When the Oak Park Village Board adopted its goals last summer, Trustee Ravi Parakkat shared concerns that some goals lacked sufficient detail, making it difficult for him to get on board with them.
“It’s really hard to get behind some of these things without that degree of specificity,” he said during the June 14 meeting.
Four months later, that sentiment is being echoed by other members of the village board, this time, in regard to the board’s goal to establish a sustainability incubator — an idea presented and pushed by Parakkat.
The lofty goal was revisited during the Oct. 21 meeting of the board’s finance committee to discuss village staff’s recommended budget for fiscal year 2022, which includes Parrakkat’s proposal to earmark $10,000 to conduct a feasibility study of the incubator.
The ambiguity of the sustainability incubator idea and its feasibility study puzzled Trustee Susan Buchanan, an advocate of greater sustainability initiatives, but who had questions about the proposal.
“Can we get one for $10,000?” she asked, referencing the feasibility study. “And, most importantly, what would we do with the results of it and why is that valuable to the village?”
Referencing the incubator proposal, Buchanan asked: “Was it going to be a building? Was it going to be a program? Was it going to be a pilot grant fund? I think those were all on the table.”
Buchanan added that she had “overlooked” the sustainability incubator when she and the rest of the board voted to adopt the board goals last June.
“Afterwards, I did have questions about it. I wasn’t sure what I voted for,” she said.
While Parakkat invited Buchanan to discuss the incubator at length outside the meeting, he explained that the objective behind creating the program is to make Oak Park a hub of sustainability, attracting youths to participate in sustainability training programs to benefit the future of the environment. He acknowledged that there were a lot of forms the incubator could take.
“The sustainability incubator, in my mind and as I envisioned it, is to understand what part would be feasible, if it is feasible,” Parakkat said. “Clarify that so we can have an informed conversation about the entire project.”
The consultant hired to carry out the feasibility study, according to Parakkat, would identify how the village of Oak Park would go about creating the incubator from its initial scope to later phases of development.
Despite Parakkat’s attempts to explain, confusion over the sustainability incubator remained. Village President Vicki Scaman said she had anticipated the board discussing matters related to the incubator and the feasibility study in a designated study session, an idea supported by Trustees Chibuike Enyia and Arti Walker-Peddakotla.
“I don’t know if I fully understand the concept [of the incubator], so I think a study session on this is actually appropriate before the board decides to spend money on a consultant,” said Walker-Peddakotla.
She suggested that the study session include community partners and other organizations that are engaging in similar sustainability efforts. Parakkat did not agree, believing those groups unlikely to have sufficient knowledge.
“If we have the right people facilitating it with the right expertise, then fair enough. Let’s have that session,” he said. “But I don’t see it.”
Parakkat’s ardor for his sustainability incubator idea struck a chord with Trustee Jim Taglia, who believed the feasibility study worth pursuing.
“I would be willing to put the funds behind Ravi’s idea,” said Taglia. “He’s very passionate about it and I think I’d like to flesh it out a little bit.”
Parakkat was clearly rankled by the responses to his sustainability incubator idea from the other board members. When Walker-Peddakotla told Scaman she had a question related to the development customers services department, but unrelated to the sustainability incubator, Parakkat snapped, “What is the conclusion on this topic?”
A satisfying conclusion to the sustainability incubator discussion was not to be had. However, before moving the meeting forward, Scaman told Parakkat she had reservations about his idea from the start.
“I just don’t know that we’re the ones that should be taking this on,” she said.
Buchanan felt similarly to Scaman, telling Parakkat it seemed to her that the sustainability incubator did not have the support of anyone in the citizenry based on private conversations between the two of them.
“If there are no residents who are interested in this and this is solely your business idea, that’s where I have the problem,” Buchanan said.
These reactions took Parakkat by surprise as the sustainability incubator was among the goals the board adopted last June.
“The board goal didn’t just appear by itself,” he said. “I am surprised.”
In the interest of moving the meeting forward, Scaman directed village staff to leave the budget item as is for the time being and to set up a study session to discuss the matter further.