The park district is not a government entity known for its openness and transparency. Sometimes that is just annoying. But right now that tendency toward keeping secrets has the potential to complicate or even derail what could be a momentous decision for this government to make: the potential purchase of the Roos building.
That Forest Park parks are squeezed for acreage is plain. The possibility of a large parcel becoming available immediately adjacent to the district’s only notable site demands thorough consideration. That the asking price is nearly $4 million demands open consideration.
Mayor Anthony Calderone wrote a letter to the park district advising them of the opportunity. When that letter quickly leaked, he began talking openly about how such a deal could be made.
It is worth remembering that the last time a major piece of land was available in Forest Park, when the Altenheim sold off a large parcel, the park district negotiated in secret and whiffed at their chance to create a park. The village leapt into the void and captured the land for public use at a stiff and unbudgeted cost.
That should not be allowed to happen again. Having the park district and the village work cooperatively and in the public eye in evaluating the Roos site is essential.
Keep in mind there are complicating issues with Roos. Environmental issues exist. Nagging litigation over cell phone towers looms. A park on the site would sidestep the upset of neighbors who believe the approved development is too dense. But in addition to adding a large public debt, purchasing the site would also eliminate a significant increase in property tax dollars coming to the village.
All of this must be analyzed and debated. It has to happen soon. It cannot happen in secret.
The blame game
Monday night’s village council meeting was an embarrassment to all concerned. Part grandstanding, part pent up vitriol, and, part just plain bad governance, the meeting was all blame game.
The root of the upset was Mayor Calderone’s unacceptable effort to weaken the state’s Open Meetings Act by using the village’s paid lobbyist to push a change in state law as the act applies to commissioner forms of government.
We’ll save our explanation of opposition to the legislation for another week. For now let us just say that despite what he sees as his “trumping” power as mayor to direct the taxpayer funded lobbyist to do his bidding, Mayor Calderone has simply trumped himself by keeping the legislative effort a complete secret.
That is no way to do the public’s business, mayor. There are no excuses. There are no rationalizations. It is just wrong.
Despite the fact that Calderone brought the roof down on his head by his own actions, it was still disheartening to watch Monday’s meeting unravel along such personal lines. That Calderone and Commissioner Theresa Steinbach have an intense personal dislike for each other is hardly news. But that personal animus must be contained. And audience members who snickered and made snake-like hissing noises at the mayor are diminishing the fragile integrity of local government with their theatrics.
There is plenty of blame to go around.