Is the VMA stacking the Oak Park Plan Commission?

Opinion: Columns

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Anna Churin

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The approval of the sky-rise building at Lake and Forest highlights the "lack of democracy" that I have been observing with Oak Park's one-party system. It was quite noticeable if you look at the current dynamic that occurred with the Oak Park Plan Commission.

For those who have watched this process, the plan commission voted 4- 4 for the Lake and Forest sky-rise development. So the village board had to override the vote. There were four commissioners who voted against the development. Susan Roberts, one of those commissioners, was not reappointed to the plan commission when her position was up for renewal. Gail Moran, another commissioner, who voted for the development and whose term was up at the same time, was reappointed for another term. This seemed strange to me. In re-reading some of the materials related to the development, it seemed relevant that Gail Moran made comments in the press supporting the village board's point of view about this project. In addition I found out that Gail Moran is a Village Managers Association (VMA) member. It appears that the village president and board want the plan commission to rubber-stamp what the trustees wanted and not to represent the positions of other citizens.

The two latest plan commission appointments Sonny Ginsberg (Ginsberg Jacobs LLC) and Jeremy Burton (a partner of Williams Montgomery & John Co.) both are lawyers whose firms represent developers and contractors. They are also members of the VMA and not from the community at large.

I noticed that the people who got up and spoke for the sky-rise at the board meeting did not represent the citizens of Oak Park. They represented their specific special interest groups.

As an immigrant from Russia to America and Oak Park, I believed that a good democratic society can do many positive things and that the elected government would look out for the best interests of all of the people and the community. I attended most of the meetings regarding the sky-rise. I have become deeply disappointed in what I have observed and do not feel I am seeing democracy in action. I do not live in the immediate area of the development, but I see Oak Park as a special place with many tourists from all over the world admiring our village and its great architecture, which makes us all proud.

I am disappointed that the sky-rise for Lake and Forest has been approved. Our government seems to be following an ideology that does not serve the citizens of Oak Park by filling the commission with one view, the view held by the VMA.

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Reader Comments

35 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Comment Policy

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: April 27th, 2012 6:22 PM

John, "James" is just another one of the countless dubs used by the gadfly."He" claims it's not the case and any of those posts targeting me represent the views of a large number people who've been upset and angered by the comments,opinions and information I've posted on this forum. That's "his" story. Regarding the charges "James" continues level against Geoff Baker and Martha Brock. They are 100% false! Maybe David Pope,Ray Johnson or Dan Haley will set the record straight. I've tried.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 27th, 2012 5:04 PM

CORRECTION James, before sending everyone on a wild goose chase, please post a comment "IN 2009" made by Jim Coughlin with the date and time of the post.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 27th, 2012 5:03 PM

James, before sending everyone on a wild goose chase, please post a comment made by Jim Coughlin with the date and time of the post.


Posted: April 25th, 2012 12:50 PM

Jim, all people have to do is go back to look at your 2009 postings. I'm not posting innacurate or misleading information just information you don't agree with so I'm now a gadfly and have no courage. You Mr. Coughlin, may be facebook verified but you in no way ever make attempts to connect to the people you vilify you simply hammer away about things and people you know 0 about. In my opinion, that makes you a coward and a liar.

Don Anderson from Oak Park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2012 12:33 PM

I love all this talk about the fantasy that in Oak Park voices are being suppressed.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: April 20th, 2012 12:56 PM

Of course, you're right. The fact that folks use screen dubs is not an issue. I comment on HuffingtonPost as "cogs". My concern is that a few individuals, and one person in particular, post on this forum simply to use it as an opportunity to present misinformation and falsehoods. They seek to bully, intimidate and harass. Mostly, their efforts are intended to disrupt the public discourse. The gadfly now posting as "James" does not have the courage in those convictions to stand for scrutiny.


Posted: April 20th, 2012 12:42 PM

yeah - i agree on the facebook verifacation. on my profile i am built like an athlete and have movie star looks. in reality, i am unemployed and wasting time reading the wednesday journal and typing useless comments while waiting for my govie check to arrive.

facebook verified  

Posted: April 20th, 2012 12:38 PM

jim, do you realize that in ten minutes i can create a facebook profile with the name of anyone i want in oak park, then add facebook verified comments to this board? i know you realize this. with that in mind, facebook verified is nothing. it means nothing and proves nothing. it may be comfort to a few of you on here but technology is so far beyond facebook verified as a means of verifying honest discussion.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: April 20th, 2012 12:06 PM

You crossed the line,Gadfly. Posting another wild rant does not make your case. No one resigned in disgrace. That's an outright lie. Both Martha Brock and Geoff Bakker cited understandable circumstances. They do not deserve to be slandered by you. Be aware that documents you claim to cite to support your disgraceful comments are not accurate. It is cowardly of you not to present yourself as facebook verified while at the same time feeling justified to make such baseless accusations. Shameful.


