Like World War I, the litgation between Oak Park’s two school boards and the Village just ended one  day. Hostilities ceased and everyone shut their mouths and briefcases and went home.   Now to be sure no one died, but both this litigation and the Great War share the similiarities of wasting lots of time and treasure to achieve a murky ending that the public never really understood.                                                                            

Now I don’t pretend to know what this contremps was all about. I think District 200 claimed that the Village breached some deal whereby the Village was to pay over more TIF moneys than it had agreed to pay. For the longest time I thought the amount in dispute was $3,000.000, but the final settlement seemed considerably more.  Whatever.

The story here is not the result, but how is a community can  possibly evaluate whether or not our elected officials achieved a fair result,  and whether the expenditure of $650, 000 to achieve that result was justified.                                                      

No one will ever know. First of all the matter was very complex involving legislative interpretation and history,  taxatin complexities , arcane law and reviewing a long history of agreements between and among various lawyers and individual Board members who left their positions ,if not town ,long ago.  Board members are volunteers and I doubt have the time, interest or background to have anything other than a cursory understanding of the facts and law , forcing them to rely on the lawyers. Never a good idea.                     

Even worse the litigants all entered into a conspiracy of silence to keep the public from knowing what the dispute was really about or why it was resolved as it was. The poor press was no better off left to repeating vanilla press releases and the blah/blah of Board public comment. The parties seemed quite smug and pleased with themselves at the end of all this. I couldn’t tell if that was because they achieved a fantastic result, or they  had pulled it off without giving the people who elected them  a clue about how they did it.                                                                                                 

As a result of this confluence of complexity and secrecy no one knows anything. It could be a great or a terrible settlement. Who knows?  No one will ever know and by next month all will be forgotten.                                                     

I wonder whether local government these days ever gets it right. The citizenry gets involved  when parking gets raised a buck or the snow doesn’t get plowed. Those things are easy to understand because they are personally experienced. But the more complex the issue, the more random , uncertain the evaluation of the result. The failure to get anything built on the Colt Building spot and other prime commercial locations with the significant loss of tax revenues, the pollution removal from Barrie Park, closing and opening Lake Street, rescheduling at District 97— are all examples of issues that no one other than  maybe a few ever really understood. As a result, our part-time elected officials grow less and less accountable as the public grows less and less knowledgeable. The likelihood that even with the best of intentions these elected few  will make collosal mistakes increases.                                     

So I guess I would ask all the public officials: please work hard and try to make  wise decisions. Oh, and please don’t screw us. Thanks. 

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John Hubbuch

John is an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976. He served on the District 97 school board, coached youth sports and, more recently, retired from the law. That left him time to become a Wednesday...

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