The village board’s abrupt reversal on May 1 not to contract Frank Heitzman Architects to study the Colt building restoration signals a return to the stealth tactics of the Joanne Trapani VMA-majority board?#34;namely a biting contempt for residents. The orchestrated 5-2 vote (Trustee Greg Marsey telephoned in his nay vote) also reveals the down-and-dirty and twisted natures of the players in the fight to preserve historic Oak Park.
Anticipating routine board approval, Mr. Heitzman, an award-winning architect and Oak Park resident, worked with staffers through the week at village hall. He couldn’t fathom and was deeply troubled by the very public and very personal attacks on his ethics and his character by trustees David Pope, Ray Johnson, and Greg Marsey, who, losing the April 17 tentative approval vote, accused Mr. Heitzman of conflicts of interest. Mr. Heitzman could not have known about the ramped-up Stop Heitzman At All Costs campaign leading to the May 1 vote. A VMA telephone and e-mail barrage also accused pro-Heitzman trustees of conflicts of interest. Even the local paper that sides with VMA issues dug up “dirt” on Mr. Heitzman. Also, lobbying by Mr. Brian Farrar and Mr. Nile Wendorf of the New Leadership Party and others resulted in trustees Martha Brock and Elizabeth Brady flipping their votes.
Neither Mr. Heitzman nor village hall staffers working with him knew of the fix. The board did not have the decency to tell Heitzman, who innocently showed up to the May 1 board meeting, briefcase in hand, eager to answer questions. But the board did invite a representative of Hasbrouck Peterson Zimoch Sirirattumrongals who got the contract. The height of insult came when Trustee Brady and later the Hasbrouck rep asked Mr. Heitzman to share his preservation expertise with Hasbrouck.
It’s interesting to watch the mostly savvy, progressive board willingly continue the infighting over development and fiscal messes left behind by Mr. Carl Swenson and Mr. Mike Chen. Most folks thought the era of the village playing developer, secret deals, manipulation, favors, unaccountability, and the shabby treatment of residents was over.
Cy Giddings, a founder of the more than half-century-old VMA, once told me when I interviewed him at his dining room table that the VMA was created to fill the void left by corrupt Republicans being run out of Oak Park. The latest board vote absolutely negates the progressive platform. The current void appears to be driven by egomaniacs and VMA holdovers who, with little regard for the public good, fancy themselves big fish in a little pond. This sort of destructive behavior is predictable from those who glory in their own perception of self-appointed power. Everyone knows who these people are. And only a sensible board can stop them.
I have never met Mr. Frank Heitzman, and I couldn’t pick him out in a crowd. But I think the board and Mr. Farrar and Mr. Wendorf treated him shamefully. Under such dysfunctional circumstances why would anyone in their right mind want serve as trustee, on a commission, or apply for village manager?
Listening to their convoluted and nonsensical May 1 statements that contradicted their previous stands on development and open government, and watching their defensive behavior and the way they could not meet the eyes of their supporters after they flipped their votes, it appears trustees Brock and Brady compromised their convictions.
Their votes also condoned the board’s and other personal attacks on a fellow resident. Compromised, conflicted trustees and a contempt for residents who did not agree with their agenda were hallmarks of the old VMA-controlled Trapani board.