Posted: April 20th, 2012 11:16 AM

Spare US your lies Jim. Go back and look at ANY post you made in 2009, it's documented. You'll find no one with more venom and with less information about what they were talking about. It seems you've gotten on some type of medicine which helps but you're still under illusions. GEOFF BAKER AND MARTHA BROCK RESIGNED IN DISGRACE. It's well documented, stop trying to fight it. And all of this is why certain people continue to serve; THEY'RE NOT QUITTERS.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: April 19th, 2012 2:04 PM

Spare me the peat and repeat act, Gadfly. Your post is misleading and factually inaccurate. Parroting the false claims made by Gail Moran does not add credence to your position. Come on board as facebook verified if you are interested in an honest discussion. Step out the shadows.


Posted: April 19th, 2012 1:52 PM

Jim, you've posted plenty of comments without facts. There was a time in 2009 where you regularly called for people to be fired and had 0 knowledge of what you were talking about. The facts remain, those two trustees resigned, they couldn't handle it. Get over it.


Posted: April 19th, 2012 1:52 PM

Jim, you've posted plenty of comments without facts. There was a time in 2009 where you regularly called for people to be fired and had 0 knowledge of what you were talking about. The facts remain, those two trustees resigned, they couldn't handle it. Get over it.


Posted: April 19th, 2012 1:48 PM

Jim, you've posted plenty of misleading statements in your past as well; called for many people to be fired with no facts and no remorse. And her comments relating to the two trustees who resigned were accurate. They resigned.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: April 19th, 2012 10:20 AM

Rich, I don't know Gail Moran but do appreciate she is willing and able to donate her time in service to local organizations. Oak Park certainly benefits from that type of spirit and commitment. However,I do recall that Gail posted a false and misleading statement about two former Village trustees and, when challenged on the facts, she declined the opportunity to retract the comment. People have great passion about politics but fairness and accuracy should not be ignored.


Posted: April 19th, 2012 10:17 AM

@Cry I think that was the point is the system is broken & isn't there for all to use. It's actually a fairly elitist, closed system compared to other communities around the nation. We could do a lot better about opening the whole process up.

Cry me a River....  

Posted: April 19th, 2012 10:12 AM

The system is there for any and all to have. Fill up the spots and your democracy may be different. Democracy is an open and available to all system-just what Oak Park has. Good Luck.


Posted: April 19th, 2012 10:06 AM

@Rich Maybe I'm wrong b/c I won't assume what Anna meant...but it seems like she wasn't trying to pick on Gail per se. I'm sure Gail is a fine citizen. The larger point is that OP has a huge diversity of opinion & that diversity all needs to be represented at the table. Volunteer hours are nice...but we all have a right to our local govt. Gail's POV isn't somehow weighted b/c of her service.


Posted: April 19th, 2012 9:55 AM

cont...It's easy to google search and connect the dots and make an assumption. I challenge you Anna to take a step further and get to know her and her work ethic and then come back and write. You may still not agree with her politics, but you will never question her appointment or dedication to the organizations she volunteers for. And before anyone blast me here, please post your # of volunteer hours you've given to Oak Park this past year. I betcha Gail beats you by a wide margin.


Posted: April 19th, 2012 9:47 AM

Anna, Let me give you a different perspective you perhaps may not have considered. Whether you agree with her politics or not, Gail Moran is an ardent supporter of Oak Park. Over her years as a resident and tax payer she's volunteered more hours to organizations in Oak Park than most people you will encounter. She does not take these volunteer appointments lightly and her dedication, support and love of your Village make people want to have her.


Posted: April 19th, 2012 6:43 AM

To combine both your lines of thought, I've said before I think the VMA is creepy, but they're just gaming a broken system. The commission style thing we have going on is, indeed, just an incubator. At least that LWO got before the voters--it's a shame our referendum system is broken in IL, so some of this is state level. In theory, I don't mind a Village President (elected) who takes a daily active role. A different personality in that seat it's a diff story.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 19th, 2012 1:44 AM

