Every four years The Review makes the case that Forest Park’s legal form of government, the commission form, is archaic, was designed a hundred years ago for small farm communities and is a serious impediment to managing a modern urban suburb.
We’ve made the case for decades and, frankly, it has come to feel like the sort of advice an aging uncle gives to his nephew sort of by rote.
And then The Review began its process of questionnaires and interviews leading up to our endorsements next month. Of course, we asked the question. And most candidates took the safe position, whether responding to the local paper or to an aging uncle, and attempted to distract. Changing from a commission form to, say, a village manager form would, we were told, take a citizen referendum. We know that! And, candidates said, if that’s what the citizens want, and a grassroots swell erupted, then OK, we’ll change the form of government. That will, of course, never happen. Citizens don’t know or care about the form of government.
But four of the nine candidates for commissioner will get elected. And one of the two candidates for mayor will become mayor. And then, they’ll care. Because then, with a new mayor with less power and a batch of commissioners who are bound to be more alert and less self-serving than recent versions, the flaws of this daffy form of government will become much more apparent.
In our endorsement interviews last week we listened as incumbent Joe Byrnes both wisely described the commissioner form as “archaic” while saying he took his post as the commissioner for finance very seriously. He comes to village hall 3-4 times per week to talk with finance staff about the immediate financial situation of the village. How much cash is in the bank? What bills are coming due?
While this might be the responsible thing to do under this form of government, it is also nuts. Why does the village pay a full-time administrator? Why is there a finance director? Who do those people think they work for? What does Joe Byrnes, a terrific fellow and a former deputy police chief, know about when to pay the light bill?
Rory Hoskins, a former commissioner and now a candidate for mayor, gave us the old gobbledygook in his written answer about the form of government. Worse though, in his endorsement interview, when given the chance to at least say that as mayor he would make clear that the village administrator runs day-to-day operations, that the mayor and commissioners set policy, he just couldn’t do it.
Chris Harris, another former commissioner and current candidate for mayor, didn’t do much better describing his term overseeing public works.
For so many reasons, Forest Park needs to turn the page. In addition to focusing on inclusion and innovation, we must turn toward modernity.
This editorial has been updated to reflect that nine commissioner candidates are running for four open seats.