Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A word to the wise in village government: Stay out of politics

Today’s Wednesday Journal column

What the heck was Oak Park village board President David Pope doing boosting a Democratic candidate by telephone, as reported in this newspaper? What the heck was he doing at the Dem candidates’ beauty contest at the library Feb. 11, where he was sighted from the podium and given a big hand? Doesn’t he know about the rise of the VMA (Village Manager Association) in the ‘50s as antidote to political-party shenanigans (hiring), in that case Republican?

The VMA floated and won adoption of village-manager government, taking government employment out of the hands of elected officials. These latter turn politicians when running for election. Otherwise, they are citizens with better things to do who decide to do this anyway, namely set policy for the village with nothing in it for themselves. Elected, they hire one person, the manager, who hires everyone else. Political-party candidates, on the other hand, get to hire lots of people if they win. It’s the nature of the beast.

A friend of mine some years back moved here from Northlake, where he’d been mayor. Came election time, he rang doorbells for Democrats, his chosen party. Chatting with the Oak Park Dem chairman at a post-election party, he was asked where he worked and named the major ad agency where he was office manager. End of conversation. The Dem chairman expected to hear a government agency, not an ad agency, as the man’s place of employment. Implication clear to my friend? As a campaign worker not dependent on victory for his job or promotion therein, he didn’t matter. Or he could show up on amateur night.

No skullduggery is suspected of Pope here. Rather, naivete. Oak Park is full of true-believing Democrats and (less full of) Republicans, who give their all as volunteers. That’s the kind of Democrat Pope is, I trust, but what of the appearance? Yes, his candidate, the presumed reformer Forrest Claypool, seemed untainted. But behind every reformer who wins is an army of people who depend on him for their jobs. Not in Oak Park. Here it’s the manager who hires and fires. Trustees should butt out of such matters, and that includes the feisty, provocative, uncivil Robert Milstein, recent subject of a barrage of commentary about him and unionized village hall employees and his offensive references to the manager and others.

As for Milstein and the unions, his critics hasten to say he has the right to join their protest, meaning legal right, I assume. What other kind I cannot imagine. Put it this way: If after joining the protest, he wants membership in the League of Wise Men in Village Government, he has no right to claim it. To call him imprudent and wrong-headed for doing it is to say nothing about his right to do it, which is a very red herring. Same for Pope and his phone calls for Claypool: He had the right to do it, but that’s beside the point. Not every right is to be claimed all the time. I mean, when husband or wife doesn’t feel like it now and then, it’s unwise, even unfair, to insist. Right?

MEANWHILE, IN CHURCH ... Did you hear about the worshiper who came late to Mass and got trampled at Kiss of Peace time? He was tackled by the deacon in full regalia and woke up some minutes later being sprinkled with holy water hoarded in anticipation of the upcoming Easter Vigil. He has learned since then to get with the program or else. A word to the wise is sufficient, he’s been told.

As for trampling and being trampled, astute observer Bob O. notes the differences of opinion about kissing (or shaking) for peace among Catholics and suggests a solution: Have the ushers greet people and ask, "Kissing or Non-kissing?" They could then direct people to one side or other of the aisle. Good idea!

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