Setting goals, Oak Park board starts at its home base

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

Oak Park's village board presented a united front during a special Saturday morning meeting as leaders outlined key goals for the group, some of them being identical to those of President Anan Abu-Taleb's spring campaign points.

With the campaign months behind and Oak Park entering the early stages of its 2014 budget-planning process, Abu-Taleb and his colleagues dove into topics the group plans to address within the next two years. This included tasks like enhancing customer service at village hall, boosting employee morale and citizen satisfaction, addressing economic development in each of its business districts, staying on top of the Eisenhower Expressway expansion discussions and improving intergovernmental cooperation.

Although these topics are far from new for this board, the elected officials vowed now is the time to tackle the tough topics if Oak Park wants to remain an attractive and feasible place to live.

Abu-Taleb opened the meeting by highlighting its purpose, which he explained was to "define the strategic direction" of the board in order to create a solid foundation moving forward.

"The goals we develop today will set the tone for the type of leadership we want to bring to Oak Park. We cannot forget that the voters chose us to make Oak Park a better place," Abu-Taleb said. "They chose us to get things done, not to put up self-imposed roadblocks. The goals and protocols we establish today must reflect this. And, protocols designed to slow progress and hinder change must be removed."

Abu-Taleb kept up his theme of looking beyond the status-quo and making quicker, more strategic choices for the betterment of the community. Board members agreed, and focused much of the discussion on promoting business vitality, engaging business owners and residents and promoting Oak Park outside the area.

"We need to do a lot more direct outreach," Trustee Ray Johnson stressed during the early part of the five-hour goal setting and protocols meeting. Johnson said business owners don't always report issues on their own because they don't feel the village will help resolve the problems. Interacting with business owners used to be the norm, the senior trustee said, but he hopes a culture shift in the village will bring that model back.

Going to block parties, having trustee office hours, message boards on the village's website, hosting more community forums and being more receptive to resident's questions and concerns were all talking points of the June 8 meeting.

Technology upgrades were another key component, specifically stressed by Trustee Bob Tucker, who said the village needs to get aligned with the 20th century. He emphasized he didn't slip up, and the 20th century was in fact an accurate depiction of Oak Park's technology.

Change means making it easier for people to find village services online and submit payments, forms and other tasks on the village's website without having to come to village hall.

The website is currently undergoing a massive overhaul, but trustees stressed the need to keep the user in mind first when completing the project. This, they hope, will bring about more community building and civic engagement.

What are their goals?

Previously this year the board defined 12 goals for the group; most have always been objectives, but the board agreed it's time to be prudent and devise concrete plans to turn discussion items into action. Among the goals are: Retail strategy and commercial district vitality; fiscal responsibility; sustainability; user-friendly village hall; intergovernmental cooperation; public safety; housing and diversity; infrastructure and public works; tourism and the arts; community building and civic engagement; governmental transparency and communications and the legislature.

While the above goals are broad and could branch in multiple direction, trustees were able to break those items into more specific plans that directly address issues, many of which the group said were overlooked in the past.

Among the dozen categories, it was determined the village needs to find direction for completing key downtown parcels (Colt site), adopting a design and financing a plan for Madison Street, and decreasing retail vacancies and increasing retail/commercial and retail mix. The board also asked for more regular progress reports back from staff and Oak Park Development Corporation for each business district.

"I think we have struggled to find accountability to find the players involved in economic development," Trustee Adam Salzman said. "It's OPDC, the village, residents and businesses in that huge soup. Ultimately, the village is accountable. We don't make progress without identifying who is the infantry and who is the general."

Overall, economic development and the communication gaps between leaders among the various departments and relevant organizations in town was a recurring discussion Saturday, and trustees said it's time for accountability and regular reports so progress can be better tracked.

Fiscally speaking, the village wants a more structured capital improvement plan, wants to adopt a pension scenario evaluation plan, and implement a five-year budgeting approach.

The concept of a user-friendly village hall took up a good chunk of discussion, with the board agreeing the culture needs to change. Trustee Colette Lueck talked about how she's always treated great at village hall, but suspects that's because everyone knows she's a trustee.

"It's not a good happy feeling when you go in," Lueck said. Trustees said change starts with improving customer service, and addressing technology from a user perspective and operational perspective.

Intergovernmental cooperation was another theme of the day, and the group suggested it's time to find a way to work together better, especially so lawsuits (Downtown TIF district settlement) don't happen again. Finding ways to share services, address community needs jointly, and pursuing a joint agreement on how to resolve disputes were items addressed in this category.

Tackling these complex and multi-layered topics must be done in a strategic manner, which trustees said begins with the annual budget process. Johnson reminded the board it's important to have specific items budgeted; otherwise it's easy to overlook goals from year to year.

Lueck said it's important for village leaders to make promises they can deliver when it comes to these outlined areas. It's important for goals to be written down, but said she was "cautious" when it came to giving guarantees.

Salzman, however, reminded his colleague that "no goal is a guarantee," but suggested backing off aspirations gives the village a life raft to not follow through with its goals.

The board ended its discussion of board objectives by comparing them with the village manager's 12-month performance goals that were reported in March. Although many of the objectives align, trustees stressed it's important to keep the board and staff on the same page.

