No cooperation from Historical Society
First, let me preface my letter by making the following the statement: The letter sent to the Historical Society's board was not meant to be public knowledge, cause drama, or damage the society in any way.
Next, it should be known that I chair our Centennial Ad Hoc Committee and I am a member of the Historical Society of Forest Park. At least I think I am. I filled out the necessary paperwork and gave my dues a few years back. I've never received any renewal forms so I can only assume it's a one time membership fee.
For almost a year now the centennial committee has been working on a number of projects on behalf of our community. Understandably Mr. Vitton has been a member of this committee. His role should be apparent. One of the projects is a custom made Forest Park history book and by his own admission, Mr. Vitton did not have the time to devote to its research and design. Gratefully others volunteered to take on this voluminous task but they have been unsuccessful in their attempts to come up with mutually compatible times to meet Mr. Vitton at the library and conduct their research. In an attempt to resolve this dilemma of the history book, the volunteers asked Mr. Vitton if they could access to the Historical Society to do their research in his absence. These volunteers are trusted and respected members of the community but Mr. Vitton explained that only board members are allowed access. Sadly it is apparent that a history book will not be forthcoming. This is the short version of the story.
When interviewed by the editor of this paper I explained that I'm exceedingly disappointed at the lack of excitement and involvement during our 100th anniversary by our Historical Society. We, the committee, are working very hard on behalf of the community to commemorate this milestone. One would think its Historical Society would be leading the charge. Instead we end up with a letter of resignation to the ad hoc committee from Mr. Vitton. (Mr. Vitton claims he was told to resign by his board members.) Ironic isn't it? Personally, I'm thinking of donating the letter to the Historical Society for archiving. It should make for good reading decades down the road.
Poll says impeach
In case it is not reported in the general media, I would like to call your readers' attention to a poll conducted from July 3-5, by American Research Group. In addition to 2:1 disapproval of the president's commuting the 30-month prison sentence for Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, "Scooter" Libby, the poll also found 54 percent of adults favored the U.S. House of Representatives beginning impeachment proceedings against the vice president, with 6 percent undecided. When asked about impeaching President Bush, they found 45 percent in favor, with 9 percent undecided. The reported margin of error was 3 percentage points.
What's going on? As MSNBC's Keith Olbermann put it on July 3:
"The twists and turns of Plame-Gate are complex and often painful to follow, and too much, perhaps, for the average citizen. But when other citizens render a verdict against your man, Mr. Bush, and then you spit in the faces of those jurors and that judge and the judges who were yet to hear the appeal, the average citizen understands that, sir. It's the fixed ballgame and the rigged casino and the pre-arranged lottery all rolled into one, and it stinks. And they know it."
The poll numbers seem to support Olbermann's claim, "they know it."
Once more the Proviso Township High Schools (District 209) board of education has shown complete contempt for the community. The board appointed Brian Cross to the board of education in a 3-2 vote. Cross will be a reliable for political boss Eugene Moore.
Noteworthy for his cynicism is Forest Park's Bob Cox. According to a board member, Cox voted in closed session for Cross over the other two candidates. Cox then voted against Cross in open session.
Presumably Cox realized it looked bad to support Cross who is an "at will" employee of Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore. Cross will join another of Moore's employees Reatha "Sue" Henry on the board. Henry is also Moore's cousin but she doesn't see a conflict of interest when she votes to give Moore insurance business-because she works in the recorder's office, not in Moore's insurance business.
Cross has no connection to Proviso Township High Schools aside from occasionally tagging along with Moore to school board meetings. Cross attended Catholic school and does not have children in the public school system.
Since Moore will probably not be re-elected as Cook County Recorder of Deeds in 2008 Cross needs to have an exit strategy from his current job. Speculation is that Cross will ingratiate himself to a District 209 contractor, likely one that does website work, and get a job there. Or Cross will start a business and get contracts himself.
You've heard the statistic that Proviso Township High Schools' test scores rank 90th of 90 high school districts in the Chicago area. Think about that for a second. Homeowners in Cicero, Dolton, Ford Heights and Harvey have better public high schools than Forest Park homeowners have.
During one of the Forest Park candidate debates, I repeatedly drew attention to Mayor Anthony Calderone's alliances with the political bosses ripping off Proviso Township High Schools, especially Moore, board president Emanuel "Chris" Welch and Melrose Park village president Ron Serpico.
After the debate Calderone argued that the high school was doing poorly before Moore, Welch and Serpico got involved.
Calderone's attitude is exactly why Forest Park's public high school is dead last in the Chicago area. Rather than trying to improve the schools Calderone and his allies use the problems--and there are challenging educational problems facing the schools--to justify using the schools as a tool for taking money from taxpayers and giving it to the politically connected. If the schools suck there's no harm in diverting a little more money to the politically connected, right?
It's a game that has made Calderone and his buddies Moore, Welch and Serpico rich men. Calderone made over $800,000 in alarm contracts from a school district run by allies of Moore and Serpico. Moore was billing District 209 $18,000 per month for doing nothing but being the official "broker of record" for the employee insurance contract. That arrangement was approved by the Welch-led school board and existed for at least three years. Welch has billed phenomenal amounts for his legal work. He billed one local elementary school district $200,000 in a six month period.
