Elsewhere in today’s Review, Lois Bugajsky, president of the elementary school board, says her institution may not have enough candidates to fill all the available positions in the April election because, “I think we’re considered boring because we don’t fight in public.”
I’m not sure, but that might be a veiled slam at the Forest Park village council, which fights in public, in the newspaper, and in most every venue it can.
My theory about why the elementary school board is dull and the village council is hot, has to do with their fundamental methods of governing. The school board and the park board have these organizational structures in place in which elected officials hire some sort of professional to run the place. The elected folks get to decide on big pronouncements and, as they say, “set the direction.” But they don’t get to run things like they do at village hall where the organizing structure is called the “commission form of government.” If you’re a commissioner, you not only get to make broad policy decisions like selling land to the YMCA. You also get to run a village department like public works or, even the police department. Now that is big fun and also something worth fighting over.
Which they have, for the past four years, been doing. At the mayoral candidate forum last week Mayor Anthony Calderone suggested that the Review, a co-sponsor of the forum, had been juicing up the coverage of the disagreements, particularly in the police department. Mr. Mayor, I’d have to employ novelists not reporters to make up the sort of stuff your police and fire commission has been deliberating in recent years. We just report what is being said.
My suggestion then to beef up the interest in the uncontested school board and park races is for those bodies to also adopt the commission form of government. Wouldn’t you want to be on the school board if you could call dibs on running the middle school? Who wouldn’t want to be the commissioner of kindergarten? The kids are so cute when they’re little. Sure you could review the budget once a year or look at grant proposals. But how cool would it be if you could also declare “snow days” and mess with teachers you don’t like.
Of course, this sounds like a preposterous way to run a school system. And the newly appointed District 91 school superintendent Dr. Lou Cavallo would never have taken the job if he weren’t really running the schools. School principals would be baffled as to who they answered to, the superintendent or the commissioner in charge of curriculum who, by the way, makes a living as a district manager for a car rental company.
Then why does it make more sense for an alarm company owner, a bar manager, a college professor, a real estate agent and a retired paving contractor to be running the departments at village hall? Those are the current professions of the sitting board.
The commission form of government is, as we’ve said for many years, an obsolete throwback to days when Forest Park was at the far end of the metropolitan area, not one of its most desired suburbs. The only towns left in Illinois still employing the commission form are small farming communities in central and southern Illinois. There’s a reason for that.
This type of government creates battlegrounds between commissioners, confuses and hobbles the role of village administrator and diminishes the prospects for further improvements to this town. In this election, it is time to put the question of form of government at the top of the list of candidate qualifications.