River Forest residents can wrap ribbons around trees on their parkways again after officials voted at Monday’s meeting to amend the ordinance that prohibited such displays.

The vote to amend the ordinance was 5-0. Trustee Erika Bachner did not attend.

The issue was raised at the Oct. 16 village board meeting by resident Rene Hermes, who asked that officials enforce the existing code that he said did not permit decorations on parkway trees in the village. After village attorney Lance Malina, of Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins, confirmed the validity of the ordinance, officials agreed that the code should be enforced.

Village Administrator Matt Walsh started contacting village residents with ribbons on trees on their parkways, leading one of those residents, Juli Ann Geldner, to complain to officials at the Oct. 23 village board meeting. Geldner objected to being asked to remove from her parkway trees ribbons supporting Israel following the invasion of that country by Hamas earlier in the month, suggesting the action was anti-Semitic. 

She also addressed the ordinance and said she does not think it applies to ribbons on trees.

Village President Cathy Adduci responded by suggesting that all ribbons be allowed to stay up and that the ordinance be reviewed.

“There are many trees throughout the village that currently have commemorative ribbons and this has been a common practice for years,” Walsh said in a Nov. 13 memo to the officials. “The proposed ordinance clarifies that commemorative ribbons are allowed to be placed on parkway trees so long as the ribbons remain in good condition.”

Adduci thanked Geldner, who attended Monday’s meeting but did not speak, for raising the issue and noted that officials needed to change the ordinance.

According to the ordinance, commemorative ribbons are defined as “material that is wrapped around a tree trunk without any permanent fixtures to promote awareness of certain causes or to memorialize events.” The ordinance also states that such ribbons are not permitted to promote political candidates, parties or referenda. 

Resident Mindy Credi addressed the board by stating that she agreed that ribbons should be allowed on parkway trees but encouraged officials to enforce the ordinance in regard to nails, screws, bolts and other types of fasteners she has seen on trees in the village, passing out photos of examples.

Adduci and Trustee Lisa Gillis expressed concern with a sentence in the proposed amended ordinance relating to removal of ribbons “if they are in poor condition.”

Adduci questioned who would make the determination that ribbons are in poor condition and Gillis noted that trees can be harmed if ribbons remain tied around their trunks for an extended period of time.

Reflecting their concerns, the ordinance language was amended at the meeting to indicate ribbons would be removed “if they are determined by village staff to be in poor condition or are otherwise detrimental to the health of the tree.”

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