Maria Maxham, a Forest Park village commissioner now running for election in the April cycle, has six priorities she plans to campaign on.
We’ll get back to you about the other five because we are fully obsessed with her plan to actively work to replace Forest Park’s “commission form” of government.
Full disclosure: We’ve been advocating for replacing this version of local governance since we first learned of it 40 years ago. And Maxham, a former editor of the Review, likely heard one or two harangues around our conference table in which we specified its many deficiencies.
You have to be a bit of a local government geek to understand why this is important.
Here’s our case: Forest Park is a reasonably complex, urban suburb with an array of challenges and ambitions. It needs a modern form of governance that attracts and keeps top notch talent among its manager and department heads and has a clear organizational chart that allows professional decision-making. That form of government, likely a village or city manager form, allows elected leaders to provide broad direction and guidance to its paid staff.
The commission form actively does the opposite. An elected mayor and four commissioners are put in direct charge of specific government departments. That’s right. Specific commissioners run village finance or public works, or public safety. Professional department heads work not for an administrator but for a commissioner, often with no expertise in the field.
This might have worked a century ago in some farm town with 1,000 people and one traffic light. But it has long been obsolete and preposterous as a way to govern a community such as Forest Park. According to a 2011 survey by the International City/County Management Association, less than 1% of communities still have the commission form.
In an interview this week with the Review, Maxham, the commissioner of Public Health & Safety, says it’s nuts to think she would tell Steve Glinke, the veteran department head, how to run the day-to-day operations of the department.
She’s right. She’s also right to acknowledge that there are still commissioners way too involved in day-to-day operations of “their” departments.
In the decades since Forest Park finally acknowledged it needed some level of professional leadership and created a post for an administrator, it has with one exception cycled people through that post with rapidity. Talented people got fed up with the nonsense and left to build their careers elsewhere. The exception was Tim Gillian, a Forest Park lifer, former commissioner himself, best friend of the mayor, who knew how to make the creaky machine work.
There aren’t any more Gillians in the pipeline and there shouldn’t be.
We applaud Maxham for making this a pillar of her campaign, for understanding it will take time to explain the issue to residents and to get this on the ballot by April 2027.
After this long, we can wait a bit longer.