Editor’s Note: In the May 24, 2023, issue of Wednesday Journal, an error was made in reporting the restructuring of staff departments at Oak Park Village Hall and the defunding of the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation.
The article, as printed, stated the village board reduced OPEDC’s funding to $400,000 for the remainder of the current fiscal year. While the board discussed doing so, it did not take an actual vote to enact the change.
Wednesday Journal regrets the error.
The Oak Park village board officially cut funding for the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation during its May 22 meeting – the same meeting where a proclamation was read honoring departing OPEDC Executive Director John Lynch for his service to the village. Lynch is returning to the private sector.
Trustee Cory Wesley, former OPEDC board chair, was the sole vote against the measure, which passed 5-1 with Trustee Chibuike Enyia absent from the meeting.
Cutting the OPEDC’s funding is part of a wider restructuring of village staff and the remaking of the organizational chart. The steps were recommended by village staff to address the pending retirement of Tammie Grossman, whose vast Development Customer Services Department is now being split into two separate departments: Neighborhood Services and Development Services. The Community Relations Department, which was not under Grossman’s umbrella, is also being permanently integrated into the village’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The proposition, developed by Village Manager Kevin Jackson, was first discussed publicly May 8.
The restructuring is budget neutral as the $571,500 budgeted annually for OPEDC will now go toward funding four new full-time positions at village hall. Two part-time village staff positions have also been eliminated, resulting in a savings of $42,120, which will likewise go toward funding new positions. Future economic development matters will be handled internally.
The economic development corporation is solely funded by the Village of Oak Park in a yearly contract. Eliminating that funding now leaves the future of the agency in doubt. Wednesday Journal has reached out to the agency and its board chair for comment. Lynch announced he was leaving OPEDC for the private sector in April, ahead of restructuring discussions.
The agency’s current contract expires this February. OPEDC’s role in the remaining 90 days of its funding will be to assist the village in conducting a study about economic vitality in Oak Park. Beyond that, its role was unclear.
“We would look at them to continue meeting in the area of economic development,” said Kira Tchang, Oak Park human resources director. “And I think that is it for the time being.”
As its sole funder, the village’s rescinding of financial support could cause the OPEDC to collapse, but the village does not have the power to dissolve its partner agency, which has played a key role in some of Oak Park’s largest investments in recent years. Economic development has stalled lately due to a lack of available parcels and changes in the market, including the expiration of tax increment financing districts.
The agency could try to find new backing to stay afloat but it could also make a case to the village board to restore its funding. The village board left the door open to discuss a new contract or a contract extension. This could take the form of the OPEDC helping the village incorporate economic development in-house or consulting on the revitalization of certain corridors and small business growth.
Village President Vicki Scaman told Wednesday Journal she would welcome the opportunity to evaluate a new contract, one that is “mutually beneficial” to the village and the agency, which she called a “great resource.”
“A future relationship with the OPEDC may look different but it is not destined for demise,” said Scaman.