In questionnaires sent by the Review to candidates for mayor and commissioner, we asked a question — really, we thought, a throwaway question — about views on Home Rule.
Home Rule is a status within state government that is granted automatically to any town with a population greater than 25,000. Towns under that threshold can achieve Home Rule status only if its residents approve it by referendum vote.
In the legal lexicon, Home Rule allows a municipal government to exercise any power or function unless it is expressly prohibited by state government. In the more common view, Home Rule expands local government authority and specifically allows a town to increase taxes through various means.
Two decades ago, when Mayor Tony Calderone was new and at the height of his popularity, he put Home Rule on the ballot, presumably thinking he had a shot at passing it and making a perpetually cash-strapped Forest Park somewhat more financially stable. That referendum went down in absolute flames, garnering about 20 percent of the vote.
We keep asking the question because Home Rule has merit in addition to legitimate concerns. Typically the responses we receive from candidates are definitive “no way” and “I’m not going to be the one to touch the third rail.”
This year though, candidates expressed an openness to actively support a Home Rule vote or to at least consider such a vote. At the well-attended candidate forum we hosted last week with our partners at the Chamber, responses were a bit more cautious than in the questionnaires but still open-minded.
Where there was concern, it was rightly stated that voter wariness is tied to questions of trust in local officials. No one wants their taxes to rise sharply. On the other hand, Home Rule provides a lot of tools to find new revenue streams that are not property tax based.
We see this discussion as progress. It’s a sign that Forest Park is getting more thoughtful and secure in how it approaches governing. We don’t expect a referendum vote to happen tomorrow. We are far from certain it has a chance to pass. But we are encouraged that almost all candidates for mayor and commissioner are, at least, open to a pro-active discussion.
A boost for Remembrance Park
Congratulations, again, to the Park District of Forest Park for earning a notable grant from the state of Illinois to substantially fund the remaking of Remembrance Park on Randolph Street. This $424,000 OSLAD grant will pay half of the cost of the renovations that will bring a new playground and other amenities to this small park on the village’s north side.
It is another win for a park district that has been ambitious and innovative in growing and improving its facilities.
More progress ahead.