Listed among the 10 goals for the next year from the village manager's office are: Improving the village's commitment to economic development; developing a transparent and efficient annual budget process, improving the use of technology to enhance village services, establishing Oak Park as a regional leader in the delivery of public services to its customers, continue a performance management program, find ways to positively improve community life and engagement in Oak Park, improve efficiency of public services, and improve employee relations and human resources.

Email: Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

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Mimi Jordan from Oak Park  

Posted: June 13th, 2013 9:33 AM

This is exactly what we voted for. I hope all trustees keep this at front of mind at all times: "The goals we develop today will set the tone for the type of leadership we want to bring to Oak Park. We cannot forget that the voters chose us to make Oak Park a better place," Abu-Taleb said. "They chose us to get things done, not to put up self-imposed roadblocks. ... protocols designed to slow progress and hinder change must be removed"

OP Rez  

Posted: June 12th, 2013 3:28 PM

Facts, there are problems with these statistics. Firstly, it doesn't show the brake downs of how crimes have changes, i.e. violent vs non violent. Also, crime has been decreasing practically every where for the past 3 decades... do we attribute this to the police? Or changes in culture? etc... Is this a reflection of Oak Park future? Should we not deal with current crime?

OP Rez  

Posted: June 12th, 2013 3:24 PM

As a resident of the village that pays his fair share of high taxes, I expect that a village as "ideal" as Oak Park will handle crime better. I don't think that is an over the top expectation, especially for an expensive area.

OP Rez  

Posted: June 12th, 2013 3:22 PM

Speedway, I understand the restrictions on police, and I'm also not pulling for old school Chicago police intimidation techniques, but I do believe there needs to be more of a push, and strategic development to keep up with the current problems ahead. Where are the results of the new strategy advertised ages ago, where the police were going to analyze all the data from crime maps and use it to proactively fight crime? As far as we know, nothing has been done about it.

Lead Exposure from Oak Park  

Posted: June 12th, 2013 1:00 PM

How about some kind of plan to help reduce the lead levels in so many of the old houses and apartment building?

Facts from Oak Park  

Posted: June 12th, 2013 10:09 AM

People do realize that crime in Oak Park is at historically low levels, right? The police should be praised for this.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 12th, 2013 2:12 AM

borrowing money for current projects. Your wants as far as crime is concerned are realistic, but the solutions are not so easily obtained. As long as there are poor areas near our borders, crime will continue. Most crimes are crimes of opportunity. It is up to us citizens of our community to not give them these opportunities. Lock it up, close it up, be aware of your surroundings at all time. Teach your children to do the same or move farther west to a smaller community away in the sticks.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 12th, 2013 2:07 AM

OP Rez - You fail to see that the police are restricted. They must follow the current laws. People cannot be arrested without due cause, in that they are suspected of already committing a crime. The police cannot stop people from entering the village. This is not a police state. Can we get more police, sure. But the cost of one police officer is expensive and would be hardly worth the cost. Money cannot be taken from the schools, the park district has spent all their money

OP Rez  

Posted: June 12th, 2013 1:45 AM

Speedway, I don't know what the exact solutions are, I would hope the village would hire professionals the strategize... but I do feel like more police, and strategic placement of police would help, such as placing them at different parts of the borders (like an invisible wall, so to speak). Yes, that may mean more taxes, but a large part of Anan's thing was to ease the tax burden. Why not re-distribute some taxes for this? I can't imagine too many people being upset with a safer village.

OP Rez  

Posted: June 12th, 2013 1:41 AM

John, it was part of his surname, and an error.


Posted: June 11th, 2013 11:05 PM

Dear Village President and Board: See what can be done to improve the morale of those who serve and protect us. The Union contract they recently settled (almost two years late) will expire at the end of this year.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 11th, 2013 11:04 PM

A lack of direct outreach, too little time Interacting with business owners. not going to block parties, more opportunities to talk to trustee, too few message boards, and lack of community forums was not the previous board problems. Lack of transparency, bad decisions, Sertus, excessive amount of time talking and not taking action, Madison Avenue, etc. etc. was the problem. Routinely the "old board turned on the charm and every time they hit a ditch, and unleashed more PR in hope of soothing the public. It did not work! The "new" board needs to gain trust and concentrate on goals, strategy, and action before using patronizing as a solution.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 11th, 2013 10:45 PM

Rez - was your spelling of the presidents name an error or a Disney slur. The man's name is Anan.

Mike Lennox from Oak Park  

Posted: June 11th, 2013 10:37 PM

God Bless the Trustees that were elected by the people who care about Oak Park!

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 11th, 2013 9:34 PM

OP Rez - I hear you. Do you have any ideas on how we can stop these kinds of crimes beside putting a gate around Oak Park. Do you want more police. That would mean a lot more taxes. What can we do that is not already being done?

OP Rez  

Posted: June 11th, 2013 9:07 PM

How is morale going to improve with an emotionally unbalanced manager who terrorizes everyone she meets.

OP Rez  

Posted: June 11th, 2013 8:52 PM

Abu, you constantly talk about business and fiscal responsibility. I've never heard you once talk about crime, which is probably THE MOST pressing issue residents face. People are being assaulted and robbed with guns by groups from outside Oak Park on a regular basis, what do you plan to do about this that is so much more progressive from the past government?

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