In some ways Forest Park can claim it is the victim of political coercion by the larger Proviso villages, like Maywood and Melrose Park. But Forest Park has to take some responsibility for enabling the system of using schools to pilfer from taxpayers when it elects people like Calderone and Cox.
Here is an update of my personal perspectives as a BOE member of Proviso 209.
The PTHS board of education "is as what the PTHS board of education does." Our reputation speaks for itself.
At worst our actions, with their generated circumstances that followed, cast a shadow of hypocrisy and double standards. I entertained fears brought on by those distortions and exaggerations of becoming a parody of a healthy school board.
I consider my participation in a recent two day IASB (Illinois Association of School Boards) workshop a rehab type of an experience for me. The training did provide a safety net and new bearings for me to anchor to.
Moving forward, one of the biggest hurdles is breaking down the buffers that permeate the public education process. Those buffers extend to the BOE and its process also. Boards have guidelines, agreements and codes to adhere to. Board members have roles, responsibilities, and relationships to honor. Here is where I see a dysfunction manifesting.
Filling a vacancy of a BOE seat is a very important task for all boards. After the results of our decision this past Monday, I am embarrassed for myself and for the BOE. Not for anything personal against Brian Cross, we have history, but for allowing the presence of prejudice. By not taking more time for discussion we eliminated the "discovery" that discussion yields.
I can count on my hand the number of students I have influenced; Linda Howard's career in education as a teacher literally has influenced thousands of students. I do not feel the Proviso 209 board needed another political pundit. How did we lose this opportunity to strengthen our board's weakness in breaking down the buffers with teachers?
To the public that elected me, I wish I could say watch us because we are performing for our students. I am compelled to say watch us because we need your help. I cannot pretend that the board of education's actions and methods are not political any longer. I hope the silent majority of our board will take up the cause for discussion instead of limiting our abilities.
We need to be accountable and data driven in our entire decision making for District 209.
My self assessment as a BOE member is a grade of "F." I contributed to the infamous knowing-doing gap. In other words, knowing what to do but not actually doing it.
I offer no excuse for my past actions. I am committed to do better. I am committed to strive for a healthy board of education that in practice focuses on our students first instead of pretending to do so.
Students first, Proviso first.
Forest Park, District 209 Board of Education member
The following is the letter sent at the end of June, 2007 to the then board members of the Forest Park Historical Society (FPHS). This is to clarify who we mailed it to, what exactly we said in it, as to concerns for and expectations for FPHS (e.g. we did not send it to Rich Vitton, nor did we mention or request his termination as president of FPHS). What FPHS has done, is doing and our suggestions for what could be done for it should be transparent.
I'm writing on behalf of a group of Forest Park residents frustrated with the performance of the president of the Forest Park Historical Society.
We are profound history buffs who are anxious to get involved in our Historical Society but have been stymied by the inaction and unavailability of Mr. Rich Vitton. The Historical Society is never open to the public and we've been told that many of the items originally housed at the society are missing and reportedly at his home. Additionally, some of us are members of our Historical Society, as we have given our dues, but have never received anything in return; not a newsletter nor even a simple acknowledgement of our membership.
As you know, Dr. Frank Orland founded the Historical Society of Forest Park. His legacy lives on in his "Chronicles of Forest Park," a wonderful history in brief that took many years to record and duplicate. Instead of keeping up with the chronicles, Mr. Vitton appears to have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to dispute the facts found in Dr. Orland's publications. Indeed, Mr. Vitton has often stated that Dr. Orland's findings were inaccurate, verbally "bashing" this once greatly devoted and brilliant mind. His character attacks of Dr. Orland are relentless and unwarranted.
Mr. Vitton will argue that he spends hours preserving and duplicating documents in his possession but they are never promoted or displayed. We feel that preserving the history of the village is very important but equally important is displaying and promoting the village's rich history as well as continuing to document current events for future historical society benefit. Nothing has been published since Dr. Orland stepped down and we're concerned that nothing is being recorded. The countless hours spent duplicating historical documents and never displaying them is akin to creating music which will never be heard.
There is no notice of board meetings to voice our concerns and although we were given your names as board members, we cannot find anything which records an actual board member list, meeting minutes, fund reconciliations or insurance actuarial. We cannot recall any membership drives or fundraisers and we have information from a reliable source that historical information is being sold.
We are very concerned that the president of the Historical Society is acting independently, having no accountability to anyone and leaving us with nowhere to turn when we have questions or issues surrounding his performance. Do you meet? If so, where and when do you meet? If not, we are requesting you call a meeting of your board and invite us to discuss these concerns and others not addressed herein.
Lastly, we formally request you and your board vote to increase your board membership to include the undersigned. We would like to have some authority in which to direct Mr. Vitton and hold him accountable on behalf of the residents of Forest Park, both past and present. Thank you in advance and we look forward to hearing from you. Until that time, we remain.
William Sawisch, August Aleksy, Patricia Marino, John Rice, Sally Taylor
Editor's note: John Rice is a columnist for the Forest Park Review.