The holiday season, as it always does, is sure to bring out the best in Forest Park. Friends and neighbors will come together to enjoy the comfort of their homes, as well as all the shops, restaurants and businesses that have sprung up around town in recent years.
It is truly the one time of year when the reasons why the village chose its slogan of “Big city access, small town charm” are most evident. Our hope is that, in the future, another line does not need to be added to this slogan””big city politics.”
We have certainly noticed that, over the past couple months, meetings of the village council seem significantly less contentious. Disagreements have been more productive and snide comments kept to a minimum”sometimes, commissioners on both sides of the village’s political divide have even laughed at each other’s jokes.
On Monday, the commissioners even agreed to compromise on the heated issue of hiring a director of public works.
But like it or not, the coming year is going to bring its share of challenges, many of which will likely arise from the allegations of retaliation and brutality that have come forward during the termination hearings of Sgt. Dan Harder.
Regardless of one’s opinion of Harder, these allegations are of the utmost seriousness. Numerous officers, from the top to the bottom of the department, have testified that they have concerns about the conduct of their colleagues. Even more have testified that they fear retaliation if they speak up, or believe they have already been victims of retaliation.
Though the village may wish to cloud the allegations by questioning the character of the messengers, all of these people can’t possibly have ulterior motives. Whether the most serious allegations are valid or not, something appears to be wrong with the culture of the Forest Park Police Department.
If village officials want to play the “big city” role, they can concern themselves first with their political careers and distance themselves from the allegations in hopes that they just go away. This is not likely to happen, though, as Harder has already made clear his intentions to sue, and the same officers will be deposed again in civil court, and this time the village’s attorney won’t have cause to object on the grounds of relevance.
If the village wants to embrace its small-town culture, however, local officials who may now be rivals will remember they are also neighbors and former classmates who share common friends, favorite restaurants, and hopefully a desire to do what’s best for the village. They must work together to get to the bottom of this.
This is not the time for officials to claim ignorance or pretend their hands are tied by some big bureaucracy that does not exist. The police station is across the hall from the mayor’s office. Everyone has each other’s phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Go ask questions and find out what happened.
We respect the decision to wait until the hearing has wrapped up to begin investigating the allegations, but hope that this is not just a stall tactic. A thorough investigation must occur, sooner rather than later, and the results as well as the procedures must be shared with the public.
Nothing would make us happier than to learn that, in fact, no wrongdoing has occurred. But if the village chooses to play politics on this issue, that village slogan may indeed need to be amended. We are hopeful all involved will instead do what’s best for the small town they call home.
Happy holidays to all.