After receiving former Trustee Geoff Baker’s resignation letter after business hours Friday night, the Oak Park village board wasted no time in appointing former trustee Galen Gockel Monday night to serve until May.
The vote was 6-0 in favor of the appointment at the board’s regular meeting Monday.
Gockel said he has no agenda in accepting the interim position.
“I knew it would be a congenial relationship,” he said after the meeting. “I was intrigued by the prospect of having a cordial relationship with the village president and the village manager, a phenomenon which was not always available to me when I served my full four-year term previously.”
He said about half of his decision was made by the fact that Pope was the one asking.
State law designates the village president for recommending an interim candidate. President David Pope, although acknowledging Gockel’s support two years ago when he ran for the top spot on the board, outlined criteria he used in his selection.
Pope sought a former trustee, someone who could get up to speed quickly on issues the board is addressing. That includes its No. 1 issue right now-planning the 2007 budget.
Gockel served as trustee from 2001 to 2005, served two terms as township assessor from 1993 to 2001, and served two terms in the 1970s on the District 97 school board, where he served alongside Pope’s mother, Joan.
Pope also wanted the interim trustee to be someone not seeking the office in the next election, and someone seen as independent. Although Gockel was elected on a Village Manager Association slate, Pope said a review of meeting minutes would show that he voted with and against Pope and trustees Ray Johnson and Robert Milstein while they served on the board from ’03 to ’05, despite the various party affiliations.
And Gockel showed independence-and some decisiveness-Monday after he was sworn in. Pope told Gockel he wasn’t expected to be ready to vote on the matters before the board that night.
“I may surprise you,” Gockel responded. “I may not be up to total speed, but I’m at least halfway there.”
He voted on every matter but one, including being the only trustee showing some support for a development proposal for a village-owned site at Harlem Avenue and South Boulevard that calls for a performing arts center and banquet facilities. In the interest of expediency, he said he would support another proposal, backed by the rest of the board, to build a mixed-use retail/condo structure that could bring additional parking to the site. The board asked for additional information on the proposal and for the developer to lead another forum for public input.
Pope downplayed the significance of the interim appointment, saying that in the roughly seven months until a new board is sworn in, the board typically takes off the months of December and April. He added that he does not expect any major issues to come before the board during that time, other than the budget.
A decision on responses to a request for proposals (RFP) for the Colt building and other downtown village-owned buildings on Lake Street is not likely to be made before the election, Pope said.
Time to devote to meetings
Gockel did not seek a second trustee term because he wanted to spend more time being with his five grandchildren in town. Since then, his son’s family moved to Orland Park, taking three of his grandchildren out of walking distance. The other two are now 16 and 20, so he has found himself with more time for board meetings, he said.
As for issues during his interim term, Gockel said he would not likely sign off on a tax levy that would be higher that last year’s.
“It’s very important that the village board hold the line on its tax levy as a way of demonstrating that you can [restrain spending],” Gockel said.
Possible increases in money needed in the bond and interest fund and for police and fire pensions would further reduce the general fund budget. That will mean a “redefining of necessities,” Gockel said, or a close look at what’s really needed in every department-everything to the number of flowers planted to the possibility of slowing the alley replacement program.
Asked whether the village should help fund District 97 until the elementary district can ask voters for a referendum, Gockel said, “Frankly, [Oak Park and River Forest High School] District 200 should give them some money.” He does not think the village should raise its levy to fund the schools.
Gockel joined other trustees in thanking Geoff Baker for this time on the board. Regardless of the number of meetings the board might have, he said, trustees take on a lot of other obligations, too, that take them away from their families and jobs.