After nine months of hard work, the Oak Park Community Relations Commission met on Nov. 18 to discuss its first-draft proposal of a living wage ordinance for the Village of Oak Park. Last January, the village board tasked the commission with researching the impact of such an ordinance. This, because in November of 2008, 60 percent of Oak Park voters voted “yes” to a referendum on the ballot that asked if our village should enact a living wage ordinance. With an economy in shambles, Oak Park responded.

During monthly meetings and in between, this citizen advisory commission has struggled to research the consequence of such an ordinance on our community. Commissioners worked using a template put together by Ron Baiman, an economist living in Oak Park. This was given to the village board at the first board meeting following the “yes” vote.

Since the commission began work on the ordinance, not one member of the village board, including the board liaison, attended a commission meeting. So it was a surprise to see Village President David Pope waltz in prior to this last meeting.

Before the Commission had the opportunity to begin discussing their draft, President Pope launched a lengthy monologue about what the village board wanted and didn’t want from the commission. Several commissioners tried to assure Pope that they had put together a document that matched his wants. One commissioner pointed out that the voters of Oak Park had endorsed the living wage ordinance, and that should factor in to any discussion. Pope responded by describing Oak Park as a truly unique community, and that the voters probably responded to the referendum as a “mom and apple pie” issue. He suggested that the voters may not grasp the ramifications of such an ordinance.

It is astounding that the president of the village board would come to a commission meeting and tell them what the board wants them to do. Nine months of difficult labor for what? And his demeaning the voters? What chutzpah. Does the Community Relations Commission serve the board? Does it serve the people of Oak Park? Both? Who does the village board serve? One might expect that finding a way to affirm a vote of 60 percent of the electorate would resonate with elected officials.

In addition, immediately after the October commission meeting, John Murtagh went home and submitted his resignation as chair. President Pope refused to accept it. At the November meeting, one of the commissioners asked Pope why he “usurped” the commission. He took umbrage with the word “usurp” and promised to consider the resignation. As tension became tactile, President Pope took his leave.

To its credit, after an 80-minute delay, the commission began the first public reading of its draft proposal. Whatever the outcome of the commission’s work, our village trustees will ultimately need to choose whether or not to fight economic inequality in the way that only they can – by passing a comprehensive living wage ordinance.

Oak Parker Tom Broderick is co-chair of the Greater Oak Park Democratic Socialists of America and co-sponsor of the village’s living wage ordinance.

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