Oak Park’s newly reconstituted village board met Monday and offered up wide ranging goals for their term, spoke in civil tones and accepted some cautions from Vicki Scaman, the new village president, who urged reasonable expectations and an eye on the budget.
“We’re moving forward with respect for each other as well as respect for those who are going to help us implement and attain our goals,” Scaman told trustees at the meeting’s onset.
Goals were categorized into five groups: sustainability, racial equity, community safety, affordability and infrastructure, the last of which includes small business recovery actions. Once clearly defined and put to paper, the village board will adopt its goals later this year.
As a means of promoting greater accountability, Trustee Susan Buchanan asked that village staff present an action plan to the village board within a month of setting goals.
Scaman cautioned trustees to remember the limitations of municipal government by not setting overly ambitious goals difficult to attain during their terms.
“The more reasonable our expectations are, the more we all will feel successful and continue to be able to work together to reach our goals,” said Scaman.
Under the sustainability umbrella, newly elected Trustee Ravi Parakkat urged the creation of an “incubator” to provide job training for youth in fields concerned with environmental sustainability, as well as to create green investments and jobs in Oak Park.
He asked that the board conduct a feasibility study to see the possibility, the cost and the timeframe of establishing an incubator.
“It would be a good goal to set, in my mind, for this year,” said Parakkat.
Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla, a continuing village board member, liked Parakkat’s idea but felt the board should prioritize the assessment and reduction of the village’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Scaman tried to reel Parakkat in a bit, telling him, “We’re not going to have enough money to go and spend for every single idea we have here tonight.”
Trustee Jim Taglia, the board’s senior member, suggested the board conduct a study session to explore Parakkat’s idea.
“It certainly sounds interesting,” said Taglia.
Walker-Peddakotla asked that the board consider setting a goal to fully implement Greenways, a network of low-traffic residential streets designated as safe areas for walking and cycling. The Bike Walk Oak Park community group has long lobbied the village board to execute the program.
She also asked the village board to look into allowing the planting of pollinator and community gardens in parkways. The community gardens could address food insecurity while growing local and sustainable produce.
Newly elected Trustee Chibuike Enyia wanted to see participation in the village’s compost program made more easily available to Oak Park’s renters.
The board agreed to prioritize the realization of the recommendations submitted by the ad hoc Oak Park Climate Action Planning Group that were approved under the previous village board.
The Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) was mentioned while discussing racial equity goals after just-elected Trustee Lucia Robinson asked that the board employ an organization to create a toolkit for the village to determine whether initiatives and programs advance racial equity.
“[GARE] is the foremost leader on racial equity in governing in the nation,” said Walker-Peddakotla. “Any work that’s done on racial equity should be done with GARE.”
Walker-Peddakotla suggested the board put into place a taskforce to identify areas in legislation and village practices that do not promote racial equity, as previously recommended by the Community Relations Commission (CRC).
GARE was the organization favored by the CRC to conduct racial equity training for village personnel. When the village board opted to use the National League of Cities last July, six of the commission’s seven members resigned.
Buchanan asked that the board revisit the reparations discussion and Enyia wanted to the board to find an outlet to conduct difficult conversations with the public to determine where the community is divided.
Walker-Peddakotla had big ideas for community safety goals, including restructuring the Citizen Police Oversight Committee (CPOC) to make it truly independent and give it greater oversight authority.
She wanted the board to consider an alternative emergency response system for mental health crisis calls that would not involve police, as well as a non-police procedure for minor traffic violations.
Walker-Peddakotla also asked that the board look into “transformative” programs for youth who commit criminal offenses instead of putting them through the criminal justice system.
“Notice I that I did not use the word ‘defund,’” she said. “This is not about fearmongering or saying crazy stuff. This is about doing things in a more humane way.”
As part of the affordability category, Taglia asked if the board could have a study session regarding the inclusionary zoning ordinance, also known as the affordable housing ordinance.
The board established a goal to keep the village’s income tax levy to three percent increases annually and to address parking – the latter of which is a goal consistent among every iteration of the village board.
“Parking is complex,” said Village Manager Cara Pavlicek. “It’s always been revisited by village boards.”