A town hall discussion on video gaming, Tuesday, June 21, drew a crowd of 75 people from both sides of the issue, described by attendees as “mostly polite” but also as “excited” and “energetic.”
The forum, put together by resident Chris Harris, a former village commissioner who ran for mayor in 2015, the event was held at the Forest Park Historical Society Cultural Building, 1000 Elgin.
“We were up against the always popular Groovin’ in the Grove and on a good night that always draws residents,” Harris said of the turnout. “But there is always something going on and, at some point, you just have to pick a night.
“We had to put out more chairs as the night went on, so I guess it exceeded expectations.”
Video gaming took center stage during the citizen comment portion of both village council meetings in April with village officials stating their desire to hold a public forum on the matter in May. However, they soon announced that the planned public forum had been postponed until July due to scheduling complications in May and the unavailability of one elected official in June.
The June 21 event featured a panel of four people, whom Harris said have been “very open” about their stances on video gaming and how they feel it will impact Forest Park.
Businessman Dennis Miller, owner of Fat Duck Tavern and Grill, and resident Andrew Johnson represented those in support of video gaming. Matt Brown, owner of Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor, and resident Marty Tellalian (a former village commissioner) represented those who oppose it. The event featured a three-minute opening statement from each speaker, followed by audience-driven questions that were vetted by a pro-gaming resident and an anti-gaming resident for redundancy, “attack” questions and validity, and “to keep them fair and equal,” according to Harris.
Johnson and Tellalian said afterward that they thought Harris did a “good job” of presiding, with Johnson praising the moderator for sticking with the question-and-answer format and Tellalian commending him for “keeping it under control.”
In turn, Harris praised the four speakers for being “well-versed on the subject and prepared” and for “offering a distinct point of view.”
Harris, Johnson and Tellalian agreed the audience was pretty well divided between those favoring gaming and those opposed. Some Forest Park bar owners also were present and, when speaking, identified themselves as such. Tellalian said their presence did not bother him, noting, “They certainly have a voice in this.”
The three also agreed the audience members were polite for the most part although Tellalian described a few as “excited” and Johnson termed a few “energetic.”
“It’s a topic people are passionate about and that showed,” Harris said. “There were a few outbursts but they were not rude. They were people who have strong feelings and needed to express a point.
“We had a few people who shouted statements out. We’re all neighbors so that’s OK. As long as it wasn’t attacking someone, we let people say their piece.”
All three said they received feedback from attendees who found the forum beneficial.
“I did have people come up to me and say they did learn something or they did have a different view on the subject after the meeting, so that is a positive,” Harris said.
Johnson and Tellalian said they would participate in any similar forums in the future.
“I think it was a good opportunity to get discussion between both sides,” Tellalian said. “Both sides have valid arguments.”
“It was nice to get both sides together,” Johnson added.
Harris said the discussion would continue on Facebook and the Forest Park Town Hall site but left the door open for another forum.
“If there is a need for another forum that is a bit different, we would certainly entertain that idea,” he said.