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Village affairs lack transparency

Did you know that the United States Department of State and its corps of ambassadors classify transparency in government as a human right. They constantly preach this doctrine to all nations large and small all around the globe.

It’s a beautiful, wonderful and fundamental practice and all countries should be held accountable; unfortunately they can’t do anything about the abuse of those same human rights here in Forest Park.

In 1966, President Johnson signed into law the “Freedom of Information Act” or FOIA. Basically this law allows access to information held by all governments upon request. Obviously there are exceptions like personnel files, plans for military bases or what ever the CIA is up to, but in regard to the day-to-day facts, figures and plans that any community has, the FOIA law provides a handy set of guidelines that government officials can use to determine what they might give out and what they won’t. In other words it’s optional. Open governments hardly bother with it; secretive governments use every word FOIA has to shut you out. Right now, Forest Park is much more the latter than the prior.

Flash back to life in Forest Park prior to February 2006.

You hear a developer has purchased a house on your block and he or she wants to tear it down and put up town homes. Later you see a notice in the paper that this developer has a plan and has been granted a hearing before the zoning board of appeals. You’re curious, after all it’s your neighborhood, so you go to the building department and ask to see the records and the staff gives you the plans to look over. You jot down a few notes to do a little research and leave. By hearing day you are ready to ask the developer intelligent questions about how the project is going to impact you and your neighbors. Wonderful! All is right with the world!

Early in 2006 I went to look at some records and those same staff members told me I would have to go up to the clerk’s office and fill out a Freedom of Information request form if I wanted to see the records. With some frustration, I agree and did so. I’m ready to run back downstairs and start looking but the clerk says no, no, there is a seven business day waiting period so she can determine if anything I want to see is at risk of danger. Huh? What gives?

My wife Gloria and I meet with Village Administrator Mike Sturino and Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz. They tell us that nothing has really changed, they just want to have a handle of who’s coming and going and what is being handed out. We go along and try to make it work for all of us.

What we didn’t realize was now they could use the FOIA laws to decide if they wanted to give us stuff. By last August the routine information we were requesting slowed to a trickle. They were denying access to so much that Gloria finally appealed one of the denials. After all, these were only residential building plans not nuclear power plants. By law the appeal goes to the mayor.

Mayor Calderone upheld the denial. In fact, he reinterpreted the FOIA law declaring that unless public money was involved in a building project, nobody, that’s right, nobody could see anything ever again.

We have filed a complaint with the state but the wheels of justice turn slowly. So it is with sincerity, that I ask you to vote for Terry Steinbach or Patrick Doolin for mayor on Feb. 27. Both have pledged to make our government transparent again.

In the meantime, hope that some sly developer doesn’t discover your neighborhood.

Steven Backman
Forest Park

Thick and thin

You dance with who brought you. Not with the boy or girl who only pays attention now that you are dolled up and “worthy” of them. You dance with the person who put themselves out there, took a chance and asked you to the dance in the first place; the one who sees you for all that you are-good and bad, but, doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. The person who sits with you at the unpopular table in the lunch room; the one you ride the bus with and the one who doesn’t care what clothes you wear, what car you drive, or most important of all-doesn’t look first to see what’s in it for them by associating with you.

Well, Forest Park, who brought you to the dance? Who has been with you from the start? And not just in the last few years because housing here has boomed. Through thick and thin; taking on the responsibility of public service when it wasn’t popular or “flashy” to do so? Who has taken the heat, time and time again, but has not wavered? Who is approachable, visible, out on the front lines-putting Forest Park first? The answer is Tony Calderone. I do not pretend to be as smart or as “highly educated” as Pat or Terry; so all I know is what I see. And what I see in this town is very good. Maybe not perfect or without mistakes, but very good nonetheless.

Mayor Calderone is getting the best possible job done that this fish bowl will allow. Let’s face it-anything can be twisted by anyone at any time to make any point. I refuse to be swayed by the sky-is-falling message preached by self-appointed “false-prophet” community groups known for hijacking people’s names and manipulating them on the Internet.

Now what kind of endorsement for mayor was that from the Review two weeks ago? Could Dan Haley and staff have waffled any more than they did? A good man lost his job in our police department because of the “professional” actions of your endorsed candidate.

I want a hands-on mayor; out front and center making the decisions hand-in-hand with the hired experts. I want to be able to pick up the phone and talk to the mayor and not only a department head. The best we can ask of our elected officials is to get in there, work the soil and foster growth. With all due respect to Terry, who means well, and Pat knows what to say and when, Tony is clearly the best candidate for the job.

