The good Christians among you will recall the story of Paul. He led a life of sin until God knocked him off his ass onto his ass, and he made a U-turn on the road to Damascus and became St. Paul. I’m no saint, but I too have had an epiphany.
Over the years I have from time to time written critical, snarky, even mean-spirited comments about the governments of Oak Park. Others provide similar negative comment. I’m somewhat unusual in that I use my real name. My epiphany comes from reading the National Citizen Survey, Village of Oak Park, 2011.
The survey is a collaborative effort between National Research Center Inc. (NRC) and the International City/Community Management Association. Both organizations are legitimate and, as far as I can tell, unbiased. Oak Park households were selected at random to answer a very comprehensive survey. A total of 453 completed surveys were obtained, providing an overall response rate of 39 percent. Typical response rates are 25-40 percent. The margin of error is 5 percent.
NRC has a database of approximately 500 jurisdictions which are similarly surveyed. As a result, Oak Park can be compared with other communities. A “benchmark” emerges and Oak Park can be evaluated as being “above” or “below” the benchmark. Pretty cool.
Now the report is 87 pages, but the executive summary is much shorter. A few excerpts tell the story. “The overall quality of life in the Village of Oak Park was rated as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ by 90% of the residents. About four out of five respondents reported they plan on staying in the Village of Oak Park for the next five years.” And then: “Of the 25 characteristics for which comparisons were available, 19 were above the national benchmark, five were similar and one was below.” And things are even getting better. The overall quality of life registered as either excellent or good at 80 percent in 2000, but it jumped to 90 percent in 2011. The overall picture is clear. The residents of Oak Park are very happy living here.
Maybe the survey is flawed. Maybe it is the vigilant and vocal like me and others who keep government officials in line. Maybe we’re like the Titanic passengers oblivious to impending disaster. Or maybe I have to acknowledge that the schools, village, parks and library are well run, and credit must be given to the elected officials and staffs. Maybe I should shut up.
There are significant implications to this survey, especially for critics. These survey results might explain why the VMA (Village Manager Association) has won, and will continue to win, elections and why we have so many successful referenda, no matter the high taxes. Most of us must believe we are getting value for those taxes. Maybe Pangloss in Candide was right: we are living in the best of all possible worlds. Maybe much of the complaining is just the braying of the angry, uninformed and idiosyncratic.
I probably should stop here, but like Colombo, I have just one more question: If Oak Park is such a great place to live, and if village services are given such high ratings by residents, and if good government has gotten even better in the last five years, then why isn’t Tom Barwin still the village manager?