There’s a dirty little secret in Forest Park involving politicians and other higher ups and their Web browsing habits. You’d be hard pressed to get any of these suits to admit they’re looking, but they are. And they’re absolutely certain that the rest of the village is looking, too.
No, this tale doesn’t slip that far into the gutter, but an online message board found at forestparkforums.com seems to have at least one thing in common with Internet porn – that while no one partakes it somehow has developed quite a following.
At Monday’s village council meeting Mayor Anthony Calderone interrupted the discussion on a controversial housing project to address a recent posting to the forum. In his online statements Steve Backman, one of the mayor’s most outspoken critics, accused Calderone of playing a direct role in the sale of property in his mother’s estate to the developer now standing before the council. Calderone distributed printouts from the message board to his colleagues on the dais and highlighted the relevant portions for their convenience. But then, after 10 or 15 minutes of near shouting, the mayor explained he only discovered Backman’s comments after someone else pointed them out.
It’s hard to blame the mayor for not wanting to admit that he’s looking at the site. Doing so would only validate the mostly anonymous belly aching and whining that occurs there. Why should posters actually participate in their local government if they’ve already got the mayor’s ear? The confounding part of it is though, that it seems to be working. Quietly, the Review has heard from school administrators, ranking village officials and business leaders who all are capable of repeating the site’s content, but can hardly utter the phrase “Forest Park Forums” without using a dismissive gesture or tone.
The role of blogs and online message boards in any community is one that’s still being ironed out. Potentially, there’s a ton of information to be gleaned from having access to the thoughts of every Tom, Dick and Harry, but there’s likely to be a lot of biased, irrelevant and inaccurate information as well. In theory it makes sense for newspapers, public officials and the public at large to use sites like forestparkforums.com as a resource. But what validates the content as anything more meaningful than gossip?
During the most recent local election cycle this paper ran a story on the Internet’s impact in politics. Most of the candidates had Web sites and many were responding to questions posted at forestparkforums.com. But the administrator for the Web site didn’t respond to numerous phone calls to discuss this phenomenon, nor does it appear that regular posters have taken an active role in trying to effect change.
Posting anonymous gripes to a Web site is hardly more meaningful than clucking like hens over a cup of coffee. But with all the eavesdropping that policymakers are doing, there is an undeniable validity to Forest Park’s dirty little secret.