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When I had breakfast with Mark Hosty about a year and a half ago, the most perplexing moment came after I told him, “I like the Forest Park Middle School.” It wasn’t that he didn’t hear me; he didn’t listen, so I had to say it a second time: “I like the Forest Park Middle School.” Yeah, I realize it isn’t paradise, but it is a perfect match for my family.

So I was excited last night to be back on the Panther side at the Forest Park Middle School sixth-grade orientation on Monday. My son has progressed from the Betsy “Super Star” and the Field “Shark Bite” rewards from the Positive Behavior Intervention System, known as PBIS, and now will be earning “Panther Paws.” 

Forest Park schools put a strong emphasis on being respectful, responsible and safe. This reward system encourages children to act or use words that promote a healthy school environment. They even teach lessons to encourage kids to practice it outside of school and on social media. A decade ago, this PBIS mission spread to the police, fire, park district and library staff to build up our kids and community through positive rewards because raising respectful, responsible children was agreed upon as a community principle. 

Now I know there are very few adults in town who grew up with PBIS, but if Forest Park were a utopian version of itself, our townies could pass out PBIS cards to reward one another who demonstrate PBIS standards. Our town logo, a bench, would be the image and these “benchmarks” could be collected and turned in for rewards — like parking forgiveness passes.

If a community member makes a bad choice or shows unsafe communication, just as our local children do, they could “think about it” and write out why their behavior or actions were hurtful to the community. These letters could be shared privately or published in your newspaper, on your Facebook page or perhaps even in the village newsletter. 

A brave initiative for a small community because no one is perfect, but one thing Forest Park is good at, is forgiving, accepting, and moving forward. 

We’ve all seen the campaign messages, letters and arguments for candidates asking for the privilege of representing us, based on their longevity in town or community service. We’ve seen the emboldened campaigns with misinformation, misleading images and erroneous comments too. 

As a town, we have collectively forgiven (but not forgotten) the activity from “Citizens United for Forest Park” and the “Forest Park History Club.” We remember the mailer with a candidate represented by a crying baby; the old handcuff flier; that one about annexing to Maywood; and let’s not forget the scared children on the front porch. Who could forget that one with the park district candidate with the Proviso school campaign logo; and the flier with an angry Bruce Rauner masterminding an attack on our schools? Most of us remember having a chat with neighbors in vests and the out-of-towners, both peddling petitions at the polling places.

While not every “leader” in town uses a strategy of sharing misleading messages, erroneous information or attacks, some Forest Parkers are committed to this style of communication because even intimidation can be used to build community. 

While one of the most unique community experiences in Forest Park is the culture of malicious campaign literature, the Forest Park Review has never tried to aggregate these fliers, letters and campaign literature in a central location. So in this next cycle, when a leafletted treasure arrives at your door, please take second to share it with the Review, good or bad, sincere or deceitful. We will do our best to fact-check letters and fliers and reach out to candidates to comment. This will be available for all citizens to read or not read, and decide if they want to exonerate, excuse, or hold people accountable for their actions. 

It’s OK with me if you are a Forest Parker who prefers people with little integrity or find it comforting when there are confusing messages around, or if you like it when people spread filth to gain or retain power or if you are a single-issue voter. 

For the rest of us who appreciate the work of our elected officials and value what they share during an election, the Forest Park Review can help. We can fact-check the fliers, ask candidates if they would like to make a statement, and even let you come up with your own conclusion. It is possible that the best some leaders can do is abstain, which might be a quality you admire in leadership. 

If you are interested, you can visit our website and have a central location to read these materials, “think about it,” and decide what the benchmarks are to measure if you want to live in a safe, responsible, respectful neighborhood in the future.

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