On a Monday evening when Oak Park Village Trustee Bob Milstein declared, among a litany of declarations, that there would be no more Whitecos in the village, the village board he serves on took an extraordinary and welcome turn toward assuring that the Colt building won’t become this board’s Whiteco. Not that Milstein was on the right side of that turn.
If Whiteco is the symbol, as Milstein correctly noted, of the village’s past history of closed session dealing and insane financial subsidy, then it was essential that this board not follow that same path with its sincere intention to attempt to preserve the Colt building.
They were headed there with what seemed?#34;until about 9 p.m. Monday?#34;a certain vote to hire Frank Heitzman and his associates as the village’s consultant on restoring the Colt, assessing its financial future and determining if there would be a private sector buyer for the finished product. My objection to this choice has been simple and clear. Frank Heitzman has been the single fiercest advocate for saving the Colt. That makes it impossible for him to lead an objective assessment of what will be, at $10 to $12 million, a Whiteco-like investment of public funds. That’s not his failing. It was about to be the board’s failing for not seeing the complete lack of transparency in hiring a consultant with pre-set views.
And try as Milstein and Trustee Geoff Baker might?#34;in their letters and their e-mails to me, to the paper, and in the Monday night’s peculiar and repeated calling out of this newspaper’s name in vain at a public meeting?#34;they can’t make the case that ours was an attack on Frank Heitzman. We lavished praise on the man in last week’s editorial. This was never about Frank Heitzman; it was about this board and its expected decision.
To their great credit, trustees Elizabeth Brady and Martha Brock stepped back last night and offered a welcome compromise in recommending a different consulting firm. Saying that the community “has to get beyond this,” and noting that she wasn’t sure if she was “brave or stupid,” Brady broke with the majority. A few minutes later, Brock delivered an eloquent speech on the challenges of being a trustee in conflicted circumstances such as this. Like Brady, she opted for moving to the middle.
Even Baker suggested that a “less divisive” future would be a plus, though I believe he was more concerned about his perception of this paper’s statements than of his own. However we get to that less divisive future will be a plus though.
Bob Milstein’s harangue-in-defeat, though, clearly won’t get us there. He called Brady’s action “a capitulation” and tweaked her as an appointed not elected official. He took off after this newspaper and columnist, after the VMA, and after saying that he had “backed away on my convictions,” said “I’m going to start fighting for the issues I ran on.” Enough already, Bob.
Wrapping up. The Monday vote was a refreshing and positive development. The next positive sign will be if some configuration of a board majority backs away from the pre-judged certainty over the Colt that we see in Trustee Milstein’s statements and letters. In today’s letter section he writes, “The Colt building will be restored to a vibrant arcade. It will be a centerpiece of an invigorated DTOP.”
Maybe it will. And certainly given this board’s predisposition toward saving the Colt, the board will lean toward finding a way to restore it. That’s fine. But what the board promised months back was an impartial assessment of the finances of this project. This board majority was elected in reaction to the excesses of the village subsidy to Whiteco. It was elected over doubts that millions in village TIF funds have been spent wisely. Now that the board is in power, it needs to bring that same critical eye to the Colt building.
Save it if you can. Don’t save it out of spite and ego.