Citizen involvement is getting shortchanged in Oak Park

Opinion: Columns

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John Murtagh

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I congratulate trustees Adam Salzman and Bob Tucker for the anniversary of their first year on the Oak Park village board. The first-termers have done a great job during of a year of extraordinary events. I do not always agree with them, but I have great respect for their willingness to think independently.

The village board approved an 18-month project to revise the 1990 Comprehensive Plan. Housel Lavigne Associates will lead the plan development. A 16-person steering committee composed of village officials (elected and appointed), staff, business representatives and citizens is forming to represent the village in the effort. Seventy-five percent of the committee members will be village officials (elected and appointed) and staff members.

Board members defended the committee selection by stating that the steering committee was only responsible for mundane work — the calendar, gathering of community information, etc. In his letter to the editor of June 27, Trustee Salzman defended the process, stating that it was the consensus of the board that "the steering committee would essentially be in charge of the calendar and the procedures for gathering community input. The steering committee would not itself be providing input."

I trust Adam's honesty and integrity, but his information is incorrect. The role of the steering committee is not about calendars and community information. The role is not mundane.

The steering committee is responsible for oversight of the consultant, Housel Lavigne Assoc., multiple reviews of their progress, and a high level of content approval. For example, "the Housel Lavigne Assoc. Scope of Work states, "A meeting (TOD Focus Area Plan - May 2013) will be conducted with the Steering Committee (by the consultants) to review and reach agreement on the Preliminary TOD Focus Area Plans before proceeding to the development of the Draft Plans and Policies. Appropriate revisions will be based on feedback from the Steering Committee."

In total, the steering committee participates in about 10 formal meetings with the consultants, staff, and Oak Park Plan Commission. The meetings include reviews of work by the consultant's team, review of staff reports, discussion with the plan commission, final project review, etc. It is extraordinarily hard to call them "process meetings." In fact, the steering committee steers the project.

The Comprehensive Plan is not solely a board or village document. It is also a representation of the citizens' vision of the future. The board's position is that it wants citizen input on the plan, but only after 18 months of discussion, reviews, and decisions by the elected, appointed or salaried members of the community. The board prefers to maintain power and control.

That defies the wisdom of the 1990 Comprehensive Plan, which states, "It is important that the village seek citizens' views early in the decision-making process so that they have the opportunity to initiate, as well as react to, proposals."

Untrue or deceptive board member statements used to restrict citizen involvement do not enhance village life. A village that takes great pride in its integrity, community involvement, and communications deserves better.

 

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