On a number of important and complex issues, Oak Park’s village government is currently stuck. Or, more delicately, it is “in transition.”

New president. Old mayor. New board. Old board. Old manager. Interim manager. Likely old police chief. Likely internally promoted new chief. But who chooses the new chief? Hmmm?

Drop into this mix the $39 million in manna from heaven (American Rescue Plan funds for COVID relief from D.C.) and it is an interesting time for a major shift in the firmament.

Last week the village board listened to Cara Pavlicek, the current manager (departing mid-August for Northbrook) and her CFO suggest that 30 of those millions ought to be used to replenish village funds lost during the pandemic. The federal regulations and the accounting requirements, they acknowledge, are complicated and keep shifting. And Steve Drazner, the CFO, said he understood that the percentage being suggested for refilling the village’s kitty was pretty high.

It was a preliminary discussion. But there will need to be decisions made fairly soon as the village moves toward budget season in the fall. And notably there are limits to how the money can be spent under federal regs. So, for instance, police and fire pensions and bonded debt, two expensive aspects of village governance, cannot be paid with these federal dollars.  

Before those budget decisions are made, though, Trustee Arti Walker Peddakotla said the discussion needs to widen out beyond top staff and beyond the village board to hear from Oak Park residents about how they would like to see this money spent.

As Walker-Peddakotla notes in a One View in today’s paper [see Viewpoints], this is a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to have some level of resources to bring to big issues. She points to replacing lead water pipes as one and funding new community safety measures such as expanded mental health integration with policing as another.

Village President Vicki Scaman also wants the direct needs of the small business community to potentially be addressed with this funding. Certainly there are other initiatives which will need to be considered.

We believe trustees are elected to make decisions like these, but seeking input from residents in a thoroughgoing way makes sense to us.

Also, we hate to say this, but COVID is not over and both spending on it and possible additional revenue declines from it are not impossible.

Join the discussion on social media!