Last Wednesday evening Forest Park said its official goodbye to Art Jones.
I could go on at considerable length about Art Jones and his innumerable list of contributions to his hometown.
Instead, as the glue who held so many projects together leaves town, as the visionary who saw Forest Park’s potential for renewal when very few did leaves town, as the calm motivating presence leaves town, I would instead offer my advice to the leaders of Forest Park who remain:
It is time to be the grown-ups.
Stop your squawking. Stop fighting over crumbs. Stop trying to score points.
The Forest Park renaissance is real. But for it to continue, the foundation must be strengthened. The petty distractions of endless police department probes must come to an end. The pointless bickering and backbiting on the village council is overwrought. Common sense is lacking and petty, small-town ego is in ascendency.
And this is a year before the next village council election.
I was at a meeting last Wednesday morning of Oak Park business leaders. Like all meetings of Oak Park business leaders in recent years, this one eventually turned to “why can’t we be more like Forest Park?”
A few years ago, I would have been all in favor of Oak Park becoming more like Forest Park. The lack of Oak Park’s numbing governmental processes was a plus for Forest Park. The force of private strategic investment along Madison Street”led by Jones and his associates”in buying and developing key properties was a huge advantage. The ability of the village government to allow organizations such as Main Street, the Chamber and, more recently, Madison Merchants to play lead roles without feeling the need to take control was refreshing.
Now though I see Forest Park’s continuing strides coming despite village government, not as a result of its leadership. There is a momentum to the development which hasn’t caught on to the dysfunction of the leadership structure.
With the growth, with the success, the problems become more complex. There will be less cheerleading and ribbon cuttings and more genuine problem-solving and political compromising to be done.
Parking: With Madison Street’s roaring success has come a parking crisis. The solution is coming, if at all, at a crawling, Oak Park-like pace. Soon this issue is going to take a bold, land-accumulating, money-eating solution. And the village is already two years late on this.
Development: Just in recent weeks we are starting to see a turning among neighborhood residents on the issue of new residential development. Forest Park is hot. Developers want in. Neighbors want protections. The village needs a plan, a philosophy. So far it is punting.
Race: The elephant in the room is always race in Forest Park. The village has a substantial African American population. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the village’s leadership ranks. There is the very beginning of rumblings among some black residents that there are concerns in the schools and elsewhere.
All of these issues can be addressed. They can each be turned to Forest Park’s advantage and its glory. But only if grown-ups take charge.
Grown-ups talk to each other. Even if they disagree. Grown-ups don’t make decisions based on personalities and perceived slights. Grown-ups don’t hold grudges.
All the hundreds of people who stood and cheered loud and long for Art Jones at last week’s Main Street annual meeting understood the many qualities of the man. He had a clear vision. He had a powerful ability to bring people to the table. And, most importantly, he simply had no ego on the line.
Art Jones’ departure from the stage leaves either a terrible void in Forest Park or the opportunity for this town’s elected leaders to step into his big shoes.