Sometimes there is a political problem and it needs a political solution. The current conflict related to Oak Park’s liquor laws and incoming village president Anan Abu-Taleb’s holding a liquor license is a political problem. Sure there are legal aspects and it bumps into ethical considerations. But those are relatively minor and easily resolved matters.
Monday night the village board had the chance to implement a political solution — neat and quick — that would resolve the problems and clear the way for Abu-Taleb to become president next Monday without this distraction and potential political hammer lingering.
The solution really is simple. Get Oak Park in sync with a changing state law that says any elected official can be named village liquor commissioner and make formal Abu-Taleb’s pledge that he will fully recuse himself from any discussion and any vote related to liquor.
Instead, due to a curious set of circumstances, the members of the board most likely to support fixing the problem quickly chose to table the solution and add it to the typically ceremonial agenda of next Monday’s final and simultaneously first board meeting. That should make for an interesting night of transition.
Citing worries of some board members that the final votes in Springfield to change the state law have not been taken and noting that two board members were not physically present, Village President David Pope scuttled his own agenda item at the top of Monday’s meeting. The simpler reading is that on this Monday there were not yet enough votes to pass the measure.
The question is what will change by next Monday night when the current and future versions of the village board gather for what is historically a celebration of good government and a reaffirmation of Oak Park’s diversity goals. Before that handoff is made and teary statements can be uttered, the current board is going to have to deal with this dicey political issue. And they are going to have to do it under the added scrutiny of many people turning out for a celebration, and they are going to have to decide under a very tight time frame.
All in all, it will create a fascinating prism to view where Oak Park is headed. Will this current board, which has accomplished much, clear this major obstacle and set the next board and president up to succeed? Or will it choose to launch a new board into division and uncertainty, diverted from substance and stuck in an unproductive debate over an obsolete aspect of our liquor laws. What does the liquor commissioner do anyhow?! The full village board makes all the liquor decisions.
As Pope noted, the sponsor of the necessary House measure is none other than Speaker Mike Madigan and his support makes passage of the Springfield piece of this certain. Pope is confident Gov. Pat Quinn will have signed the finished bill by Monday.
If that happens, what valid objections are left? There are worries that boards should not change laws to accommodate individual officials currently seated or about to be seated. I get that point. But changing this law does nothing to personally benefit Abu-Taleb or his business.
There was a well-meaning suggestion Monday night from Gene Armstrong, a stalwart VMA member and longtime civic volunteer who has worked on the village’s liquor laws over the decades. He proposed a short-term fix while the broader issue was referred out by the board to a commission for study.
Well-meaning but wrong. This is a moment for a clear and simple resolution of an issue, a clear and simple declaration of forward movement. It doesn’t need study and parsing. It needs a quick, suitable, political solution. The vote ought to be unanimous Monday night.
Maybe it won’t be quite that. But that’s OK, too.