It was, we believe, one of the singular achievements of Mayor Anthony Calderone’s early years as mayor. In a move that was totally uncharacteristic for the Forest Park of that turn-of-the-century era, Calderone decided in 2001 that the village government had to buy the open acreage adjacent to the Altenheim. The village, he rightly concluded, had to control this last notable open space in the village and had to keep it from being developed into another stand of cookie-cutter townhouses.
So in a move that was almost spontaneous, the village made the deal. They borrowed the money. They kept development at bay. They held a few picnics and concerts and, beyond that let the site be used for other public purposes.
While the carrying costs of this purchase are not much discussed, there is, seemingly, remarkable consensus that Calderone and the village did the right thing.
Now it’s nine years later. More than half of those years were consumed by an ultimately fruitless effort to sell most of the property to the YMCA. While there were many factors that ultimately led to that effort being abandoned, the economy being a primary one, the too-secret, too-long negotiations led by Calderone on behalf of the village were another.
We learn now that in his effort to further the worthy goal of keeping this land open, semi-available for Forest Park’s use and, finally off the village’s ledger of financial liabilities, Calderone has been having conversations with Dominican University and Fenwick High School about selling the land for athletic fields.
Again, we like the concept. But we’re worried over the political impulse of Calderone’s to keep these discussions secret until he was about to be outed by Commissioner Marty Tellalian. And we are concerned that Calderone has counted up his board allies and had them vote him in as the village’s sole negotiator in what all parties agree are preliminary discussions.
We understand the need for a lead negotiator. If, as suggested by another commissioner, Tellalian has been making side contacts with the private schools, he should stop it. But we fully understand Tellalian’s concerns about Calderone’s tendencies to work behind the scenes on what ought to be public matters and to successfully attempt to gather up power and hoard it.
These are the wrong impulses and Tellalian is right to publicly call Calderone on it. The mayor dismisses all this as “political shenanigans.” That’s plain wrong. It’s called openness, transparency, good government.
With a goal of maintaining this property as open space, the options are very limited. The YMCA was an interesting option. The two private schools are an interesting option. But there is no need for extreme secrecy as might be the case in trying to maximize a payout by forcing developers to bid up the price. Open these talks. Engage the citizens in the discussions.
Calderone’s 2001 impulse to buy this land was right. His old-school model of controlling information in the belief that it furthers his power is wrong.