A recent letter to Wednesday Journal asked why a resident would want to serve on an Oak Park commission, since sometimes the board of trustees doesn’t adopt advisory recommendations [Why bother joining an Oak Park commission, Viewpoints, Aug. 25]. Here’s my answer.
The board is not a “rubber stamp” for recommendations from staff or from advisory boards. We have elected them as our representatives to make tough choices between competing demands and alternatives available to them. In some cases this means saying no to a specific recommendation. Sometimes a different approach can provide a better solution. However, trustees approve more than 90 percent of all recommendations presented to them.
Commission service is a wonderful opportunity for residents to get involved and learn more about a particular aspect of village government. When I served on the Community Relations Commission in the 1980s, the board asked us to research the issue of “sanctuary communities.” We presented our findings to trustees, and while they did not take a specific action as a result of this research, the process provided constructive information to commissioners, the board and the public about this important issue. The same was true of the living wage issue this year.
Boards and commissions provide added value to the larger community by raising issues, presenting recommendations and engaging in conversations about what is best for the entire community. Commission meetings are open to the public and those who are interested are welcome to attend a meeting as observers and talk with commissioners about their work before or after the meeting.
The Village of Oak Park is blessed with a wealth of talent in its residents, who bring high-level skills and great enthusiasm to the task of advising the board of trustees on a wide range of issues. Many of these commissions have been established over the past 40 years to address in more detail issues that the board and staff are unable to investigate alone. Topics range from community relations to historic preservation, from building codes to public art, community design and housing programs. Trustees rely on these boards and commissions for advice and recommendations, just as they turn to staff for advice in other areas.
Most commissioners serve for a three-year term and meet one evening a month at Village Hall. In some cases, commissioners must have special expertise, but in most cases an interest in public service and enthusiasm for participating in a team effort are the most important qualifications. The Citizen Involvement Commission meets with candidates and makes recommendations to the board of trustees from the pool of candidate applicants.
Details about each commission, a list of commissions with vacancies and an application form are available online. To learn more about volunteer service with the village, visit www.oak-park.us/volunteer, or call the village clerk’s office at 708-358-5670.
Teresa Powell is the Oak Park village clerk.