It has now happened three times in the course of just a few months. An elected official in Oak Park stepped down from their post — took a new job, died, or, in the odd case at the library, won election but then declined to serve. 

Remaining board members needed to appoint a replacement, the call was made for applications, and then, in a positive change at District 97 public schools and at the library, the names of the applicants were made public, and the candidate interviews were held in public. Strong appointments followed.

This is an approach we have long advocated but seldom seen. We applaud both the school district and the library for understanding why this approach should be standard procedure. We hope the township and other local elected bodies are watching closely and will adopt this simple but foundational approach to transparency the next time a vacancy occurs.

The argument in the past has been that naming the applicants would somehow be embarrassing to those not chosen. Embarrassing how? Why would one be embarrassed in putting their name forward as a volunteer for public service? All credit is due to each person who takes such a civic-minded step. 

If you put yourself forward in an election, your name is public, you win or you lose, your life goes forward. The community is always enriched by competitive elections. Someone appointed to an elected board has the same power and responsibility. A version of public vetting is all to the good.

In these dark times as we see malevolent and anti-democratic forces burrowing into local elected bodies to promulgate their conspiracy theories, it is more important than ever that every path to such service — through election or appointment — be a public process. Too often we have seen these inroads come on public school and library boards specifically. Whether it is anti-vaccine or masks being argued in a school district, or limits on what books or programs a library can have, these can be two levels of local government where dangerous emotions can fester.

Don’t fall for the “it can never happen here” theory. It can happen here. Our job is to protect our public bodies. And, as always, the answer is more light on the process.

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