, the board was to require a search for a new Village Manager, such a commission would have no tasks.
Second, a recommendation to give responsibility for a specific geographic area to each member of the board was made. Although the Council Manager form of government allows for such divisions, there is no place for such a system in Oak Park. We are a tiny, land-locked community. We have made diversity our single most important goal. Our geography is probably our least diverse aspect.
Trustees are elected to serve all of Oak Park. Their major function is to set policy, and approve a budget which reflects these policy decisions. Directing individual activities to a specific geographic area of the village can only mean making these individuals spokespersons for individual areas. In other places they call them aldermen.
It immediately puts trustees at odds with one another. Arguments over how many pot holes were tilled, streets repaved, etc. in a given area would only be the beginning. This is not the goal of our form of government. It can only make meetings longer, make it necessary to have more meetings and provide more acrimony, not less. This is exactly the situation that takes away time and energy from your ability to govern under the Council Manager form of government.
Allow me to quote from a document from the international Council Manager's Association (ICMA org for those interested). "The council is the legislative body; its members are the community's decision makers. Power is centralized in the elected council, which approves the budget and determines the tax rate, for example. The council also focuses on the community's goals, major projects, and such long-term considerations as community growth, land use development, capital improvement plans, capital financing and strategic planning. The council hires a professional manager to carry out the administrative responsibilities and supervises the manager's performance."
First, do your job! Then allow the Village Manager to do his.
Barbara S. Ebner
Former Oak Park Trustee