The usual suspects turned up last night at the 32nd annual Oak Park Development Corporation Nicholas Awards event. Don’t get me wrong, I like most of the usual suspects and admire the instinct to link private money and public interest.

Two trends I’d note. Last night OPDC marked decidedly modest accomplishments in Oak Park business development during calendar year 2006. Simultaneously, though, after a couple of years of obvious tension between the group and its necessary partner at village hall, there was something approaching a love-in as OPDC Chairman Marty Noll extolled Village President David Pope and his service on the OPDC board and also heaped praise on the shoulders of new Village Manager Tom Barwin. There was a bit of the old OPDC swagger as Noll touted its role as “trusted advisor” to the village.

What’s it mean?

First, when I say the accomplishments marked were modest, I’m not suggesting that any of the many awards passed out weren’t worthy. They were. And a couple of the awards represented the best sort of partnership and street level problem solving that I’ve not always seen OPDC accomplishing. My point is that taken cumulatively, one would not be bowled over by the totality of what was accomplished last year in Oak Park.

That’s no surprise. 2006 was, let’s hope, the nadir in bitter obstructionism and anti-business bias. The year was spent largely without a village manager and with a village board in the midst of an odd and elongated shakedown period.

David Pope would point to 2006 as a year in which a new planning model took root on Madison Street. He’s right. But that model bore no fruit in calendar 2006. Next February when OPDC next convenes, let’s see if any of the slides reflect new projects on that street.

In terms of the new best buddy relationship between OPDC and village hall, I’d expect it would and should be subject to the current performance measurement mania coming from the hall. While the relationship had soured in past years in an unproductive way, the gist of the dissatisfaction on both sides was legitimate. OPDC has to do more to earn its keep and prove its relevance. Village hall has to prove it knows anything about economic development after the snafus of the past half decade.

OPDC and the village need each other. But each needs the other to be executing at a higher level than in recent years. It is good that the backbiting is over. But the absence of tension isn’t the same as success.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...