Saturday, August 24, 2019 || By Michael Romain | EDITORIAL || @maywoodnews
The Aug. 20 Maywood Board of Trustees meeting was more sobering than usual — somber even. To say that the village government majors in the minors would be an insult to minor leagues everywhere.
Consider what happened.
The board spent the first hour of the nearly five-hour meeting talking about board stipends spent on things like porta potties and candy, and debating the merits of a $1,000 donation to a local nonprofit’s gala. Somewhere in the middle of all that, a few board members rightly reminded their colleagues that they aren’t complying with the board’s policy governing how stipends are spent and that they should start doing so. The village attorney concurred.
For much of the next hour, the board waited for staffers to get the board room’s PowerPoint projector to work — to no avail — before entertaining a proposal from a developer looking to purchase vacant, village-owned property and a tax break to build luxury condos and retail along Madison Street. The pitch was never vetted by the village’s team of professional staffers who get paid to vet economic development proposals before they appear before the board.
Most of the third hour was devoted to an unnecessary bout of rhetorical tug of war between board members about how the village should prepare for the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census.
The village can setup its own count committee; fund its own census-related activities to ensure that hard-to-count residents are counted; update its census-related ordinances; apply for any and all local, state and federal grants that may be available to fund census-related activities; and work in tandem with Proviso Township’s much larger, more collaborative census-related effort — all at the same time. That’s the right approach and the motion on the table could have been modified to be consistent with that approach.
Instead, a dialogue about the U.S. Census devolved into a bitter back-and-forth between village officials. As a result, the motion was never brought to a vote, so Maywood still has not updated its Census Complete Count Committee Ordinance and the committee has neither members nor a budget. The matter was pushed aside, perhaps to be handled (or bungled) at another five-hour meeting.
Another good chunk of the Aug. 20 meeting was devoted to the board listening to another development proposal — this time from a firm looking to get a county tax break in order to turn the old Aldi grocery store into a blood plasma donation center. Some board members were surprised that a private company purchased real estate from another private company in order to lease to a company looking to do business that the village’s zoning code allows — all without going before the board. Who knew doing real estate development was such a conspiracy. After registering its shock and awe, the board voted against directing staffers to draft a resolution in support of the tax break, which the county requires — an action that might spell doom for the proposed development.
There are many valid reasons for why village officials would not want a blood plasma donation center in town or why they at least wouldn’t want it across the street from Proviso East High School. The board acted in accordance with the desires of the many residents who aired their opinions against a plasma donation center online and at last week’s meeting. That’s a show of responsiveness to residents’ concerns that’s laudable.
But the village has to be much more deliberate and strategic about envisioning the kind of community that Maywood has the potential to be; and they have to be more deliberate and strategic in their efforts to realize that potential.
The next time you see your trustee and/or mayor, ask them the following questions:
What is Maywood’s comprehensive strategy for economic development (which is different from a pro forma comprehensive plan that the village updates every decade or so)? How does that strategy take into account how the village is zoned? When was the last time the village evaluated its zoning code to ensure that it can attract, not deter, the kind of development that residents want and need?
What is Maywood’s bond rating? What is the board’s comprehensive strategy for improving it?
How much money does the village owe creditors for unpaid bills? What is the board’s comprehensive strategy for paying down that backlog?
What comprehensive goals do they want village staffers to accomplish for this current fiscal year and the next and the ones five and 10 years from now? If they have any goals, where can the public see them? And do board members hold themselves and staffers accountable for meeting those goals? If so, how would the public know?
Can you think of any others? Sure you can.
There are so many questions and issues that this current board does not begin to address with sufficient comprehensiveness, deliberateness and seriousness and yet board members have ample time for wrangling over stipends used to pay for candy and ice cream.
Here’s one recommendation. Eliminate board member stipends altogether ($6,000 a year for trustees and $14,000 a year for the mayor). Either put that $50,000 to better use by, say, paying some bills or hiring desperately needed additional IT personnel to do things like attend to the board’s chronically broken PowerPoint projector or pool all of the $50,000 into a single pot and require residents who want funds from the village for things like block parties and back-to-school events to put requests in writing by a certain deadline. Empower the Special Events Commission, which is currently dormant, to review and vet those requests based on crystal clear, nonpartisan guidelines — just as the village’s liquor commission reviews and vets things like requests for Class M liquor licenses — before the board votes to deny or approve them.
Such a measure may free the board to discuss things of much higher and more systemic importance — like ways of being proactive and aggressive about attracting the kind of development residents desperately want and need; instead of reacting at the last minute to development that is less than ideal.
Trustee Kimyada Wellington hit the nail on the head during her comments on Aug. 20. Maywood needs to stop acting like a poorly organized “mom and pop shop” and act like the public corporation that it is. VFP
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