By Anna Lothson
The night was an "opportunity for no judgment to be made."
That's how Oak Parker Julie Samuels described Sunday evening when the Citizens for Community Conversation, an informal group of residents who organize conversations about creating action plans in Oak Park, hosted a town hall meeting at Unity Temple.
With a marker in hand and an oversized notepad, Julie and her husband Bruce led a group of roughly 40 residents through a night of conversation about concerns in Oak Park. Village trustees Bob Tucker, Glenn Brewer and John Hedges and Village President David Pope were in attendance, though they participated as residents instead of board members.
Julie Samuels explained the group is motivated by three factors: the upcoming village manager decision, the 22-year-old Comprehensive Plan that's being considered for revision, and the April 9 local election when the village president and three trustee positions will be up for vote.
"We're just trying to have a civil conversation," said Bruce Samuels, noting that Citizens for Community Conversation was viewed for years as the opposition to the Village Manager's Association, an organization that recruits and slates candidates interested in running for president or trustee. That's no longer the case. Instead, he hopes Citizens for Community Conversation can unite Oak Park residents behind issues that can later be presented to the village board.
"We're trying to evolve [the mission]," said group member Gary Schwab, a former candidate for village president, who wants to find a more effective way to run local government, which includes reviewing how decisions are made.
"Some of the new ideas have turned out pretty badly," he said.
Schwab would like more forums for residents to voice their thoughts so Oak Parkers can share in a dialogue that can be presented collectively to leaders. Through the group's new website, which is still a work-in-progress, they hope to spark more conversation.
Topping the list for the group were items ranging from the lack of people involved in the local election season, the struggles of the Arts District, empty storefronts, foreclosure rates, high parking rates, inconsistent parking signage, and creating respectful and diverse dialogue to topics such as the development at Lake and Forest, Madison Street, village management, village board spending decisions and transparency, the living wage ordinance, and a long-range environmental plan.
After much open discussion from around the room, the 28 talking points were broken down into four categories: business and development, governing issues, community participation and environment.
Citizens for Community Conversation plans to take the thoughts shared at the meeting and use them in further conversations that may turn into action plans at the village board level and eventually be implemented.