The second executive director in the 33-year history of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, Aggie Stempniak, is stepping down. She's been in the position nine years, not nearly as long as her more flamboyant predecessor (and agency founder) Bobbie Raymond Larson, but her tenure is a testament to the continuity and stability of this critical village institution. Stempniak has been a steady, reliable director who did a solid job, considering what a tough act she had to follow.
Her departure, however, offers the Housing Center an opportunity. Because of Stempniak's low-key management style, the Housing Center's profile has receded as well. That needs to change. The next director must have more vision and charisma, selling the mission of the Center to the community as well as to a village board which in recent years has expressed some skepticism about Oak Park's longtime "partner" agencies.
The Housing Center continues to play a critical role in maintaining diversity throughout the village, and they shouldn't be shy about telling people. More and more Oak Park residents believe the integration struggle is over, that we've reached "mission accomplished." That complacency has always been the greatest threat to the continuing success of the Oak Park experiment. This is no time for passivity.
We agree that the village's partner agencies need to prove their worth to village hall, and we believe the Housing Center can best make that case with a dynamic leader who can move this venerable institution forward.
Not over till it's over
Saturday was a wonderful moment in the lives of the long-suffering Barrie Park neighbors and for the Park District of Oak Park as the village celebrated the park's grand reopening. The term "community asset" kept coming up, and we agree. The long-awaited event matched expectations. Barrie is better than it was before.
But now is not the time to let go of loose ends. Not all of the issues have been resolved, especially for the neighbors. Lawsuits are pending, the village still has a "buyback" program to follow through on, and, as former park board member David Gullo pointed out, ComEd and Nicor still owe us some trees for the largely shadeless new park.
The park board deserves the kudos it has received for its performance during this protracted ordeal. Village hall, however, has not been nearly tenacious enough in protecting the rights of the surrounding residents. The utilities will stay accountable only if the village insists. We urge them to keep Barrie on their radar until the process is complete.
Compassionate response to Katrina
The response by just about everyone (with the notable exception of the federal government) in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has been heartwarming and gratifying and, as usual, that includes the residents of Oak Park and River Forest. You can read about some of those efforts in today's edition.
It's no surprise, of course. These villages have always been quick to respond when people are in need. While we're not surprised, neither do we take it for granted. We're proud to report that compassion seems to be our major export.