At a meeting last week, representatives of Oak Park’s Public Works Department were getting it pretty good. Most in the small crowd of local business people assembled by the Chamber of Commerce weren’t having it-it being the notion, currently under study, of the village creating a master contract with a couple of garbage hauling outfits and then having them do most of the garbage and recycling collection for businesses and multi-family buildings in town.

It sounded like a Ron Paul rally with the Libertarian streaks of Oak Park’s entrepreneurs coming into sharp display. “Keep your cotton-pickin’ hands off my garbage” was the mantra of most in the room at Cheney Mansion. A deep suspicion of government was in evidence.

The village’s motivation, at least if you trust them as far as you can throw ’em, is trying to unclog alleys that can have dozens of different trucks fighting for space each week. It breaks down the asphalt, pollutes the air, causes congestion and is generally not green.

Officials acknowledge the complexity of the issue. The restaurant downstairs from us needs its garbage hauled three times a week. Upstairs at the newspaper, we can get by with one pickup, but we have lots of recycling needs. What about fly-dumping? Will large apartment buildings ever have strong recycling programs? What other towns are doing this?

Can I opt out of the program and keep my individual rights as Lincoln and Jefferson intended?

We were, in my opinion, moving toward contemptuousness, or maybe I was just feeling a bit thin-skinned on behalf of our public servants.

Finally, a voice from the back of the room. Alex Buttny, a fellow in the property management field who said, basically, Oak Park has been out front on a lot of things over the years. That’s one of the great things about the town. Why don’t we keep an open mind while this gets explored a bit more, he said. I don’t know Alex Buttny. Knew his dad, Bob Buttny. He was one of the first Realtors and property managers in Oak Park in the 1970s who understood and embraced the upside of integration. One of those other things Oak Park has been out front of over the years.

The next day, we send out an e-mail blast to our online readers (Have you signed up for this free service yet? If not, what’s wrong with you! Go to Hit the E-Mail Update button. Simple. Make it so.)

Turns out public works has decided to stop salting the side streets. Yes, they’ll still plow those streets, just no salt. Drive more carefully is their advice. No, I’m not kidding. What the heck is wrong with these people! I pay my taxes. I expect my services.

At least that’s what the people who read the update wrote back as they responded immediately to this perceived slap in the face. Our readers, several of whom were quite clever and went directly and inevitably to the heated sidewalks on Marion Street for their inspiration, clearly want salt. Why when Carl Swenson was village manager, he’d lay down salt in September just to signal the close of block party season. (That’s actually my line. I was always struck by Swenson’s pre-emptory salt laying.)

Anyhow, Wednesday Journal readers did not seem the least bit mollified by the environmental concerns expressed by John Wielebnicki, the public works director. He noted that oversalting is bad for parkway grass. Personally, I’ve always been suspicious of those who salt their pizza, especially before they sample it.

And those who rejected the burned-out parkway grass theory were really unmoved by Wielebnicki’s revelation that the village is now adding some beet juice concoction to its salt mixture to more suitably season our highways and byways.

All in all a tough week to run public works. More snow is coming. Start squeezing the beets.

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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...