Odds and ends with some a bit odder than others:

“The process seems backwards to me”: That’s what Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla said last week as Oak Park’s village board debated which, if either, consulting firm to hire to conduct some sort of exercise around public safety and policing in the village.

She’s right.

This entire process is off-kilter and ill-timed. It is still being driven by what was a haphazard response by the previous village board under immense stress to address policing after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020.

At that time, fairly out of the blue and with no actual public discussion or board deliberation, Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb pushed the idea of hiring a consulting firm to audit the police department. A majority of the board went along, though I recall precious little clarity on just what an audit of the police department meant.

Since then, Abu-Taleb has given way to Village President Vicki Scaman. Three trustees chose not to seek re-election and were replaced by voters with a trio of far more progressive people. Cara Pavlicek, Oak Park’s village manager, will leave village hall next week for a post in Northbrook. And LaDon Reynolds, Oak Park’s police chief, has announced he is waiting U.S. Senate confirmation to be named U.S. Marshal for Northern Illinois.

This new board is left with two consultants who responded to an RFP put together to reflect the very vague goals of a former administration. Like most consultants in government work, both these firms are heavy with individuals retired from police work. One of the firms being considered is Hillard Heintze which was founded by a former Chicago police superintendent. CPD is not a leader in bringing equity to policing. Understatement there.

This is not the path to changing/reforming policing and public safety in Oak Park. 

I get that Scaman sees this as a priority and wants to move forward. I’m confident she aspires to Oak Park having an outstanding and innovative public safety program which obviously has a vital police department at its core. But the chances of getting there by taking this path seem remote. 

Better to focus right now on getting a village manager hired who is immersed in equity, on hiring or promoting a police chief who embraces change in policing, who values citizen oversight of policing, who recognizes that Oak Park’s very good police department can be leading the nation in public safety.

Fifteen months after George Floyd’s murder, the urgency is not simply to act. The urgency is to be thoughtful, inclusive, bold. Using a process left over from an old and different board, led by key staff who are about out the door won’t get us there.

Finally, thanks to Walker-Peddakotla for leading on this. And thanks for finally dropping the nonsensical “Defund the Police” language. 

The things you learn: Last week we published a story about the Park District of Oak Park seeking a demolition permit for a two-story office building it owns adjacent to its Madison Street headquarters. The plan is to level the either ugly, or classic, midcentury building to make way for parking.

Our story brought a note from Jim Budrick, now retired but long Oak Park’s village engineer. He worked in the building a long time back when, he says, it housed the nation’s first “expressway surveillance system.” That’s the sort of data gathering systems that helped dispatch emergency services and provided the info for radio and TV traffic reporting.

“I will always remember the massive number of telephone lines coming into the building. All the communications were transmitted over the phone lines at the time. The computer was an old IBM that filled an entire room. It was an amazing achievement for the time. All traffic management used throughout the world started here in the early 1960s,” Budrick wrote.

Eventually the state of Illinois shifted — and presumably updated — the traffic control systems to a sleek little building it constructed at Harrison between Elmwood and Gunderson on land recovered from the Eisenhower Expressway embankment.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...