Vote 'No' to stop autocratic restructuring

Opinion: Columns

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By Bonita Robinson

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Step 1: Village board president proposes to reduce village clerk's compensation in order to pay for the village board president's desired compensation increase (Board Minutes, 7/19/2015).

Step 2: As per the village board president's proposal, village board designates the board president as "mayor" without citizen hearings (Board Minutes, 9/8/2015).

Step 3: Village board more than doubles the board's, including the "mayor's," compensation without citizen hearings (Board Minutes, 10/17/2016).

Step 4: Village board approves a referendum on studying a consolidation of taxing bodies that would transfer power from the voters to the board, including the "mayor," by transforming currently elected bodies into advisory bodies that would likely be appointed (Board Meeting, 7/30/2018). 

The above describes a gradual restructuring of our village government that is slowly increasing the board's, and particularly the village board president's, power while decreasing the power of Oak Park residents and Oak Park entities, including the township, park district and library. The designation of the board president as "mayor," though seemingly trivial, implies that the position has more power than it was designed to have. That this designation and other steps in the restructuring have occurred, while citizen input has been ignored, dismissed or manipulated, indicates a potential shift in power to even beyond that of "mayor" and to that of autocrat. 

I am struck by how reminiscent these incremental changes are to one of Oak Park's past brushes with autocratic behavior. In the 1980s a school superintendent, aided by administrators, surreptitiously attempted to restructure Oak Park schools gradually, step by step, into an autocratic environment. In response, many parents, teachers and community groups spoke out, just as many have spoken out against today's shifts in village government, including against the board's most recent referendum on studying consolidation. 

In 1983, the Journal published an editorial that praised the aforementioned school officials' attempted restructuring while ignoring residents' insight and concern about the autocratic behavior underlying it. This time around, the Journal's Aug. 1 editorial and opinion piece by Dan Haley, who also ran the paper in 1983, similarly praised the village's referendum while dismissing and even mocking residents' current concerns that the referendum is part of a surreptitious attempt to shift the balance of power from the residents to the village. 

It is disappointing to see the Journal repeat history by uncritically dismissing today's thoughtful insight and concern, particularly given that a 1985 federal court decision confirmed the citizens' concerns that its 1983 editorial had dismissed: the school superintendent and administration were found, in fact, to have taken autocratic and, in some cases, illegal actions. 

Hopefully, Oak Park residents, with or without the aid of their local paper, will be able to stop the current shift toward autocracy in its earliest steps before it gets to the point of federal court. Doing so starts with voting "No" on the referendum even if it is tempting to vote "Yes" given that the referendum's phrasing works to manipulate voters by suggesting that consolidation is a matter of potentially reducing taxes rather than the matter of transferring power from the citizens to the board, and particularly the village board president, that it more likely is. 

Bonita Robinson is a longtime resident of Oak Park.

Reader Comments

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: August 20th, 2018 4:48 PM

Yes I agree Jeff. Despite the inane political absurdities pointed out by Ms. Robinson regarding our Village Board, we must never lose sight of the fact - as you point out - that the real bad actors (so to speak), the real driver of our "out of control" property taxes were and remains D97 and D200. People should never forget this - particularly when it comes to Board elections, as well as future referendums. You really do have to Vote NO!

Jeff Evans from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2018 12:07 PM

Mike, this measure doesn't do anything with respect to D97 or D200 whatsoever. If you check your tax bill, you will see that those two take the vast majority of your payments.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: August 18th, 2018 9:14 PM

Then why did you say you "might have it wrong," Brian? The "person in power" in Germany in 1932 was a sick old man who only ran for re-election because he detested Hitler. When neither man gained a plurality, a runoff was required by law. In order to avoid that and the chance Hitler would somehow manage to win a two person race, the 84-year old Hindenburg offered him a position in the government. But all power was not vested in Hindenburg. I am getting so tired of people making up facts to fit their opinions.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: August 18th, 2018 8:55 PM

I did. And I stand by the comment. To this issue of central power being vested in a person, election or not, the person in power may or may not use that power properly.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: August 18th, 2018 5:28 PM

It's not nearly that simple Brian. Google it.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: August 18th, 2018 4:56 PM

Might have it wrong. But Hitler lost the election in 1932 and was appointed by Hindenbuerg later on.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: August 17th, 2018 11:15 PM

Great point Jeff, as always. Lets not have voting anymore in Oak Park, because 80 years ago in Germany they had voting. Next thing you know, Oak Park will be invading Poland.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: August 17th, 2018 5:42 PM

" If it requires our vote, it is not really autocratic, it is democratic." Hitler was democratically elected.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: August 16th, 2018 4:49 PM

Yeah Tom is seems its one of those "your damned if your do and damned if you don't." I do agree: the PACE scandal was an absolute indictment of the Township governance. It is hard to cite them as a shining example of excellence in government after that fiasco. I agree with you on that point.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: August 16th, 2018 4:10 PM

Voting YES. If it requires our vote, it is not really autocratic, it is democratic. It is time to start doing things differently, more efficiently. Defending the Township after the PACE scandal is a lot to ask too.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: August 16th, 2018 1:47 PM

This is brilliantly written.

Lynne DesLauriers  

Posted: August 16th, 2018 9:37 AM

Thank you for the information! I will continue to read your articles to be informed when I vote

Mike Hanline  

Posted: August 16th, 2018 8:33 AM

I'm not sure what the solution is, but the status quo of multiple taxing bodies isn't it.Between tax years 2013 and 2017, my property taxes have increased by 33% and I'm failing to see any added value for the gouging.

Amanda Poppenk Massie from Oak park  

Posted: August 16th, 2018 6:03 AM

Thank you for stating the "facts". This timeline shows the progression of the "takeover" by the Village President. I won't call him "mayor" because we didn't get to vote on that, as u stated. The next election we must bring in more new and more fiscally minded "trustees". Even with these giant new buildings, our taxes have gone up dramatically by the Villages overspending without citizens approval. I agree, it's been a gradual process but we in Oak Park are losing our control over the Village and the other Tax Money Spenders (D97, D200, Park District and Public Works). We must get involved and VOTE for candidates who see what's going on and truly will vote responsibly.

Heinz Schuller from Oak Park  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 11:42 PM

Thank you for this articulate letter and insightful analysis. We need journalism in Oak Park that isn't steeped in the old guard, there's too much at stake here.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 10:08 PM

Ms. Robinson: Well said. A very insightful and excellent analysis. I would add that "Vote NO" would also be an excellent initial remedy for both D97 and D200's anticipated irresponsible, out of control future spending fiascos.

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