I believe that public participation is not only important but necessary for the development and growth of our local governing public bodies.
Public bodies should not only allow the public to participate but should also encourage it. In Forest Park, the village board has discouraged citizen participation through an especially onerous volunteer application form.
Like many other surrounding cities and villages, Forest Park has an application process for residents interested in serving on voluntary boards and commissions, which guide the village on matters such as the library, recreation, and diversity. Unlike other surrounding cities and villages, Forest Park’s application is invasive and excessive.
At first glance, the difference is striking: While other villages’ forms are about a page long, Forest Park’s volunteer application is four pages. Unlike the other villages and cities I surveyed for comparison, Forest Park asks for sensitive information about applicants, like Social Security numbers, and driver’s license numbers. Forest Park also requires applicants to answer 10 “conflict of interest” questions. These include asking about arrests and convictions; past and pending lawsuits in which the applicant was named a party; and outstanding government-backed loans. The final question asks if the applicant has ever done anything that could embarrass the mayor.
Reasonable people, including residents of Forest Park, find this application intimidating. For example, anyone who has been divorced, been wrongfully arrested, or has pending student loans could believe that this information would disqualify their appointment. I’ve spoken to a couple of Forest Park residents who expressed these and other concerns. One Forest Park resident told me that although she wants to volunteer on a village board and participate in her local government, she has yet to fill out the application because of its length.
However, the most troubling portion of the application is Forest Park’s request to access the applicant’s credit report, especially when the appointments are to voluntary, advisory bodies that have no fiduciary duties.
If Forest Park values citizen participation, and the promotion of all citizens being engaged, it should adopt a volunteer application form that is less intimidating to its residents. The application should encourage citizens of all backgrounds to participate. If other villages and cities use a simpler, less invasive form, then so can Forest Park.