My wife and I made the decision 11 years ago to move here from Chicago. We didn’t listen to the prevailing opinions saying Forest Park is only good for its “Tavern Row.” Thanks to our real estate agent and our own research, we quickly learned what a great place to live and raise a family Forest Park has been and how it was re-emerging. Out there in the beginning, front and center, was Tony (then as commissioner), along with Tim Gillian and a few other Forest Park believers like Art Jones. Do the newer Forest Parkers know this?

Sometimes it’s also the little things that matter. It’s Tony and Tim and Marc Hosty attending our Lathropalooza block party; and it’s Tony genuinely asking how my father (not a Forest Park resident) is doing. This may seem minor to some, but where I come from, it says a lot. We’re a small town, so we should be seeing our elected officials everywhere there is and isn’t a photo-op. Please don’t decide because you were handed a fancy brochure or are being “informed” we are in bad shape. Just pick up the phone and call Mayor Calderone for yourself.

Whose home value, business or pride hasn’t, in large part, benefited from the hard, diligent and honest work of your mayor?

Peter Nicholas Marafatsos
Forest Park

Union endorsement

With election season in full swing in Forest Park, the Forest Park Police Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #24 would like to take the time to communicate with our citizens, and hopefully clear up any misconceptions they may have with our police department.

During this week’s candidate’s forum at the Forest Park Middle School, Mayor Anthony Calderone offered his opinion of morale at the police department as positive, and based this opinion on conversations he has had with our officers. Our members can confidently express that Mayor Calderone’s assessment is correct. In spite of numerous political rumblings within the village and police department, our officers have continued to work efficiently and effectively to serve our citizens on a day-to-day basis. Morale at the Forest Park Police Department under the leadership of Chief Jim Ryan is at a high level, which we hope is welcome news to our residents.

It is unfortunate that some within local media and Internet blogs have attempted to portray our department as dysfunctional, unprofessional, or otherwise out of control. We recognize that the political aspirations of some people lead them to exaggerate, make issues out of non-issues, or deceive the public with innuendo to further their agenda. We, as individuals and as a complete police force, would prefer to speak for ourselves.

The Forest Park FOP Lodge is proud to endorse Anthony Calderone for another term as mayor of Forest Park. Under his direction, and that of Police Chief Jim Ryan, we have entered the 21st Century as a capable, well-trained, well-managed, and proactive police department. We as a lodge do not have any political aspirations beyond our wish to continue to do our jobs as we have proven capable, to serve and protect our citizens.

Patrick Tierney
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #24,
Forest Park

Calderone changed

On Tuesday, Feb. 27, I recommend my fellow Forest Parkers vote for change when picking a candidate for mayor.

Some would argue Forest Park has benefited from economic growth that would have happened whether or not Anthony Calderone was mayor. However, I think the fairest interpretation is that Calderone helped bring businesses together for innovation. But Calderone did have some luck in the people around him, including having commissioners Patrick Doolin and Theresa Steinbach on the council to restrain his impulse to spend.

I first met Calderone at Dave King’s Christmas party in 2000. Calderone was the only person I didn’t know from before who I remember meeting that night.

In 2000 Calderone was more dynamic and probably more willing to reach out to new people. Now Calderone seems more set in his ways. His people are his people.

Calderone tries to marginalize, ignore and freeze-out citizens who question village decisions, especially citizens skeptical of ambitious development.

Under Calderone the village has fumbled on creating new parking for Madison Street businesses and repaving Industrial Drive in south Forest Park. Largely these fumbles have been caused by poor communication.

I doubt Calderone would have made these fumbles in 2000.

Calderone’s mistakes and bad decisions have hit the police department especially hard. Under the commissioner form of government the mayor supervises the police department.

Calderone associates himself with the police when good things happen-like routine arrests-and distances himself from problems in his police department. In fact Calderone would like voters to believe the police department problems aren’t really problems but controversy manufactured by the Forest Park Review to create drama.

One of the ways Calderone uses the police department to his political advantage is community policing meetings. Calderone milks these meetings for the maximum interaction with voters. How many community policing meetings happened in the first three and a half years of Calderone’s term compared with the six months leading up to the election?

I have asked Calderone, “What is the mayor’s role in the police department in the commissioner form of government?” Calderone refused to answer.

Calderone probably doesn’t want to answer because he wants to have it both ways. In private Calderone-a former auxiliary police officer-likes to micromanage. But when his decisions and policies produce bad results, Calderone hides behind his flunky chief of police who is happy to be the mayor’s fall guy for $100,000 per year.

Calderone will get some votes because he throws great community parties. And if we were electing the president of a fraternity I would be campaigning for Calderone. I like his parties too. But the village has serious issues and the 2007 version of Anthony Calderone is controlling and secretive. The guy who shepherded Madison Street’s blossoming has left the village.

