A few months back, I ran into an Oak Park village trustee at one of those events that local paper publishers and hometown politicians find themselves at. Someone was being honored. Or renamed. Or unveiled. Can’t remember which.
I do remember though that said trustee allowed there were three major votes upcoming which would go a ways toward determining the success of the current term.
And the trio was: overhauling parking regs, the grand plan to consolidate garbage hauling for businesses and apartment buildings, and, of course, lighting the stadium at the high school.
Now two of those three seminal events have transpired and the scorecard is not impressive. The parking plan was rolled out, greeted with scorn and hysteria, recalled and is now being retooled. The consolidated waste plan, literally years in formation, was curiously derailed at the final moment and went down in a pitiful heap of head-shaking. That leaves the lights in the stadium, really a minor issue amplified by years of pointed fingers and ineffectual leadership on all fronts.
If the first two issues had gone well, it would have set the village board up nicely to make a simple, clean decision to allow lights at the school, shown itself to be a new sort of reasonable, decisive board and led smoothly into the Spring 2009 election season.
What went wrong?
Fundamentally, and in retrospect, serious disconnections between the board and top staff, principally Village Manager Tom Barwin. Toss in some panic-mongering by the business community and miscommunication between the village board and a village commission and you have an embarrassing stew on two issues on which this board had sought to distinguish itself.
Let’s take them one at a time.
Parking: A year back, new manager Barwin was just starting to grasp the generally weak finances he had inherited and the specifically awful numbers in the village’s parking fund. He wanted to raise money to fix the parking deficit. Village trustees wanted a “comprehensive solution.” The consultant was hired. The report, a darned good one, was crafted.
The board overreached somewhat on the higher meter rates to meet Barwin’s need for cash and to address the number one complaint of the business community: All day meter-feeding by employees. In a miserable economy, merchants panicked when they saw some parking spaces and small lots largely empty. Now the village board has overcorrected by cutting all meter fees.
The board looks weak. The manager doesn’t get his money.
Waste hauling: Touting environmental concerns, the village has for five years-maybe it’s seven-been exploring a plan to choose just one garbage hauler (currently there are 12) for all the businesses and big apartment buildings in the village. Fewer trucks clogging the alleys. A way to implement recycling plans, said the village.
There was always pushback from some segment of business owners saying they wanted at least the right to “opt out” of any “socialized” garbage pickup. The board heard that and agreed. The village manager heard that and seemingly agreed. The village’s environmental commission didn’t get the memo, seemingly didn’t grasp the opt-out issue and therefore backed an “everyone-in-the-pool-plan.”
And that’s the ordinance that arrived, dead, on the village board agenda a week back. Having just tussled with businesses over parking, the board wasn’t going to the mat over garbage pickup.
That’s two down and one to go. The village board might want to sort out the politics of the high school lights in advance.