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Forest Park will soon undertake its Comprehensive Plan. It will be paying for the planning process with a federal grant. Like all grants, this one comes with a few strings attached. One of them is a requirement that 20 percent of the total spent must be used to gather up public input on the Comprehensive Plan.
While that percentage has always seemed over large to us, the impulse is a healthy one. This is a long term plan for all of Forest Park. And it will be a better plan if many more voices are heard, even voices from people who aren't actively involved, people who might think a Comprehensive Plan seems pretty abstract but who do, in fact, have worthy opinions on housing, business and transit in their hometown.
So recently when the village council met to hear presentations from the two final consultants vying for the planning contract, there was rightly discussion about how each firm would go about gathering input, how they would assure that their survey tools were scientific enough to assure that all segments of the village's populace were being fairly heard.
If only Mayor Anthony Calderone and Commissioner Tom Mannix had stopped there it would have been an admirable civics lesson. Fairness. Inclusion. Listening. Learning.
But, of course, they didn't stop there. They aren't capable of stopping there. Instead they turned small-minded arrogance on the citizens who sometimes disagree with them, who sometimes don't trust them in their decisions, in their approach to governing.
In most places in America you'd call these critics the loyal opposition. You'd talk to them, listen to them, try to persuade them. And if you were not successful you'd walk away, better for the effort.
But at this meeting last week Mannix, the newest and most cynical commissioner, referred to the "squeaky wheels" and wanted assurances the planning consultant would mitigate their input so they didn't have too much say in the planning process. Calderone, who can be a pretty good mayor except for this gigantic need to squelch opposition, went further. He said the planning company chosen should have experience "weeding out the vocal minority."
Did our mayor honest-to-God say that? Out loud? In a public meeting? It is appalling and it is disqualifying. He confirms all the worst suspicions his critics and his sometimes supporters (including this newspaper) have of him.
Calderone and Mannix can denigrate the opposition, they can pretend at their peril that it is just 30 or 50 overly vocal cranks who need to get a life. But there are two problems with that approach. First, it makes Forest Park small and dark in its public life. And second, they are deluding themselves. If there are 30 or 50 people willing to be vocal in the face of this constant abuse, then there are hundreds more who are critical or just, by now, disaffected.
There is a reason Anthony Calderone has been lucky to narrowly hold onto a one vote majority on the village council these past years. There is a reason Calderone's opponent in the last election came within 150 votes of toppling him from office.
This doesn't have to be so hard, so mean, so petty. Only one person can begin to change the tenor of civic life in Forest Park. That is Mayor Calderone.