It’s election season here in River Forest, and I would like to shine a light on an important issue that has been hidden away in a closet for too long: lack of effective and transparent guidelines for handling our volunteer commissions, boards, and committees, which serve our elected officials and our village.
Let’s be 100% clear that the issue is not the citizens and leaders who volunteer for these advisory bodies. It’s hard to blame most elected officials as well. In fact, the poor village guidelines are actually under-serving the volunteers, the trustees, and the voters.
Let’s start with how these poor guidelines adversely affect the volunteers themselves to the advisory bodies. Those who would like to volunteer can find absolutely no description of how they will be considered by the village because the village has no published description of the process. Volunteers have no idea when their application will be reviewed, who will be looking at their applications, what considerations will be used for decisions, or how or when they will be contacted to learn what determination was made on their application.
Village trustees also receive no information on this process. Because the village has no formal process, and no requirement to disclose anything about the process to trustees, they have no idea who has applied and how decisions are made to select a nominee. Then they are asked at the last minute to make an uninformed yes/no vote on a nomination of their neighbor. The lack of transparency completely handicaps the trustees.
Finally, the lack of transparency means the voter has absolutely no understanding of, and no voice about, this process. How can they hold trustees accountable for their vote if the trustees’ votes are completely blind?
The current system places entirely too much power in one person, the president, who reviews the candidate submittals and has no obligation to disclose any information about who has applied and what process was used to come up with an appointee.
For reference, this process is entirely different in Oak Park, which has an actual Volunteer Application, the first page of which is a detailed description of the process. Their volunteer web page also includes “Enabling Language” for each advisory body, and a Procedure Manual for advisory bodies. Applications are routed through the Clerk to the Citizen Involvement Commission for a transparent process of evaluation and matching of volunteer skills to advisory body needs.
The current system in River Forest is woefully inadequate and under-serves all parties involved. River Forest must do a better job of tapping the talent of our citizens and treating everybody with dignity and professionalism in the process. I asked at the village board meeting on Jan. 25, for this issue to be taken seriously (find my comments in the meeting minutes) and for work to begin immediately on correcting it. And I encourage voters to ask all current candidates for elected public office to state where they stand on this issue and what they will do about it.
John Grant is a resident of River Forest.