A new era has begun for the village of Oak Park. Monday evening, in the first in-person village board meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic began, departing village board members bid adieu to their posts, as their recently elected successors were sworn in.
“To the people of Oak Park, I stand here before you as the son of an immigrant farmer,” said exiting village president Anan Abu-Taleb on May 3. “You, the people of this village, are so generous. You have given me the opportunity to serve you. Thank you for entrusting me with that awesome responsibility.”
The new village trustees, village president and village clerk took their oaths of office May 3 before a small, masked crowd inside the Public Works garage on South Boulevard.
The meeting began with the passing of a resolution proclaiming the results of the April 6 election, which marked the last occasion where outgoing clerk Vicki Scaman, the new village president, took the roll. After that Christina Waters, the new clerk, took on those duties.
Remarks from mid-term trustees Arti Walker-Peddakotla, Jim Taglia and Susan Buchanan followed.
Walker-Peddakotla kept it brief, saying only that she looked forward to working with the new board, while Taglia thanked the outgoing board members and acknowledged the previous board’s penchant for discord.
“Reasonable people can debate and disagree, but the starting point must be the rational and sincere desire to make things better,” said Taglia. “I believe we’ve always had that – contrary to what you might occasionally read in the newspaper.”
Taglia also welcomed the new village board members, stating that cooperation was the key to progress and the advancement of common good.
“Please know that I stand ready to do my part and work together with you,” said Taglia.
Like Taglia, Buchanan thanked the outgoing board members for their service to the village.
“You taught me more than you realize,” said Buchanan.
She acknowledged outgoing trustee Deno Andrews, as well as Abu-Taleb, for not holding a grudge against her after she “publicly excoriated them in a heated moment,” referring to her 2019 outburst during board discussion over the village’s diversity statement.
“Despite what some people say on the issue, basic human decency is important in municipal government,” Buchanan said, concluding her remarks.
Departing trustee Simone Boutet next addressed the attendees, sharing her appreciation for the culturally diverse and majority-female new board. She stated that government is all about relationships, imploring those taking office to cultivate the relationship between the governed and the governing.
“It is a rewarding experience to sit at this board table, even though at times it is very difficult to make progress,” said Boutet.
Andrews began his remarks with gratitude for his family, village staff and the people with whom he served on the village board during his tenure as trustee.
“Anan, you have transformed and revitalized the village,” he told Abu-Taleb.
Andrews called outgoing trustee Dan Moroney the hardest working person he has ever worked with and praised him for his “commitment to excellence” and his efforts in tackling the property tax issue in Oak Park.
Moroney welcomed the incoming trustees, clerk and village president, stating that he would always be available to them should they ever need him.
“It’s a victory well-earned for all of you,” said Moroney, noting that he believed they could learn a lot from Buchanan and Walker-Peddakotla.
Moroney choked up speaking about Andrews, for whom has deep admiration, which he expressed during the meeting, as well as Abu-Taleb. He applauded Abu-Taleb for coming into office with a vision of economic development and seeing it through.
“Oak Park is a lot better for that, way better for that,” Moroney said.
Following the respectful overtures of departing trustees, came the swearing in of Trustees Lucia Robinson, Chibuike Enyia and Ravi Parakkat, as well as Scaman.
“I am honored and humbled to serve as your village president,” said Scaman.
She committed to bringing her love of service, dedication to transparency and ability to listen without defensiveness to the role. Scaman promised that the village board will answer calls for social justice, economic recovery and actions against climate change.
“We will not let you down,” said Scaman.
In a beautiful and symbolic display, Enyia, the son of Nigerian immigrants, and Parakkat, who hails from India, wore attire traditional of their respective heritages.
During his own remarks, Abu-Taleb veered more political than any of the other exiting board members. He expanded upon the references to the advancements of economic development that occurred during his tenure as mayor, listing such accomplishments as the construction of several high-rise apartment complexes and the revitalization of the Madison Street corridor.
He also took the opportunity to express his stance against calls to defund the Oak Park police department, declaring that the community policing strategy employed by the police department works. While he acknowledged that reform was needed as was greater access to mental health services, Abu-Taleb stated those services should not come about through diverting police funds.
Resolutions appreciating Abu-Taleb, Boutet, Moroney and Andrews were passed by the new village board, now fully transitioned into office, as was the village’s diversity statement.
Robinson, a Mexican American, stated in her speech that strength can be found through adversity when the community bands together.
“I’m looking forward to tapping into the unexpected strength as a community in the new term,” she said.
Those sentiments of the need for togetherness were echoed in Parakkat’s speech.
Enyia told the attendees that this village board may be the most diverse of any previously elected in Oak Park, calling that diversity a bold statement in comparison to the politics of yesteryear.
“This board must be bold, forward thinking and intentional in how we address the major problems facing us and the significant points on which we agree,” said Enyia. “We must live up to the promise of our campaigns.”