In smaller communities it is not at all uncommon for personal relationships to intersect with professional responsibilities. Children that grew up together often step forward as adults and take ownership of their town. Romances bloom and wither, old jobs are traded for new ones and all the while a person’s network envelopes more and more of their corner of the world. It is both charming and problematic.
Forest Park has no doubt seen both sides of this component to small town life, and in many ways is the better for it. Public officials are more approachable because of their familiarity. Disputes can be resolved at the dining room table rather than a judge’s bench. Coworkers are apt to pitch in for a colleague in their time of need.
The ugly side of these relationships is often described with words like nepotism, patronage and cronyism. Through the rampant abuses of power in the Proviso Township High School District, Forest Park is a victim of the barely visible lines separating the personal from the professional. There is a friends and family hiring plan that exists in District 209 that knows no shame.
Governance in Forest Park doesn’t even begin to approach the catastrophe that is playing out in the public high schools. Many good things can be said of Mayor Anthony Calderone’s long tenure in Forest Park, but this page is at a loss in finding compliments for District 209 school board President Chris Welch. Forest Park’s municipal offices run reasonably well, though there is room for improvements in efficiency and professionalism. In the village, administrators and public officials largely make a genuine effort to find those improvements. The same simply cannot be said of the high schools.
Though the problems in District 209 and Forest Park are on different scales, there is a similarity. Wounds suffered by political meddling and personal interests are entirely self inflicted. Neither entity should blame its critics, the media or other beholders who perceive cracks in the façade. Whether it’s a newspaper, a taxpayer, a blogger or a judge, there is value in looking at what has occurred and what is perceived.
It is an undeniably good thing that members of the police department want to support Dora Murphy, the chief’s secretary, as she faces the inevitability of her husband’s prison sentence. But her husband, a former police officer, has long been a divisive figure in the department. The police chief should have quietly handed a check to this woman and offered his condolences. Appearing at a recent fundraising event simply raises too many questions about his motives for making such a public show of support. It’s a judgment call, admittedly, but certainly not a moot point.
In District 209, the board has failed time and again to do the right thing and it’s apparent that no manner of prodding will right the ship. Voters cannot afford to wait for federal, state or county oversight to have an impact in the classrooms. We, parents and taxpayers, must demand what is best for the students.