Following the resignation of six out of seven members of the Oak Park Community Relations Commission (CRC), Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb told Wednesday Journal he thought it unfortunate the commissioners decided to step down but respects their decision.
“I accept the resignation and I respect their decision,” Abu-Taleb said in a July 23 interview.
The six commissioners presented their letter of resignation the evening of July 21, a day after the Oak Park village board opted against sending proposals from potential equity training providers to the CRC for feedback.
“We have set processes in place on how to select vendors and how to establish contacts,” said Abu-Taleb. “It’s not the commission’s job to do that. I don’t think that the taxpayers want that to be a commission’s responsibility.”
During the July 20 village board meeting, the board voted to enter a contract with the equity training services of the National League of Cities, which the resigning CRC commissioners consider a poor fit for Oak Park despite it being the most affordable provider.
“The National League of Cities is a very respectful, respectable organization, and they are doing a great job for us,” said Abu-Taleb.
Three of the CRC commissioners who resigned previously attended equity training through the National League of Cities and found the program lacking.
The commissioners’ preferred equity training provider, Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE). But that agency did not respond to the village’s request for proposal.
“The decision was based on a competitive bidding that took place that GARE did not respond to,” said Abu-Taleb.
The CRC was not entirely excluded from the process of finding an equity training provider. While they did not review proposals, the CRC did provide questions to be asked of applicants during interviews.
However, the two board decisions made July 20 proved to be the final straw for the six commissioners, whose joint resignation letter detailed their years-long frustration at the village board for exhibiting what the commissioners perceived an unwillingness to work with the CRC.
Prior to their resignation, the CRC had two unfilled spots. With eight CRC spots now open, Abu-Taleb is looking to use the insight of the CRC’s sole remaining member, former village trustee Glenn Brewer, when it comes to appointing new people to the commission.
“He will be a great help to us going forward,” said Abu-Taleb.
Abu-Taleb thanked the commissioners for their service to the community and asked that they reach out to him should they wish to work on another commission.
“I’m open to sit down with each of them individually and if they have an interest to serve on a different commission, I’d be happy to look at that,” he said.
Abu-Taleb said he believed there is confusion over the respective duties of the CRC, elected officials and staff.
“I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding around what the commission does and the responsibility of the board and the responsibilities of the staff and the processes we have in place,” said Abu-Taleb. “I’m sorry about such a misunderstanding.”
While both the CRC and village board work to benefit Oak Park, Abu-Taleb said commissioners and village board members have different obligations.
“I know that they have the interest of the community at heart, and so do we, but we have different obligations as elected officials than they do, and we have a process in place that we have to follow to guard the taxpayers’ money.”