Now comes word that John Hedges is stepping down after two years as the head of the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation (OPEDC). While we are certain that John will remain active and engaged in all manner of local good works, it seems likely that this departure marks an end to John’s elected and appointed career in key leadership posts in Oak Park.
And this makes it an opportune moment to say thanks to one of the great and generous leaders Oak Park has produced in many decades. He ran the park district for many, many years, served a stint as the acting village manager of Oak Park, worked hard on a host of non-profit boards, was appointed and then elected to the Oak Park village board, ran unsuccessfully for village president and then graciously took appointment (from the fellow who beat him out for president of Oak Park) to the then-floundering OPEDC.
We have always said that the secret to small-town governance is to remember that these are small towns. Certainly doesn’t make the towns unimportant or the work less than essential. Small towns are where good government can be great governance and also where government can easily get small and petty and mean.
Oak Park has been blessed to have John Hedges, a good and decent man with no need to work out ego issues at the board table. He brought common sense and an ability to listen well and seek shared ground to every discussion. He had vast institutional knowledge, the benefit of having worked as both an executive director and an elected official, and a ready sense of humor to bring to difficult moments.
Most recently, Hedges stepped in at OPEDC at a critical moment when the role of this public-private partnership was finally being clarified and amplified under the leadership of Village President Anan Abu Taleb. Hedges did not arrive with a Rolodex of contacts among major developments. But he came to the post having been, as a village trustee, right in the middle of long, hard negotiations with the three major developments still on the table as the brutal recession finally ended. Hedges helped close the deals at Lake and Forest, Harlem and South Boulevard and at the Colt site in Downtown Oak Park.
Equally important, Hedges was a steadying force as OPEDC and village hall staffers disentangled themselves from the confused, contradictory and ineffective roles they had been left to play in the previous incarnation of economic development, Oak Park-style.
Hedges also played a key role in hiring John Lynch, the economic development professional, the person with the contacts, who arrived several months ago as the number two at OPEDC but was well situated to now take the lead role.
Our thanks and our admiration to John Hedges, our best to Jane Hedges.