By Ken Trainor
All I know is what I read in the paper, as Will Rogers used to say. So I haven't been privy to all of the deliberations over in River Forest, but based on what I read, governance his its good days and its bad days.
On the one hand, the River Forest Police Department and village hall sounded eminently reasonable in reconsidering how they handle minor marijuana offenses [RF officials rethink marijuana penalties, News, Aug.17]. Treatment and education make a lot more sense than jail time and criminal records, and, frankly, the police have more important matters to attend to than cracking down on recreational marijuana use. That doesn't mean they approve of drug use. It's means being smarter about their priorities and use of resources.
Judging by his comments in our coverage last week, Deputy Chief Craig Rutz would make an excellent village trustee someday. He shows an uncommon degree of common sense.
"I think it has always been a misdirected effort to treat casual usage as a criminal offense," Rutz said. In other words, don't kill mosquitos with a sledgehammer.
"There are a lot of negatives associated with marijuana, don't get me wrong, but the issue is really that the war on drugs has not worked," he added. "This is an educational issue. If anything, [jail time] puts them in contact with people who might introduce them to harder drugs."
It's always reassuring to hear from officials who have a clue.
On the other hand, this new policy may require approval from the River Forest Board of Trustees, which doesn't reassure me at all.
The village board recently voted in favor of installing red light cameras at Harlem and Lake and at Harlem and North [RF board: Yes to red light cameras, News, Aug. 17], which means they're very much in favor of killing mosquitos with sledgehammers. As I've mentioned numerous times, red light cameras are a solution in search of a problem.
Traffic at Harlem and Lake is always a mess. Most of the time it crawls through that intersection, backed up on all sides, especially in the left-turn lanes. Red light cameras will only back things up further.
And judging from the experience of communities like North Riverside, these cameras won't generate much revenue either because it's neutralized by the cost of installation and maintenance — and the fact that, maybe, just maybe, not enough drivers run red lights to make these things pay off.
So before installing them, you'd think the village board would consult their own Village Traffic and Safety Commission to study the issue. Two of the village trustees, to their credit, made that very suggestion, but a lack of common sense apparently rules the rest of the board.
"We're way beyond the step of Traffic and Safety," testified Trustee Mike Gibbs, a comment that should be considered by voters if he ever runs for re-election.
What the hell is that supposed to mean? If not now, when? If they passed the point of consulting Traffic and Safety, why didn't they consult them before they passed that point?
Unfortunately, he wasn't alone. Village President John Rigas kept insisting that red light cameras were way beyond the ken of the commission. Which makes almost as much sense as Gibbs' comment. But not quite.
Trustee Catherine Adduci, who, rightly, recused herself from voting (even though the red light camera firm her husband lobbies for isn't the vendor in line for the contract), used way too much common sense, apparently, when she told Rigas, "You keep saying the Traffic and Safety Commission has no expertise on traffic and safety. I believe that's the purpose of that committee."
Easily the understatement of the decade thus far in River Forest.
To say that the River Forest village board didn't do enough due diligence on this decision would be the second biggest understatement of the decade.
It's true that residents of both our villages depend on citizen volunteers to staff the boards of local bodies of government. Those volunteers deserve our thanks, and even praise, for their service.
But sometimes our amateurs really look like amateurs.