Members aim for a more active vocal VMA

Political group hopes to expand without reinventing

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By DREW CARTER

The Village Manager Association on Sunday adopted a set of three "guiding principles," aimed at redefining and re-energizing the organization responsible for slating all but a handful of Oak Park officials elected in the past half-century.

Members present voted nearly unanimously to discard the long-held VMA approach of "select, elect and shut up" in favor of a VMA that will stay involved between elections and weigh in on significant issues. They also elected new leaders, and made other bylaws changes.

The organization underwent a major renovation after losing in all but one race in last April's election.

The three guiding principles were the result of the VMA's "Clear Identity Work Group," which itself was the result of reorganization meetings the VMA held last summer.

The principles adopted are: "accountable and responsive government, ongoing and inclusive diversity, and balanced and sensitive economic growth." (Read the entire report at www.WednesdayJournalOnline.com.)

The VMA's previous reluctance to weigh in on issues (which it did, but infrequently) was part of its overarching vision to allow those elected to decide what was best for the village in each situation, a theme echoed in the VMA's policy to not set the platform for candidates it slates. Instead, the candidates themselves work together to create a platform.

Newly elected VMA officials said that while the VMA's new bylaws will enable it to weigh in on issues now, its election platform development process would not likely change. Candidates asking to be selected for slates would already agree with the three guiding principles.

New VMA President Bob Kane, in an acceptance speech, said some had suggested a total revamp?#34;the "burn it to the ground" approach?#34;for the VMA.

But Kane said it was "not in our best interest to insult the past."

Some members pointed out another issue needing to be addressed that had not changed significantly since last April.

"We have a lot of work to do in terms of the diversity of the membership," said Jim Kelly. "There's hardly a soul in here who's under 50." Indeed, a glance around the room revealed that about half of the 40 or so heads were gray.

Doug Wyman spoke passionately in defense of older members, pointing out that many had worked as hard and long on the last campaign as anyone else.

"I don't care what age you are, we need you," Wyman said.

Ray Johnson, the only remaining VMA trustee on the board, said new membership was important, and said eight of the 13-member VMA board of directors were new to the organization.

He added that he does "block brigades," walking up and down blocks, knocking on doors to talk with people and let them know the VMA is accessible.

Gail Moran, who joined the VMA about a year ago, co-authored the report. On Sunday she was elected vice president of membership, and promised the VMA will be much more open. "There's nothing to hide here," she said. Last Sunday's meeting was open to the press.

Moran and others said the new VMA guiding principles were not crafted to differentiate itself from the New Leadership Coalition, which now controls the village board. But something that makes the VMA unique, said Brad Bartels, VMA vice president, is its wholistic perspective in dealing with issues where neighbors are involved. "It's important that we look at things as what's in the best interest of the village," he said.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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