The village council made the right decision Monday night in granting Team Blonde relief from a local zoning restriction that would have made a notable part of its business – so-called spa services – illegal. That the vote was unanimous reinforces the decision, coming as it does from a council that is often divided on issues.
That said, the decision Monday was the first good decision the village government has made on what may, at first blush, seem a small, parochial skirmish among businesses but which is actually a notable example of all that has been wrong in local government in recent years.
We are not writing here specifically about the details of the Team Blonde debacle. Our concern is more generalized.
Far too often, Forest Park feels as if it is being governed out of Mayor Tony Calderone’s back pocket. We’re not suggesting corruption. We’re charging rampant casualness. Far too many things run past the mayor. Far too many people defer to the mayor. And, of course, he likes it. Most anyone who runs for mayor of a small town likes the respect, the power attendant to the office.
But without proper checks, in the form of professional management, elected officials who can raise concerns and be fairly heard, governance can devolve into the endless question “What does Tony think?”
That there has been a conflict between the business Team Blonde had evolved into and the local zoning that Forest Park was evolving toward has been known internally for multiple years at village hall. But instead of having the issue flow into proper channels for a reasonable resolution, it flowed into the usual back channels where it created distrust and confusion. Did the former village administrator “threaten” a competing business to quiet the matter? Monday night, the mayor said he didn’t know and it really didn’t matter. We’d agree the question, at this late date, is likely unanswerable. But it does matter because it goes to the tone and the approach to governing, to methods of solving legitimate problems.
Often, lately, we have come back to the current village administrator, Tim Gillian, and our high hopes for him. Again, in this instance, Gillian has taken the right path. He talked to all parties, he listened. And he moved the village toward a solution based on specific governmental action: in this case, an extremely closely worded zoning amendment that made Team Blonde legal. It was public. It was precise. And while controversial, it was an example of how the village government needs to operate.
Tony Calderone has strengths as a mayor. But he will be a better mayor the more he allows professional staff members to do their jobs by the book.