Commissioner Michelle Melin-Rogovin’s first community meeting was sparsely attended, but the discussion was lively and touched on many local and regional issues.
The commissioner, whose areas of responsibility include sewers and waste removal, made good on a campaign promise to hold meetings like the one held on Wednesday at the Forest Park Public Library.
With four people attending and two people briefly stopping by, Melin-Rogovin opted for a conversational format as opposed to a presentation. Village traffic issues, flood mitigation and waste removal programs were major concerns, but so was the broader issue of what Forest Park could do to support asylum-seekers from Central and South American countries that are being bused to Chicago’s 15th Police District station.
Samantha Abernethy said she has been part of the ad hoc volunteer efforts to support asylum-seekers. She asked whether any support might be coming on the village level. After Melin-Rogovin said that nothing was planned, Abernethy brought up the fact that Joliet Township withdrew its request for state funding for migrant housing last week in the face of public backlash.
“So, my first thought [was] — is that money up for grabs?” she asked.
Melin-Rogovin said that she hadn’t heard about the incident, but she would look into whether there is any grant funding the village can apply for.
Abernethy also said she wanted the village to do more to house people without permanent housing, not just migrants.
“The other thing is winter is coming, and there are going to be more people living on Blue Line, and if we’re not doing anything for the migrants, the town should be prepared to do more on the houselessness front this winter,” she said.
Forest Park historically referred homeless individuals to Maywood-based Housing Forward. Melin-Rogovin pointed to news that the organization is working with Cook County to acquire Oak Park’s Write Inn to provide interim housing.
“I’m not sure how they see themselves getting involved, if they see helping people from the Blue Line or helping people at police stations,” she said.
Resident Catherine Hagerty said she was worried that housing migrants would cause community backlash.
“I’d like to think that people who are welcoming would outweigh [those who aren’t], countered resident Roopleen Rai.
The meeting also touched on recycling and composting, and it quickly became clear that some participants weren’t aware that Forest Park offers a composting program. Rai’s husband Burhan Syed, who sits on the village’s traffic and safety commission, said that when he called the village to try to find out about composting options, he was directed to the leaf pick-up program. The village does have an organic waste collection program that residents must opt into and pay an additional $113.63 fee for it. The program runs between April and October.
Syed also said that one thing she would like to see changed is to let residents choose how big their village-issued recycling bins are.
“The recycling bins here, I’m paying for a giant bin … I don’t take it out for a month, because I feel bad for a guy who has to haul it into a truck,” he said
Melin-Rogovin said that she is putting together a “wish list” for a new waste haul contract the village could negotiate before the current one expires in 2025.
Flooding was another major concern, with Abernathy mentioning that Veterans Park, one the two pocket parks the village hasn’t leased to the Park District of Forest Park, because “unusable” during the past summer. Melin-Rogovin said that she and Voogd are working with village staff to identify flood-prone areas to make sure they get priority with flood mitigation projects.
“Let’s say – this is where we had a huge issue and start there,” she said. “Let’s not just go street by street.”
Melin-Rogovin later told the Review that she thought that the meeting was productive, although it was sparsely attended.
“There are all sorts of things people asked tonight that I wouldn’t have anticipated, or expected,” she said. “I think it’s important [for me] to make time.”
She added that she intends to hold such meetings two to three times a year, with the next meeting planned for some time next spring. By that point, Melin-Rogovin said, the word will spread, and more people will attend.
Melin-Rogovin was elected village commissioner in April. While she was campaigning, she said she would hold community listening sessions, where she would go to a Madison Street business and residents would be able to share their comments and concerns with her.
“I think that a commissioner needs to be accessible and open and be more of a listener, and not someone who represents their own point of view but represents the point of view of people that they talk to,” Melin-Rogovin said at the time.