Please take the time to vote next Tuesday-at your usual polling place-and please vote for a new mayor.

Carl Nyberg
Forest Park

On the issues

Thank you to the Forest Park Review for recognizing my leadership on fiscal issues. As the only woman on the village council, bringing about fiscal discipline hasn’t been easy. I liken it to the days when I was raising my children and had to convince them to do things they didn’t like to do.

Since last week’s editorial put so much emphasis on the grave shortcomings of my two opponents, I thought I’d take this opportunity to answer at least some of the questions that were not asked at the last forum.

1) If you were elected mayor do you think you would be strong enough to lead an all new council?

Yes, for the last four years I’ve had to build consensus around every issue, including setting aside our new sales tax for infrastructure improvements. If I’m elected mayor, I will again be the only woman on the village council and as a proven consensus builder I will put these skills to work with the new village council you elect.

2) Under the Freedom of Information Act, the public body has the option to release or withhold information. The current administration has become more restrictive in what it provides via FOIA. What is your position on this?

As I’ve said, it’s your village and you deserve to know what’s happening. As mayor I will operate an open government and if I’m doing my job well, people shouldn’t need to FOIA information because it will be readily available.

3) How would you propose to build cash reserves for Forest Park?

Before 1999, Forest Park had over $7 million in reserves. Our current mayor spent all that in his first four years. When I joined the village council in 2003 we had virtually no reserve fund. Since then, I have pressed my colleagues to stop the lavish spending and live within our means. My efforts have resulted in a $3 million surplus, which is probably why the Forest Park Review complimented my diligence in monitoring village finances.

4) How would Forest Park develop a community that is sensitive to issues of ethnic diversity and income classes?

Voters can start by electing me as mayor to ensure we have gender diversity on the village council. Forest Park is a very diverse community and we need a village council, village employees and appointed members of our boards and commissions that reflect our diversity. As mayor I will reach out to identify qualified people from all backgrounds to serve.

5) Is the current polarization of the village council the result of conflicting opinions on real issues or conflicting personalities? How would you demagnetize the current polarization?

As a fierce protector of the taxpayer, I sometimes find myself philosophically opposed to my colleagues over issues like protecting seniors from the water rate hike. I don’t believe personalities should enter into debates in the village council. In these past four years I have stuck to the issues and refrained from personal attacks. I wish I could say the same for my two opponents.

Terry Steinbach
Forest Park

Plowing problems

This letter is in regard to snow removal in Forest Park. Every year it is the same story just a different date. Parking is prohibited on the streets and nearly all parking spaces are entered through an alley. After a snow fall, in order for residents to get out of these spaces you have to dig out your entry way. Then the village sends its plows down the alley and plows everyone back in. They also don’t understand the concept of not plowing the entrances to the alley so you can get in to your parking space. How difficult is this for the “leadership” to understand? I can only image that all the village officials don’t have to go through this since their alley is probably dug out, including the entrances to their garages or parking spaces, by village staff. We have the most beautiful winter streets, plowed curb to curb-but can’t park on them when we can’t get into our off street parking.

Clearly a change is needed that takes these problems into account. It will only take one lawsuit by a family of someone who has had a heart attack and died, digging out there space because it has been plowed in by the city, for these folks to finally figure out a solution.

Melissa Johnson
Forest Park

Louder than words

Several months ago I was concerned about an abandoned house across the alley from me. After a letter to the editor of your paper got no response, I e-mailed each of the four commissioners and the mayor.

Two commissioners never responded, although I understand one of them (who incidentally is running for re-election) was actually the commissioner in charge of Public Health and Safety.

I did, however, receive responses from each of the candidates for mayor. Mayor Calderone replied he was forwarding my concern to his staff. Commissioner Doolin was confused about the property in question and at first, e-mailed me regarding a totally different property and included in this e-mail a plug for his campaign for mayor. He later realized his mistake, e-mailed me again and said he would take a look at the property.

Commissioner Steinbach forwarded my e-mail to the village administrator and added that she had driven by the front and back of the property and that it was in deplorable condition. She also questioned what action the building department had taken to remedy the situation.

At the next council meeting, Commissioner Steinbach brought up the condition of the property and asked for assurances that the developer would clean up the property and that the building department will follow up. Virtually the next day the developer began the cleanup and as Commissioner Steinbach had suggested, also installed a fence around the property.

When I consider who deserves my vote for mayor in the Feb. 27 primary, I think it is the candidate who is most responsive to citizen’s concerns and takes appropriate action. Commissioner Terry Steinbach took a look at the problem, took action and followed through. She will get my vote on Feb. 27.

Barbara Plona
Forest Park