VMA post-mortem

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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Comments from OakPark.com on the demise of the Village Manager Association after 65 years:

We are all standing on the shoulders of those who went before us — in every context. The story of the Citizens Committee and their fight for justice in the '50s and '60s can't be summarized neatly — though Ken Trainor and Dan Haley have done a good job — and many of the major players' names have been forgotten or are in dusty files somewhere. I give those people credit for taking such bold steps at a time when a new form of local government was needed and new fairness laws resulted. 

But times change, and the VMA — once a breath of fresh air politically and which included many important members who truly had the best interests of the community at heart — is now gone. Different approaches are needed. This is true of most organizations I have been a part of. The Community Associates of the Art Institute of Chicago will be no more after more than 60 years of serving 16 Chicagoland communities. The Evening Division of First United Church of Oak Park concluded more than 100 years of service to the church last week. In every case, it has been difficult to find younger members to carry on the traditions as most women now work outside the home, and some organizations meet during the day. 

It would be wonderful to have younger members on boards (as is the case with the current Oak Park Village Board), more people of color would be a grand addition, and all areas of the community should be represented. But getting people to volunteer is very difficult these days — just ask any organizer! Someone will rise to the occasion, and life will go on. 

Many thanks to the VMA for all their years of service to the citizens of Oak Park!

Janet Haisman

Posted: June 21

 

Ken: excellent and timely historical review [The VMA legacy we can't afford to lose, Ken Trainor, Viewpoints, June 20]. I was certainly unaware of the details behind the origins of the VMA; nor fully informed of the critical role the VMA played in our village's history. 

But the historical arc of the VMA reflects a historical truth: The reformers often become, over time, the very entity they originally fought against. It never fails ... given enough time. The VMA clearly became a monolithic political party, no longer responsive to the will of the people — as it once purported to be during its founding. 

It essentially, in my view, became the very entity it fought against so many years ago: more concerned with power, political gamesmanship and self-preservation, rather than good democratic government.

Bruce Kline

Posted: June 21

 

Ken, such an excellent primer on the founding and history of the VMA. I really do like to give them acknowledgement and credit for the good things they accomplished — fair housing and a commitment to diversity being two of those fine missions they worked to support — keeping in mind that it was Oak Park citizens like Bruce and Julie Samuels, not VMA members, often not credited with spearheading a successful legal battle, who worked to stop redlining in Oak Park and Austin. 

My perspective began witnessing the downside of heavy-handed, one-party rule by the VMA from the time I got involved in opposition to the Stankus project/debacle in the early 1970s. I utterly lost all respect for their political machine. In response, I ran as the first female independent candidate for village president — against Sara Giddings Bode, who was easily put into office by the political dynasty her father co-founded. 

So Bruce's summary (above) of how such dynasties become exactly what they set out to oppose, rings true in my experience, 45 years of involvement in Oak Park politics. 

I especially love the last four paragraphs of what you wrote, Ken: "The VMA's time may have passed, but the need for governance with integrity is timeless. We still need good government, we need to believe it's possible, and we need to get involved to make it happen. That is acutely obvious on the federal level where our government is in crisis, but it's just as necessary on the local level. Disrespect for and disbelief in government is a self-fulfilling prophecy that we can no longer afford. The VMA's demise proves that you can't 'keep Oak Park as it has been,' but its enduring legacy is that good government is possible. We just have to be willing to get involved* and make it happen." (*i.e., get involved in some constructive capacity.) 

Either we learn from the past or we face the fact that we aren't as smart as we think we are as a society and we really just continue to muck up Oak Park and life in general.

Christine Vernon

Posted: June 23

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