The village of Oak Park’s Community Relations Commission is almost fully manned again with eight of the available nine spots filled. The commission consisted of only Chair Glenn Brewer for almost an entire year, after six of its seven members jointly resigned in July 2020. The village board has steadily been filling those seats, three of which have been returned to commissioners who were part of the mass resignation.
“Getting them back on was just huge,” said Trustee Chibuike Enyia, who serves as the commission’s trustee liaison.
Former members Maya Puentes, Yoko Terretta and Jacquelyn Rodriguez have returned to the CRC, a volunteer body that works to establish equal service and treatment for all Oak Park residents.
Back in 2020, the group resignation shocked the community. Already frustrated by the previous village board’s perceived disregard for the commission, the six CRC commissioners resigned after that village board hired the National League of Cities as its equity training provider without allowing the CRC any input into the decision.
“To continue to meet, to strategize, to advise and put forth recommendations in good faith is to be complicit with a village board whose majority has made their position clear by dismissing the work of the CRC and failing to demonstrate reasonable, measurable progress on racial equity,” the resignation letter read.
The current village board, which includes only three members from its precursor, has since made an effort to forge better relationships with its commissions. Racial equity is also a higher priority for this village board iteration. That is no more apparent than in the reappointment of Puentes, Terretta and Rodriguez, none of whom were available for comment.
“I did see their resignation during the past administration as being a sign that the commissioners did not feel valued and respected,” said Village President Vicki Scaman, who was village clerk at the time of the joint resignation.
Scaman met with Brewer about the former commissioners and gave Enyia her support to reach out to them. Enyia felt passionately about having former CRC members return.
“It was a really big point for me to get them back onto the commission,” said Enyia.
Not all were available to return to the CRC. Some had moved on to other commissions, including Cassandra West who now serves on the Environment and Energy Commission.
Despite being courted, Puentes, Terretta and Rodriguez still had to go through the administrative hoops. They were vetted by the Citizen Involvement Commission and then their appointment was voted on by the village board. Clerk Christina Waters helped facilitate the process.
“I think the goal in asking those members if they wished to come back was about wanting to show appreciation for the time and effort that people put on commissions,” said Scaman.
Puentes, Terretta and Rodriguez needed little persuasion to rejoin the commission, according to Brewer and Enyia. Brewer told Wednesday Journal that none expressed any reservations about returning.
“They missed being involved with the CRC and doing community work,” he said.
Enyia said he did not so much convince them to return as ensure they knew that this village board operated differently than its predecessor. While the village board is under no obligation to make decisions in line with the commission recommendations, the commissions are designed to assist in the decision-making process. Enyia said he assured them the board respects the CRC’s opinions and its efforts to make the village more racially equitable.
“They’re dedicated to doing the work,” he said. “They were just as dedicated the last time around. Unfortunately, they just didn’t have a board that was willing to listen and work with them.”