The recently OK’d plan to help tide District 97 elementary schools over a financial shortfall is a good example of rightly touted efforts at intergovernmental cooperation in Oak Park. Here’s another one:

For several years, Oak Park and River Forest High School has been planning and re-planning a major overhaul of the pedestrian mall just west of the school. This is an essential gathering place for students that has long been worn out and outdated.

Last year the school finally bid out a redesigned mall project and was fairly stunned by the high, to the point of being unaffordable, bids they got in return. Enter the village government, which pours a lot of concrete each summer as streets, gutters and curbs are replaced across the town. By combining the village’s buying power with the high school’s project, OPRF is saving $250,000 and the mall project is a go.

Good practical cooperation. And kudos to both the village and the high school for figuring it out.

Where’s the next opportunity?

All by itself, village pays $250K fine to feds

On the other hand, Oak Park is about to pay somewhere between $250,000 and $300,000 in fines to HUD, the federal government agency which oversees housing-related programs. The fines are tied to mismanagement of the federal funds allotted to Oak Park to run a lead-abatement program. This is a big fine for such a small program.

The village’s housing services program has had staffing issues in the recent past–two retirements and one forced resignation. But clearly enough attention to details was not being paid.

In the most recent village budget cycle, Village President David Pope acknowledged that some “ugly rocks” were being turned over as both the village manager and the finance manager posts needed replacing last year. The challenge now, and it is a challenge to both new Manager Tom Barwin and newly elected trustees, is to put in place adequate safeguards and performance measures so that this sorry and costly bollix doesn’t repeat itself.

Getting greener

Oak Park was once considered a leader among eco-conscious and eco-friendly communities. We lost some of that energy in past years, but there may be signs of local interest heating up, right alongside the planet.

The new public works building on South Boulevard is moving rapidly toward completion. It will be a showplace for green initiatives. More costly on the front end, better value going forward. Public works staff is readying a request for bids on a new garbage and recycling hauling plan for multi-family and commercial properties. If this works, it will increase recycling from those sectors and reduce pollution from multiple garbage trucks plying our alleys. The Green Tuesday sessions wrapped up this week. Another local initiative, it was spearheaded by local architect Michael Iversen and is intended to foster environmentally friendly efforts on a block-by-block basis across the village. And Jill Stewart debuts her Green Blog this week at WednesdayJournalOnline.com.

Finally, we know that Village President David Pope is enthused about sustainability initiatives and we were intrigued to hear that the newly elected village trustees had a “sustainability” dimension to their action agenda. We’re looking forward to hearing more and seeing the board show more vision on this front.

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