Ironically, leadership at Monday evening’s council meeting came from some of the residents of Forest Park. The only thing on the agenda was an open discussion of the proposal to raze six homes in order to add about 50 additional spaces of surface parking.
What I expected as I climbed down the stairs at village hall was a contest between two special interest groups: the business community and the residents who would be affected by the proposal. I imagined the village council playing the role of an objective body that would ultimately make a tough decision promoting the common good.
What I observed, instead, was the council, the R.H. Anderson consultant and Madison Street business people listening to residents who not only fought for their special interest, but also presented thoughtful alternatives, which did seem to take the common good into consideration.
About half way through the session Maurice O’Connor, who lives at 501 Elgin Ave., said he wanted the business owners and council members to understand, “None of us are against added parking spaces. It’s not an either/or situation.”
Georgine Mullen who resides at 443 Thomas took the baton from O’Connor. Mullen, who has lived in Forest Park for 18 years, said that on the whole, residents of our village celebrate the recent transformation of Madison Street. What she wanted for the whole village was a solution to the parking problem that did indeed promote the common good.
What seemed to stir up the most anger in those speaking against the parking proposal was that residents had not been included in a serious way in the decision making process. That what began six years ago as a very inclusive process resulting in the Comprehensive Plan eventually excluded the residential sector from the discussion.
Debbie Kong and Bob Cox both used the term “stakeholders” in their arguments against the parking plan. Ronald Heifetz in “Leadership without Easy Answers” uses the same term in talking about two kinds of problems. One kind of problem is an issue for which someone knows the answer.
However, according to Heifetz, there are some problems to which no one knows the solution and for which there are no experts. And that is where the term “stakeholders” comes in. When dealing with problems for which nobody has a ready made solution, Heifetz argues that the kind of leadership needed is leadership that assembles all the stakeholders and together they stumble and muddle and experiment and revise their way toward the common good.
That’s what the most thoughtful of those speaking against the parking proposal seemed to be saying: There must be a way that all the stakeholders – business owners, village government and residents – can put their minds together to creatively find a solution to the parking problem.
To his credit, Mayor Anthony Calderone called the special meeting. To his credit, Commissioner Tim Gillian acknowledged that the council was “shortsighted to not grasp the emotion” involved in the issue. And to its credit, the council unanimously agreed that it would take time to make a good decision.
Regarding the parking problem, process is the solution. The process called for probably won’t go fast enough for the business community, which needs added parking yesterday. The process will probably result in the acquisition of some homes. What is called for is leadership that involves all the stakeholders who ultimately want what promotes the common good.