On Monday evening, Oak Park’s village board approved a notable reorganization of departments at village hall. A major portion of the effort, recommended by Village Manager Kevin Jackson, involved prying apart the mega-department that had grown up around Tammie Grossman over 15 years. 

This was inevitable with the pending retirement of Grossman who attracted added duties and direct reports like a powerful magnet within village government. The split of duties approved Monday creates a new Neighborhood Services Department focused on housing and a renamed Development Services Department focused on economic growth and development.

Logical. Practical.

What isn’t so simple to execute is the concurrent plan to “pause” funding of the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation — which also just lost its veteran leader — with a plan to consolidate all development efforts within village hall. 

We understand the impulse for Jackson to move all the development functions and the related personnel under his purview at village hall. It’s what managers do. And with the departure last week of John Lynch from OPEDC he has that opportunity. 

The decision Monday night to take some time and a consultant’s expertise to sort out just what Oak Park’s development priorities ought to be going forward is a smart but awkward move. The era of tall buildings rising has about passed as development sites are few and the economy is not favorable to funding such projects. Efforts at retaining smaller businesses, or welcoming Black- and Brown-owned businesses, have been haphazard. How Oak Park intentionally adds affordable housing is unclear. 

So there are questions to be answered. But a consultant’s report on “economic vitality” will take time. Creating a structure for the new department and hiring choices will be delayed. 

That’s OK if the outcome is focused and determined based on key priorities. 

Oak Park’s history, with its hybrid model of the third-party OPEDC and staff at village hall, was dismal until the past several years. Anan Abu-Taleb, former village president, gets the credit for clearly aligning the internal and external roles related to development. 

Now it will be Jackson’s opportunity to create a wholly internal development process that retains entrepreneurial energy and real-world development chops, yet operates within a bureaucracy.

Less packaging

Good work at Oak Park Village Hall last week as it pushed through new regulations for local restaurants, which will have a positive impact on the environment while not undermining the viability of our mostly independent local restaurant community.

These are actions that have percolated up through the village’s Environment and Energy Commission. There are two components: One requires restaurants to ask take-out customers if they want plastic utensils before packing the meals. Straight-up common sense. The other will end the use of Styrofoam packaging for take-out meals as of the first of the year. 

Modest measures but good steps forward.

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