I wasn’t at the meeting. I didn’t watch it on TV. I haven’t listened to the audio tape. But I kept hearing about the meeting the Oak Park Village Board held on Sept. 5 and how it went off the rails.
The shouting. The finger-pointing. The accusations. All about the long-planned, exceedingly thoughtful and inclusive updating of the aged zoning ordinance. Launched from the board table by Trustee Simone Boutet and aimed at the available proxy, Tammy Grossman, the staff member who has led the eye-glazing zoning overhaul for more than two years.
Grossman was at the podium to answer questions from trustees about the status of changes to the ordinance that trustees had requested at an earlier meeting.
It was not a surprise when Boutet raised her concern about the wording, or the absence of wording, related to the required supermajority necessary for the village board to override a recommendation from the Plan Commission or Zoning Board of Appeals in matters related to Planned Unit Developments.
It wasn’t a surprise because Boutet had telegraphed her concerns and whetted the conspiratorial inclinations of her Facebook base in a post three days in advance of the public meeting. In that social media post, Boutet alerted her supporters of her “discovery” that the supermajority requirement had vanished from the draft ordinance. “A complete break with our tradition,” she said as she claimed adopting the ordinance as presented would allow four board members to approve the controversial Albion building.
Let’s be clear, consideration of Albion is governed fully by the old zoning ordinance. For Boutet to suggest otherwise is disingenuous.
But that’s why the council chambers were packed. There were shenanigans on the loose, evil-doers at work to thwart democracy. Speaking to me Monday, Boutet talked about the “ovations” from the crowd, who later “sent me many thanks.”
No doubt there are ovations and thanks to be earned for stirring up nonsense. We are a nation — and we are, it seems potentially, a village — inclined to be stirred up and divided into camps.
Trouble is, there was no conspiracy. No one on the board intended to remove the supermajority reference. No one on the board directed staff to omit a line from the text. You are left to argue whether there was an omission from the draft — an omission dating back perhaps a year when the consultant turned over the several-hundred-page document to the Plan Commission for its review — or a somewhat stultifying legal debate over whether the supermajority requirement was actually included, but in a slightly different portion of the document.
In an interview Monday, Boutet said she didn’t believe other members of the board had requested changes to the supermajority language. And despite what was described to me as haranguing Grossman from the board table, she said, “I don’t want this to turn into open season on Tammy.”
Well, too late for that, Trustee. And to Grossman’s great credit, she didn’t put up with much of Boutet’s harsh tone at the meeting, speaking up effectively for herself.
But, Trustee Boutet, if at this point you are no longer accusing your colleagues of tampering with the process and you are not accusing the staffer who shepherded this massive rewrite over two years, then just who are you accusing of malfeasance?
“Somebody took it out,” she said. And somebody chose not to mention the omission during various presentations, she said. “I can’t tell you who did it. I don’t know.”
Before making unfounded accusations to a rapt Facebook audience, Boutet, like any trustee, ought to reach out in advance to the board’s single employee, the village manager, and ask questions, seek clarity. On Monday, I asked if she had done that.
“No, I didn’t reach out,” she said.
I asked if during her decade-plus as Oak Park’s assistant village attorney and later acting village attorney, she’d benefited from having trustees offer that courtesy by reaching out to Ray Heise or the manager when there was a question on something coming out of the law department. They didn’t call me, they called the manager, was her answer.
Trouble is, Boutet doesn’t like or trust the village manager. So she turned her conspiracy theories and her anger on a hard-working, highly-respected department head instead. Not the way it works.