How to replace the VMA

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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I read Doug Wyman's letter on a candidate running for village president as a Democrat and found his narrow argument to have a logic flaw [Do we want a Democratic president of the village? Viewpoints, Sept. 2]. If the Democratic Party of Oak Park aspired to take over village government, it's not necessary to run candidates as Democrats. The norm in many suburbs is to have a local political party not named "Democrat" or "Republican" and run machine politics through that party.

Conversely, candidates who seek to get on the ballot as a "Democrat" or a "Republican" don't particularly build the power of DPOP or whatever the GOP has going on these days. It's a technical matter of getting on the ballot.

Wyman misses the Village Manager Association system. While I have some criticisms of it, the VMA had good points. But being mad at candidates getting on the ballot as Democrat or Republican is not going to bring back the VMA.

The VMA served three main functions: 1) It screened candidates. 2) It provided training, a crash course on public policy from the Village of Oak Park perspective. 3) It provided the campaign infrastructure to get candidates elected.

I propose that some combination of citizens, taxing bodies & perhaps UIC create a nonprofit institute that trains candidates before they run for office, to provide a similar function to the VMA.

People who aspire to run for office could then pay to take courses to prepare themselves to serve as elected officials in municipal government, township government, school districts, park districts, library boards, etc. My vision is that this would be available as at least online courses across Illinois.

This seems sufficiently politically neutral to justify spending a modest amount of taxpayer money to support the institute. The hope would be that having better prepared elected officials would improve the quality of services (and maybe save some money). And I would also hope that having a formal training process would lower the barrier for women and people of color to run as elected officials.

I doubt the VMA is going to rise like a phoenix. But replacing the functions of the VMA might be worth the time, energy and money it takes to create something new.

Carl Nyberg

Chicago

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William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: September 10th, 2020 4:37 PM

As Plato said long ago about not getting involved in politics, "... the chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule." The old VMA attempted act as a vetting process to attract and promote qualified candidates.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: September 10th, 2020 3:41 PM

Carl: I've tried doing what you've suggested before with regard to teaching candidates the essentials of Illinois school finance.at the Dole Library. It's tough to cram inside three hours on a Sunday afternoon. To have a hope of getting it done, I email a PDF file and treat it as a college-level short course and expect people to have read things. I may now post that on a website for POTENTIAL candidates can see it before deciding to run.. Things should largely then be a Q & A session. To get enough people to make things gel, I invite people from D200, D97 and D90. Most enjoy the experience and some stick around later. I'd say about half the material gets absorbed. This time I may give watered-down Excel software for making a long term projection, and people can fit their own parameters to their schools (they'l learn just from that. The Schools themselves should do this but they don't have the competency to put it on. In practice, I see some of the same people I taught ignoring sound policies to implement various other agendas. I've had candidates ask, "What is a levy?' (an apartment dweller). The same person asked, "What is the CPI?" (the Consumer Price Index, the prime determiner of a school's revenue growth under Tax Caps). And the finally, "What are Tax Caps?" (the chief driver for the need to hold referendums). Intelligent questions are "What is the RIGHT amount for a referendum?"There is no RIGHT amount, but there are many wrong amounts. it depends upon how long you want things to last and what financial discipline you put in place. The Paradox of Step & Lane Tables. Everybody can be riding up the escalator but the average position is going down half the time, if lots of people are getting off at the top floor (retiring). Why are Debt and Interest payments the best way to go sometimes, and sometimes not? It's an exhausting three hours just to scratch the surface. I tell people at the outset to wipe their minds clean of what they think they already know.

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