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Shep Smith of Fox News informed us last week that, “Politics is weird. And creepy. And now I know lacks even the loosest attachment to anything like reality.” We’d be fools to deny it.

We the Village are developing a new Comprehensive Plan (CP) this summer, prompted by a $4M HUD grant, presumably with the clear knowledge that our present economic climate is quite different from last decade’s, and therefore our vision and solutions need to adapt. This is a Big Deal as the CP will, or should, touch and guide village policy for the next decade or two.

Reportedly, 20 percent of the HUD funding must be spent to build citizen involvement, which would be an exciting development for our town, but then I heard the Altenheim survey will be funded from this grant to the tune of $15K. One or two more surveys could fill the HUD requirement … um … efficiently.

As lifeluck would have it, Citizens United in Forest Park (CUinFP) is also digging deep to evaluate and adapt its mission to new times.

Ah, synchronicity.

Let’s review a bit. Forest Park, these past 15 years, has been on a wild ride of change, fueled by the housing boom. Forest Park jumped from Popelka’s sleepy town model and hit the ground running. With new leadership, a new CP, money to burn (relatively speaking) and enormous enthusiasm, our village recreated its downtown and a good part of the residential sector. And yes, Madison Street generates a healthy dose of envy from our neighbors, who must console themselves with a high school and a decent sewer system.

Managing this revamp was an enormous challenge, what with jillions of investors, developers, lenders, homeowners, contractors and small businesses chomping at the bit to enhance their piece of the pie. While self-interest is an excellent motivator, it also has a weakness toward naked selfishness which conflicts when public good is the goal.

As I see it, it was the village’s job to organize, regulate and oversee this huge growth spurt, strike that elusive balance of self interest vs. community good, and keep the crooks to a minimum. This was not an easy assignment.

Critically, while village hall was spending enormous time and taxpayer dollars overseeing development, who was overseeing
the government?

Enter Citizens United in Forest Park (CUinFP), our town’s first citizen activist/watchdog organization.

There is a wide belief in this country that only idiots, crooks and grifters believe government does not require constant, independent oversight and must be pulled, usually kicking and screaming, to accountability. This is not a buzzthought but, in fact, a bedrock principle of American government. It is also why independent newspapers and media are essential.

And so CUinFP fills an essential need in our village. Its founding and present mission statement states: “Citizens United in Forest Park, through the dissemination of information, education and study, promotes a greater awareness of the activities and policies of the local government and matters of public record impacting the citizens of Forest Park. The organization encourages members to actively exercise their rights and duties of citizenship. …” Read the rest at the link and check out their astounding list of civic accomplishments: http://www.cuinfp.org/about-us.html

Ostensibly, village government and CUinFP share the exact same goal, good governance, but it would be ridiculous not to note that entrenched village electeds have a great, historical animosity toward CUinFP and their founders (see the first sentence of this column). Frankly, I’ve never witnessed anything like the brutal, vitriolic, systemic attacks launched against a citizens group and am astounded our community stood back and watched. Most politicos reserve such attacks for their professional colleagues, like Lorraine Popelka or Rory Hoskins.

Similar animosity is directed toward founders and participants of non-lockstep media and plain old residents who challenge village policies or practices or processes or reasoning or behaviors. And of course, this newspaper. Recently Tony Calderone has taken to linking and ‘liking’ some bad-ass anonymous site, apparently to express his views on folks who criticize him – on his official Mayoral Facebook page. Weird. And creepy.

No Profiles in Courage Award for you, Mr. Mayor.

In CUinFP’s case, everything is on the table as we actively seek out stakeholder input through the summer. Note, I use the term “we” as I was elected to the CUinFP board at last week’s annual meeting. We’re a small town and our activist bench can be shallow: I may only serve through the discovery process but will keep you posted.

Looking forward to your constructive suggestions for CUinFP’s renewal or our new Comprehensive Plan. Ad hominem attacks and pure nonsense will not be published.

As always, look on the bright side.