There are a lot of problems in the world. Oak Park can’t solve them all. Then there are problems in the world that Oak Park has already effectively solved – even if that solution didn’t involve passing an ordinance and thumping our chests.
Such is the case with the so-called “living wage ordinance.” Most everyone who works at village hall, vendors hired by the village, or employers or businesses receiving significant subsidies from the village – the three categories covered by a proposal – earns a wage well in excess of the levels contemplated by any living wage proposal. To us, this looming debate appears to be about imposing a government solution to an issue the pubic and private sectors in our middle-class community have already efficiently solved.
The living wage issue was put on the community’s agenda by well-meaning people who worked to get the issue on the ballot as an advisory referendum in November 2008. To no one’s surprise, a large majority of well-meaning Oak Parkers voted in favor of village government implementing such an ordinance. Its hand forced, the village board sent the issue off to the Community Relations Commission a year ago for study.
Last week, the commission held a public forum on the issue in anticipation of forwarding a proposal to the village board. It was a respectful event, though the participants took starkly different viewpoints. Supporters of the coming proposal argued a progressive agenda while, oddly, suggesting the impact of such a law in Oak Park would be minimal in cost or added bureaucracy. Well-organized representatives of the business community took pains not to criticize the idea that workers should be fairly compensated. Instead, they argued, local workers are already fairly compensated and that adding new rules and regs to doing business in the village is unnecessary and counterproductive.
We agree with the business community. In this community there is no problem to solve. And taking some feel-good position to satisfy legitimate frustrations about the plight of the working poor elsewhere would only take the village back to its inauthentic proclamation of Oak Park as a nuclear-free zone. Except unlike our posturing on nuclear weaponry, a living wage ordinance might well have any number of unintended real-world consequences.
Our reading has been that the current village board, a rightly pragmatic group, has no interest in passing a living wage ordinance. The sooner this proposed ordinance gets to the village board table and can be respectfully deep-sixed, the sooner the village can deal with real Oak Park issues.
Library’s leading light
Last week in Viewpoints, our columnist John Hubbuch labeled the Oak Park library the heart of Oak Park. We agree for all the reasons cited by John and offer, as further evidence, the national library award just received by our library.
The Gordon M. Conable Award is given annually to a library that has “demonstrated a commitment to intellectual freedom and the Library Bill of Rights.” In Oak Park’s case, the honor, including a check for $1,500, is for its expanding collection of transgender materials.
Our library reflects our community’s determined values of inclusion and, in building such a collection, makes clear its leadership. Another reason to be proud of your town.