On the first page of the VMA website (, the political party states that it supports the Village Commission and Committee System because they provide an opportunity to learn about local government and develops future village leaders. That is true, 5 of the 7 current board members came from the commission system. It is also true that 3 of 5 were VMA officers before reaching the board. Having served as Chairman of the Community Relations Commission (CRC), I can say that there is little learning to be had about the village local government unless you count the commissions' love affair with Robert's Rule of Order, the stink of cronyism, and minimal guidance, support, or leadership from the board. As far as being a way to develop future leaders that does occur but only for those who are chosen by VMA members, on the commissions. That occurs when they ask if you would like to attend a VMA meeting or social. If you want to seek a seat on the board someday, it is best that you go to the social and then join the organization. I didn't and never regretted it. The seamier side of commission is that VMA officers and members dominate the commission not necessarily by numbers but by clout and contact with past and present board members. When I became chairperson, it was not because they identified me as a talent. They identified me someone to fill a role which they did not want. They did not need the chair. They had four VMA members including the VMA President and Vice President on the commission. We were charged with the study of a Living Wage Ordinance. The study lasted a year. The four voted together on every issue. Sound familiar? I feel sorry for Ms. Churin. She chose to try and find the true meaning of democracy in a community where 80% of registered voters do not vote in local elections.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: April 18th, 2012 10:48 PM

Kyle, I worked for very strong and decisive managers at Village Hall. Our form of government can be very effective and productive but the responsibilites for the top adminstrator and elected officals must be clearly defined and honored. The lines were blurred when the current village president took a decidedly active role in daily operations and decisions. It had to have undermined the manager's effectiveness. Some trustees recognized that David Pope was overstepping and sought to reign him in.


Posted: April 18th, 2012 10:19 PM

(contd) I don't think the VMA is the problem & am not sure I care if they stack the committees even...the larger point is true about a lack of democracy. There needs to be fewer steps between voter & policymaking/action. But there's problems there with the split in having a village manager. If you want the voice of the people to be focused somewhere does it aim at the Board? The manager? Certainly not a committee.


Posted: April 18th, 2012 10:14 PM

For awhile there, Jim, they were asking for volunteers pretty hard. There's a ton of panels and many have/had vacancies. The Board approves who serves, but I don't think it's too controversial. The strength is also the's community-minded people who want to be involved. No real power though, are advisory, & don't represent a cross-section demographically. Now, they're supposed to get input, but...really? IMO it's too many steps for action. It appears open, but is smoke & mirrors.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: April 18th, 2012 8:37 PM

I'm not sure if Ms. Churin's view is entirely accurate but have wondered if the citizen commissions and advisory committees represent a cross section of the community. The Village Clerk should be able to address questions regarding who serves on these boards and how they are selected. It's probably a difficult task to find people willing to commit their time and energies to serve on a volunteer basis but appreciate those who do. I hope politics does not play any role in the selection process.

OPRF Achievement  

Posted: April 18th, 2012 7:49 PM

@oprf dad, you mean River Forest is not the only local village that uses this trick. Frank Paris practiced this friendly act of cronyism for all his years at President of RF. What did it get, some good but mostly bad. Police turmoil, lots of law suits with village paying mufti million suits, and a wasteful and likely illegal TIF - ripping off the other governmental entities. So, your first tip is likely the best. If this is happening, they are lining up their reelection Plan NOW.


Posted: April 18th, 2012 6:44 PM

"I noticed that the people who got up and spoke for the sky-rise at the board meeting did not represent the citizens of Oak Park. They represented their specific special interest groups." As did the people who spoke against it, I'm sure you just didn't mean to not notice that......

Yakov Smirnoff from Ukraine  

Posted: April 18th, 2012 4:04 PM

Idea for new spin on old joke in beer commercial: In Mother Russia, you find party. In Oak Park, VMA party find you.


Posted: April 18th, 2012 3:58 PM

Of course they stack it. Wouldnt you do the same? Would you give a job to your sister or brother? Why not? Do people hire people they like or they have to?


Posted: April 18th, 2012 3:45 PM

If you don't like a "one-party system" then create your own party. Or get involved in the VMA and make your opinions and voice heard there. We can't sit here and complain about a one-party system but then don't work for an alternative.

Fay Furillo  

Posted: April 18th, 2012 1:33 PM

I think saying that the two mentioned members of the Planning Commission are not members of the community at large or the citizens of Oak Park is a stretch. It's not like they live in mann District, where the real baddies are from. If you dont like it, get involved and vote the bums out!


Posted: April 18th, 2012 11:39 AM

Anna, welcome to Oak Pork.

paul from oak park  

Posted: April 18th, 2012 9:50 AM

Nationally this is known as "regulatory capture". Locally it's known as "putting the foxes in charge of the hen house". The VMA has long stacked commissions and the outrageous votes in spite of neighborhood opposition proves it. Will a lawyer or a real estate agent representing out of town interests really vote against their own? Never. Kudos to Anna for speaking truth to power.

From Russia   

Posted: April 18th, 2012 12:12 AM

Did you say there was OIL under Lake and Forest? YeeeHaaaaw! Start drillin Boys!

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