We, the village trustee candidates of the Vision Community Action Party, are writing to explain why we’re running and why we think we offer the voters of Oak Park their best choice in the April 17 election.

The 2003 election of Robert Milstein, the incumbent trustee among us, marked the beginning of real, significant movement toward functioning democracy in Oak Park. The 2005 election decisively ended over 50 years of one-party rule, and important issues were once again seriously debated, in a manner more respectful of citizens and board members at the village board table. Some of us, and many members of the organization (the Village Citizens Alliance) which slated us, worked very hard to effect these positive changes.

Our efforts in the 2005 election have, not unexpectedly, produced a strong backlash from individuals and interest groups who hadn’t been at all unhappy with the earlier tradition of decisions being made in private by a few and then being “sold” to the public as inevitabilities. As a result, and for whatever reasons, a number of people who once spoke strongly for real reform have retreated from the positions they actively espoused in the last campaign.

We are running, then, to put Oak Park’s government back on the path we feel the voters said, in that election, that it should follow: a path allowing the informed citizens of Oak Park to fairly choose among competing visions for the village’s future. Such choices will need to be made in the next few years and will have as profound an effect as the courageous choices made by other Oak Parkers in the 1960s and 1970s.

Specifically, we think this election should include real discussion of these major issues:

1) Property taxes: Why are Oak Park taxes so high? What can village government do about them? Can new development provide significant tax relief without destroying what citizens like most about Oak Park? Would taxes be significantly lower if all the developments proposed recently had been allowed to proceed without debate?

2) Downtown Oak Park: Will building new commercial space, adding streets and parking structures, and adding residential units up to maximum “capacity,” all with village subsidies, really “revitalize” DTOP in a way that benefits most people who live here? Is there a better, lower-cost alternative which achieves more pleasing results by exploiting our unique history, population, and architectural heritage to make Oak Park a special retail, tourist, and arts destination?

3) Neighborhood character: Do Oak Park’s residential neighborhoods have special character which makes people want to live here? Should we protect this character to preserve our “sense of place” and ensure continued neighborhood desirability? If so, how should this be accomplished? Should residential areas be forced to accept the effects of expanded commercial development, or should we acknowledge that small-scale housing is and should remain Oak Park’s principal and most valuable business?

4) Labor relations: Has an adversarial relationship between “management” and “labor” in village hall developed? Has this relationship cost money and adversely affected village services? If so, can the village board, in their proper policy-setting role, effect changes which move the situation from conflict to cooperation?

5) Open, truly representative government: Is village government doing as much as possible to inform citizens and enlist and respect their involvement? Does government still tend to make important decisions based mostly upon the demands of special interests and hired outside “experts” and then try to “sell” these decisions to the public? Can we effectively involve Oak Parkers in designing and implementing the village’s future? If so, how? Some of those opposing us seem to be saying that the village needs to be run like a modern corporation. Do the “business managers” running the village really know and accept the essential differences between a hierarchical for-profit enterprise and a real representative system in which power truly does flow up from those governed?

In subsequent articles, we will address each of these complex issues in detail and show why we feel electing us as village trustees on April 17 offers voters their best choice for saving and enhancing the things that have made Oak Park so successful for so long.

Annabel Abraham, Jim Balanoff,
Robert Milstein, Gary Schwab
Vision Community Action slate

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