We don’t gather our reporters up into teams and label them Watchdogs! But Wednesday Journal does keep watch. Here are several stories that began in 2009, or earlier, on which we’ll be actively reporting in 2010.
U.S. Bank, Oak Park and the West Side: Park National Bank is gone. It’s an injustice and a bad banking decision by the feds. But the bank is gone. U.S. Bank, the nondescript behemoth out of Minnesota, was chosen by the FDIC to take over Park National’s assets. We’ll be watching to see to what extent, if any, U.S. Bank also takes over Park National’s responsibilities. Will it keep a focus on affordable housing through its development arm? Will it discover there’s money to be made and good to be accomplished on the un-banked West Side? Will it keep two essential gateway locations in Oak Park vital?
We are dubious on all counts. Prove us wrong, whoever or whatever you are, U.S. Bank.
West Sub/Vanguard: West Suburban Medical Center is another institution critical to Oak Park, River Forest and the West Side. It, too, has a new owner: the for-profit Vanguard Health Systems. We buy the argument that West Sub’s future as part of the financially swamped Resurrection Health System was compromised and that Vanguard has the potential to invest further in the hospital. Along with those dollars, though, Vanguard will have to prove its interest in restoring West Sub’s role as a legitimate community hospital and community leader.
Leading the high school: Oak Park and River Forest High School is in the market for a new superintendent. A school board that’s proved in past months to have some fractures will have to unite in making this critical hire. Let us reiterate that the changes needed to make OPRF the school it can be for all students are not complete. It’s too soon to hire “a consensus-building healer.” Tough choices are still ahead. Is this school board up to its most critical decision? We’ll be watching.
County politics: Cook County government provides essential services in health care, law enforcement and the forest preserves. That it provides those services with astonishing inefficiency and self-interest is ever-more clear. In the Feb. 2 primary, local voters get to cast key votes for county board president and for the 1st District commissioner. Our endorsements will follow.
Key developments: Both River Forest and Oak Park have the opportunity in 2010 to move essential redevelopment sites forward: Oak Park at Forest and Lake, River Forest at Lathrop and Lake. Since officials in each municipality have critical roles to play, they can demonstrate both development savvy and transparency in the decision making. Though 2010 will most certainly not be the year of breaking ground in either case, officials playing their parts successfully would prove groundbreaking.
Getting along: Two local government boards are worrying us: the aforementioned OPRF school board and the village board of trustees in River Forest. Both have fissures. We’re never critical of boards that have intense debates over genuine issues. That can lead to wise decisions on tough topics. And we give the OPRF board points for sincerity. The River Forest board, reconstituted by voters in April, is more problematic. New president John Rigas has to steer the village away from its closed ways of the past. And we think he’s making progress. However, he still needs to find a balance in dealing with two minority trustees who can raise legitimate concerns but continue to do so in ways that seem stuck in past arguments. Time to move forward in River Forest.