An Oak Park village trustee is urging local residents to be more civil while debating on local news websites.
Trustee Ray Johnson read a prepared statement after last week’s village board meeting, noting that he found President Barack Obama’s speech after the shooting tragedy in Tucson “incredibly moving.” The president’s call for civility should be heeded by Oak Parkers, said Johnson, who is running for re-election in April.
“While I don’t get the sense that Oak Park is currently experiencing the kind of vitriol or politics of personal destruction witnessed elsewhere in the country, I do have concerns about the tone and tenor of some of the comments citizens post online to local newspapers,” Johnson stated. “More often than not, these are posted anonymously; some of these comments are quite strident; they often include personal attacks on people, question the motives of others, offer no evidence for their sometimes sinister insinuations, and most recently included suggestions of criminal intent of other elected officials.”
In an interview after the meeting, Johnson confirmed that he was referring to Wednesday Journal’s website, OakPark.com. He said he was taken aback by some anonymous comments, such as ones made on stories about a petition challenge against three park board candidates, or any news that has to do with controversial development projects.
He understands that some cases call for commenting anonymously and emphasized that he doesn’t want to silence discourse, just raise it to a higher level.
“We can have healthy debates. We can have opposing viewpoints. Let’s just do it in a respectful way,” he said.
Trustee Colette Lueck, who formerly served as head of the Oak Park Plan Commission, said she, too, has been surprised by how nasty people can get sometimes.
“There certainly have been e-mails I have gotten where I’ve really thought, ‘Who do you think you are to talk to me like that?'” she said. “I mean, you’re treating me like I’m an idiot, and you’re practically accusing me of being stupid, and it’s not acceptable that you treat your elected officials that way.”