Last week's VMA onslaught of letters against the NLP marks the beginning of a predictable role reversal for Oak Park's perennial "non-political" political party.
Not surprisingly, the now vanquished VMA majority who held absolute control for the 50 years prior to April 2005 is upset to find that decisions are being made that they don't agree with. Everything isn't going their way anymore. Believe me, I know how they feel.
But, the NLP majority should not ignore the concerns of VMA stalwarts. To do so, would be to emulate the behavior of past VMA boards. Ignoring groups with legitimate concerns was wrong when VMA boards did it, and it's equally wrong now. Some, but far from all, of the criticism leveled last week is fair and all board members NLP and otherwise should be listening.
The vote on the Corinthian College lease proposal at the Marshall Field's building was wrong. The citizen commission made a recommendation, and while sometimes a board may disagree with such a recommendation, the predominant view should be to follow the commission's lead. This board didn't do that. Instead, they focused on a number of largely irrelevant concerns and voted it down. C'mon trustees, there are no windows in that building. What else are we going to get there, a prison?
The decision to slap Whiteco on the parking garage fast track was wrong. NLP board members seem to have chosen a principled fight for what they believe is in the best financial interests of Oak Park. While buying Whiteco out now would be cheaper than fulfilling the contract, the Whiteco decision is done. They have a contract. Unless Whiteco volunteers to alter it, the village has obligations. While they are obligations undertaken by an arrogant VMA board that ignored the financially lopsided stupidity of a poor project, the board has no right to ignore them. The political and commercial market perception costs of reneging on such a decision are too high.
Now is a time when the NLP should be proving it can move us forward not backward. I respect the fight for principle, but I think they should be focused on this board's future good decisions and not the last board's shockingly poor ones.
That said, the board is on the right track in a number of areas. They were right to question the level of expenditures in the diversity assurance program. The board didn't deny any grants, it simply did some trimming. Being fiscally conservative is sensible. This cost trimming should be the first step in additional cost reductions that come during the budget cycle.
VMA-led village boards as far back into history as the eye can see have approved increased spending year after year. It's time to put the brakes on spending. But to question the current village board's commitment to diversity is beneath contempt. No group of people is more committed to diversity in Oak Park than are they. To say otherwise, is exactly the kind of smear tactic that this paper chastised the VMA for during the last election and has no place in the debate.
The board chose an excellent sixth trustee. You would get a unanimous vote from all Oak Parkers that it took too long.
But, the result is superb. Village President Pope published a long list of criteria that was unanimously agreed to by the board. Trustee Brady clearly meets those criteria. She has strong business skills, excellent decision making experience, and deep care for this community. The 6-1 vote on this matter is a testament to Pope's leadership. The quality is good, the speed must be improved.
But the reddest of herrings being orchestrated by the vanquished VMA, is that somehow the very form of our Village Manager government is under attack by the NLP.
That's just plain silly. The board has taken no action that threatens the form of government in Oak Park. Nor have they indicated any intention to do so. Establishing a personnel committee is a reasonable step that does nothing to jeopardize the village manager's authority. In any corporation in America an employee has an alternative place to go when issues arise. Why should village employees be any different?
Even more ludicrous is the suggestion that consulting with outside counsel threatens the village manger's authority. Hogwash! How can expert opinion be detrimental?
Those of us who voted for the current board believe that, to date, trustees have done more good than harm. It takes time for a group of people to gel.
Goal setting seems to have gone well. The budget is next. The proof will be in the pudding.