For well over a decade the duties and the staff of Oak Park's village clerk have gradually been diminished. The process has occurred under multiple village boards and at least two managers.
Right now, we are in the midst of another reassignment of responsibility as the elected clerk's role in coordinating responses to Freedom of Information Act requests has been fully shifted to the law department.
Vicki Scaman, coming up on two years as village clerk, is calling foul, as did her predecessor Teresa Powell. So great is the reduction of responsibilities that when Powell took office a decade ago there were 10 employees in the clerk's office. Today there is Scaman and one colleague.
When we look at the considerable roster of duties which have been reassigned, we find it hard to argue with the choices made by current and past village boards and managers. Oak Park's village government was, over past decades, remarkably slow to adapt to technology, timid in streamlining and aligning departments. The mammoth recession of 2008 forced village hall to cut staff deeply and to rethink how to create genuine efficiencies.
Hard to argue with that motivation.
Any number of duties assigned to the village clerk had just been accumulating there without any particular logic. As the village cut staff and updated and consolidated software systems, various jobs fell to their logical place in the organization. The parking division took on issuing vehicle stickers; business services began to issue business licenses.
The latest change is with FOIA requests which most often have wound up in the law department. Now they start there. Makes sense to us.
What doesn't make sense is the way this and some previous reductions have been handled. Too often without public discussion, too often in ways perceived as hidden. Talk to many current and former trustees and they will privately suggest consternation with the role of the clerk.
We get that. But this is a state-mandated post which Oak Park long ago chose to make an elected position with a reasonable salary and benefits. It is past time to simply have an open discussion about the clerk's position. Those who would like to eliminate it as full-time and elected should make their case. Those who believe having an elected official full-time in village hall as something of an ombudsman should make that case. Ultimately, voters would need to decide the issue via referendum.
A good talk and a decisive outcome would be better than the current death-by-a-thousand-cuts method of reassigning duties.
Answer Book 2018
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