With River Forest mulling a proposal to elevate the sustainability committee to a village commission, two trustees — one forcefully — have come out in opposition to the idea.

Since its formation two years ago, the sustainability committee, created in partnership with the River Forest Parks Foundation, has made environmental practices a visible part of the village’s fabric. 

The committee has successfully spearheaded more than 20 initiatives and won praise for its dedication, expertise and ingenuity.  

With a groundswell of residents endorsing its work, the committee and its allies went before trustees on Oct. 24 seeking to make the committee a permanent part of village government. 

But trustees Mike Gibbs and Tom Dwyer said that evening that the committee and its role and responsibilities should remain right where they are. Gibbs said he is reluctant to add another commission for any reason.

“Nothing can screw up a group more than government involvement,” said Gibbs. “In the past, they would come to the podium and ask if they could do something and we could accept or reject it. I don’t want it to go from a happy, shined-upon organization versus to making me look at what government is making me do.”

Gibbs also chastised Village President Catherine Adduci for sharing his email with the committee on the question of forming a commission. That message also went to Village Administrator Eric Palm. 

In that Sept. 7 message, obtained by Wednesday Journal through a Freedom of Information Act, Gibbs stated a similar objection to establishing another commission, saying “we do not need another agenda driven group making our lives and those of our citizens more difficult by adding opinions to village programs and processes,” according to the email. 

Dwyer agreed with Gibbs, adding that creating another commission would strain the village’s resources.

“Staff is stretched thin already,” Dwyer said. “We already have too many things on our plate to deliberate on this.”

He added that a commission could make some sense if it could gather more outside funds. 

“I’d like to hear more about that,” he said.

Adduci said that grants could cover the cost of any new initiatives. She added that with the committee and staff now attending the same meetings, members of a commission could go instead, freeing up staff time. 

Trustee Tom Cargie, who was on the park board when the foundation was formed, said elevating the committee is a natural evolution in its mission. 

“This [group] has become more village than park related. It makes sense to associate with the board instead of the park district. If it is a commission, it will provide better opportunities for communication, collaboration and closer connections with us,” Cargie said.

Trustee Susan Conti said having a permanent sustainability commission would put River Forest on even footing with communities such as Deerfield, Evanston, Skokie, Glen Ellyn, Highland Park, Park Ridge and Winnetka, which already have sustainability commissions.

Of the other two trustees, Roma Colwell-Steinke, the liaison to the committee, strongly favors the proposal; Carmela Corsini has suggested she still needs more information.

Katie Brennan, the committee’s chairwoman, pointed out to trustees that residents have come to rely on the village to provide programs and services that prioritize health and wellness. 

“They look to the village for programs that will enhance their quality of life … and will enable them to become responsible environmental stewards,” she said. “A commission would allow us to continue to offer these essential programs and services, to better communicate with the village and residents and provide for the continued success of the committee’s programs.”

A draft ordinance will come back to trustees for further discussion at a later date. The issue will come up during the trustees’ goal-setting session in late November. 

Brennan said the committee will work with Palm to craft a draft ordinance creating a commission and answer as many of the trustees’ questions as possible. 

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