File 2002

Part one of a two-part assessment

Spring in Oak Park has launched a serious discussion about the village elections in the spring of 2013. That’s good. The village needs to be thinking about the state of its government and it future direction.

A special village

“The 1990 Oak Park Comprehensive Plan’s opening sentence said the plan is predicated on the community’s commitment to human values; a sense that the village exists for its citizens.” The plan continues to guide Oak Park Development after 22 years. For the quote to work, the community must be deeply involved in not only cultural, social, education, and family activities; but in the election of its government leaders. That is, voters must take responsibility for choosing board members who are objective, without biases, and spirited in their sense of citizens first.

Voter apathy

In the last two elections (2009 and 2011), less than 20 percent of registered Oak Park village voters participated in selecting village officials. Is that a bad turnout? Yes. In the 2008 presidential election, 90 percent of Oak Parkers voted. Five months later, 17 percent of Oak Park voted in the board election. Many said the low turnout was election fatigue. That fatigue did not hit our neighbors. On the same day, 43 percent of Melrose Parkers voted for their local board. In Riverside it was also 43 percent, Franklin Park 42 percent, River Forest 36 percent, and Berwyn 33 percent. In Oak Park, where enthusiasm grows on trees, our election turnouts are pitifully apathetic.

A village of change

From 2000 to 2010, Oak Park’s population declined by about 600 people or -1.2 percent. The 54 and under category declined by 4,000 people or 9.3 percent and the 55 and older population increased by 3,400 or 36.7 percent. Of particular importance is the 7.9 percent decline in the 35-54 age category. They are primarily homeowners, who fear the loss of their retirement nest egg if home prices remain stagnant. They see every pothole and curb erosion as a sign that their home value will continue to collapse. Some have moved already? Will more move? The trend says yes. Will that hurt the village? It is already hurting the village. They are a critical part of the village, and the sense of many of them is that the village is unconscious regarding their concerns.

We face the next 10 years with a very weak financial situation. The developments that were going to lead to future growth and prosperity have failed. The village needs a plan, and the plan cannot be based on how things used to be in Oak Park. They must be based on how Oak Park will be in the future. Voting next spring is the first step we must take to creating a village government who see through the lens of 21st-century reality.

Next week: Living in an oligarchy? The VMA’s dominance.

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