Ryan Russ, superintendent of parks for the Park District of Forest Park, was appointed to the village's plan commission along with Paul Price and Scott Whitebone on Feb. 22. | File photo

The Forest Park Plan Commission has three new volunteers, following an unusually heated discussion and vote at the Feb. 22 village council meeting. Ryan Russ, Scott Whitebone and Paul Price will join Marsha East and Diane Brown on the now-filled board.

The commission, when filled, is a five-member group, appointed by the mayor and approved by village council vote, which reviews proposed development in Forest Park and makes recommendations to the council to approve or deny the projects. In the recent meeting regarding Farmington Foods, for example, the commission voted to approve the company’s expansion with some conditions.

According to Hoskins, the terms of three members, Paul Barbahen (chair), Liz O’Connell and Kevin Harnett have expired. A few months ago, he said, he sent letters telling them their terms were over, and if they wished to seek another term, they should contact his secretary to set up an appointment. In the absence of a request to continue sitting on the board, Hoskins appointed three new members, subject to village council approval.

The village commissioners, however, were unhappy that all three candidates were being voted on as one agenda item and at least one commissioner expressed concern that they received the resumes for the potential new members on Friday, with only the weekend to review them. Concerns were also raised about a major project, the 57-unit Harrison Street apartment building, coming up before the plan commission on March 1, and whether three brand new members should be tackling a development of that size.

In fact, when the motion to bring the agenda item up was made, it took several long moments for anyone to second it and seemed, for a bit, as though it wouldn’t even come up for discussion. Finally, Commissioner Dan Novak seconded.

Novak said he’s asked several times in the past for a list of open spots on village commissions and committees because he wanted to find a way to engage the community and seek volunteers.

“I want to commend these three individuals for volunteering their time and dedication to Forest Park,” Novak said. But he asked, “How can we help engage our Forest Park residents in public service and fill the roles?”

Hoskins didn’t directly answer Novak’s question about community engagement but said these three appointments were not last-minute decisions on his part. All three of them, he said, had expressed interest in sitting on a committee or commission for some time, and with expired seats on the plan commission and with the candidates’ relevant experience, Hoskins thought now was the time.

Ryan Russ, said Hoskins, “had expressed interest in serving on the commission for a while.” Russ is superintendent of parks for the Park District of Forest Park.

Whitebone is an architect who was brought into conversations with the village early in the pandemic when, said Hoskins, village officials were having discussions about “engaging in a very robust outdoor dining program on Madison Street.” Back then, Hoskins said, he talked to Whitebone about taking a seat on the plan commission.

Price is a Forest Park resident who, Hoskins said, has a background of at least 15 years in construction. He is also a union organizer. When workers picketed with a giant inflatable rat outside the Michigan Avenue Real Estate Group construction project on the site of the former Molly Malone’s in 2019, Price was there, urging the village to pass a responsible bidder ordinance.

Commissioner Ryan Nero strongly objected to the fact that all three potential members were being voted on as one agenda item rather than three separate items. Since they’re such important appointments, he would have liked the opportunity for discussion about each one individually.

Nero also felt that a discussion prior to the meeting about the qualifications of each candidate would have been helpful.

“I’m sure the resumes, as I looked at them, are colorful and can provide value,” Nero said, “but at the same time, you know, when you’re building a team, or you’re making an appointment, Mayor, I think just a simple discussion as to the why and the how … engaging your commissioners, outside of the live meeting, would we welcome.”

That’s especially true, he added, since there are going to be some significant developments coming up.

Nero added that being given the resumes on a Friday and needing to make a decision on Monday didn’t give enough time or thought to the assignments.

“It’s not fair,” Nero said. “It’s not fair to the other elected officials. And I don’t feel it’s fair to myself or the individuals, quite frankly, who have been appointed.”

Commissioner Joe Byrnes’ concern was with the fact that the plan commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the Harrison Street 57-unit apartment building, a major development, next week. Holding off on appointing new people right now and letting the seasoned plan commission members handle this next big project should be considered, Byrnes argued. Would the new plan commissioners, he asked, be able to get up to speed on the project?

Hoskins said he wasn’t worried about that because “maybe I’ve spoken with them a little bit about this project.”

Nero laughed in response and Byrnes said, “So it’s a done deal then, right?”

Voogd, like Nero, voiced her concern about the three being under one agenda item and the fact that she wasn’t sure she knew enough about one of the candidates to vote on his appointment.

Nick Peppers, legal counsel, suggested two options: to either table the vote until a further date or split the agenda item up into three separate votes, one for each applicant.

Nero made a motion to table the vote, which did not pass; Byrnes and Nero were the only two who voted in favor of doing so.

As a result, the vote on appointing all three to the plan commission was held. It passed three to two, with Byrnes and Nero casting the dissenting votes.