Changes are coming in Oak Park, whether citizens vote in local elections or not. A new village manager will soon be hired and a village board majority will be elected next spring. Recent village elections have drawn little interest and few meaningful choices among candidates.
I suggest that this is partly because Oak Parkers don’t get enough news to know what really goes on in village hall and how it affects them. It’s hard to pay attention to local government with so much going on nationally and globally, but Oak Park is where we live and where individual voters can have the most impact.
Oak Park political/government news has three main sources:
The oldest of our newspapers tries to cover things in depth with balance but suffers from the financial hardships of its corporate parent and seems to shrink weekly.
The other paper is an unabashed booster for the people in power and most of the policies on which so much money and time has been spent with such meager results.
The third source is, of course, the village’s own propaganda organ. The communications operation that tells us constantly how well the village is doing, how our thriving is a result of enlightened decisions by recent boards, and how everything the village does is a free-market inevitability appears to have survived budget cuts better than some activities others might see as basic services.
The bottom line is that Oak Parkers have to really dig on their own to get enough information to know what’s actually happening.
A few examples:
Cracks develop in the new Whiteco parking garage. Ten percent of the spaces are closed. The village hires reputable consultants to study the structure. The consultants say there are serious problems that will cost at least $750,000 to fix; problems were covered up when the garage was delivered. Months pass and the village announces that everything’s fine now because it’s been fixed for around $75,000. What really happened, and how safe is the garage?
A new $30 million public works building is constructed. The village congratulates itself on how “green” it is. Cracks develop here too, and consultants say it’s not safe to park two heavy trucks close to each other (on the new floor built to park heavy trucks). We never hear any more about it. Does the building meet its specs, and is it safe?
After telling us repeatedly how great the “1120 Club” development downtown is, the village sues the developer for millions for violating the redevelopment agreement. The developer goes bankrupt, lots of people sue him, and we never hear whether the new owners will have to give the village what we paid for.
There are more of these unfinished stories and few ways to get answers. We, the Citizens for Community Conversation, would like to establish new channels for the free, civil exchange of vital information. Please join us at Unity Temple on Sept. 9 from 6 to 8:30 p.m., to start the process.
Gary Schwab is an Oak Park resident and former candidate for village president.