When Oak Park was last looking for a new village manager in 2012, the accompanying recruitment brochure for the position extolled the virtues of the village’s cultural achievements and citizenry. The brochure seemed meant to entice candidates to apply for the position. Who wouldn’t want to work in such an engaging environment? However, that representation of Oak Park did little to educate applicants on perhaps the village’s highest ideal: equity.
In the entire 11-page document, the words “equity” and “equitable,” as well as the phrase “social justice,” were not featured once. Those terms may not have been de rigueur at the time, but almost exactly 10 years later, the current village board has prioritized them. The brochure for this year’s village manager search is permeated with the idea of equity, beginning in the very first paragraph, to make it clear that a commitment to it is required.
“There is a heightened degree by which that is a priority,” Village President Vicki Scaman told Wednesday Journal.
The inclusion of equity is part of a deliberate effort by the current village board. In developing this brochure, which is now being circulated, recruitment firm GovHR independently interviewed each member of the village board for one hour to determine the list of qualities expected of the new village manager, according to Scaman, who believes the prevalence of equity within the brochure is a reflection of the board’s, and the wider community’s, dedication to upholding the value. Being a “leader in racial equity” is among the village board’s set of adopted goals.
“We need the leadership to embrace the level of conversation that we hope to have at the board table,” Scaman said.
The word itself is mentioned four times in the 8-page brochure.
The village board is not just looking for a village manager who values equity but who comprehends it at a deeper level. The model candidate, as listed in the brochure, must be “authentic and demonstrate a commitment to racial equity and understanding within the historical context of Oak Park.”
The 2012 brochure circles the idea of equity but never commits to it, describing Oak Park as a “diverse mix of cultures, races, ethnicities, professions, generations, lifestyles, religions, ages and incomes.”
Under the section “Issues and Opportunities,” the 2012 brochure states that Oak Park is “strongly committed to its very aggressive and longstanding programs to maintain neighborhood diversity and to prevent re-segregation.”
In Scaman’s eyes, this backhanded approach is not useful in working to achieve true equity.
“In today’s context, we have to be far more intentional of what that means,” she said. “And how to be anti-racist in our attempt to be a more equitable community.”
Having not seen it prior to her interview with Wednesday Journal, the village president told the newspaper she would be “surprised” and “almost disappointed” if the 2012 village manager brochure did not mention equity at all.
“It’s part of the identity that we strive for, when you think of diversity and our intention to be an integrated community,” she said.
While the current brochure seeks to communicate these principles to potential applicants, it does retain some of the same elements as its 2012 counterpart, namely waxing lyrical about Oak Park, albeit in a more subdued fashion.
To further tempt qualified individuals to apply for village manager, the position no longer requires the person to reside in Oak Park. While it is preferred that the village manager live in the village, removing the requirement is meant to eliminate barriers that could potentially prevent candidates from applying. Such barriers, according to Scaman, could include familial and financial obligations.
“Everything we did was with the goal of casting the widest net,” she said.