Mayor to Board: Represent Park Forest’s Budget, Staff, Truthfully

By Gary Kopycinski

Stephen Colbert called it truthiness, “the quality of seeming to be true according to one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic, factual evidence, or the like.”

Let’s talk about what that means in Park Forest.

Last night, the mayor and trustees of the Park Forest Village Board concluded discussions on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2015-2016. The draft budget was prepared by staff and presented to board members over a series of meetings, each gathering highlighting select departments. These sessions can go long if there are many questions on particular issues, or if there are philosophical discussions between board members and members of staff.

In my experience, philosophical discussions were usually launched by Mayor Ostenburg, who has one of the greatest theoretical minds for government I’ve ever encountered. He has a capacity to explore issues from many perspectives at once, often peppering his comments with very specific examples of his vast experiences and studies in government and other topics.

Managed to start several of these myself through the years when I served, holding my own, working to move Park Forest forward, working to define policies for the future.

The board heard from Police (@ParkForestPD on Twitter), the Health Department (@NursesPlus), and administration (@ParkForestIL).

Decided to cover this meeting with simultaneous tweets to @eNewsParkForest and posts to eNews Park Forest on Facebook.

Follow all of them. Please.

eNews Park Forest (that’s me) attended last night’s meeting. After serving on the board for over a decade, I decided to rest a bit before returning to the board room as a reporter.

I’m glad I did.

Missed the discussions. Missed the ability to pause, ask questions, stir the pot, challenge the board and staff. But enjoyed watching from the “outside,” as a member of the public and press, free to publish at-will.

There were several items I found noteworthy at the meeting and blogged about them on Twitter and Facebook (all 140 characters or less to satisfy our short Internet attention spans). One item, however, struck a real chord, and it happened to be the last.

After all the discussion, which for the board amounted to hours and hours of review, some tedious, I’m sure, all very scrupulous, careful, the draft budget now in the hands of the Village Board, Mayor John Ostenburg had one caveat for board members.

The mayor began by referencing the hours they had spent reviewing the budget and the virtually countless hours staff had spent during the previous year preparing each page of the draft (The budget process truly takes a year in Park Forest. The budget passed, award-winning for its clarity, transparency, and other factors for a number of years, is truly a living document, adhered to by all departments.)

The mayor also referenced the recent campaign season which culminated in a resounding victory for Mayor Ostenburg over challenger, Trustee JeRome Brown. In particular, the mayor made reference to the many “misrepresentations” that had surfaced during the campaign, no doubt referring in no small part, for example, to alleged allegations by a campaign that the cost of $1M per mile to replace roadways and $1M to replace water mains was inflated, the suggestion being that board members and/or staff members were making money personally on contracts.

And I would suspect the mayor had one board member in mind in particular when mentioning these “misrepresentations.”

I can tell you from experience that staff labors over each and every page of the budget, that department members are meticulous in managing money, that strong protocols have been put in place and continue to be put in place to make certain that no one takes money from the Village of Park Forest illegally.

And when that happened in the past, some years back (we still had the Scenic 10), the person suspected of taking money was immediately arrested and vigorously prosecuted. And funds were recovered.

It also seems apparent to me that, after listening to comments during the campaign, on the night the new board was sworn in, and hearing comments from some members of the public, these “misrepresentations” were floated by one candidate in particular, perhaps more, but it was entirely appropriate for the mayor to make his comments last night in front of the sitting board members.

The mayor’s plea was clear. To paraphrase, he said to sitting board members, you sat here for hours of meetings. Staff worked very hard to prepare this document. Represent to the public truthfully what you heard here and what we do in the future.

I would add, to do any less would be, at the very least, disingenuous.

Not even rising to the level of truthiness.

A lie.

N.B. This commentary was updated to add a definition of “truthiness” and video from The Colbert Report.

Gary Kopycinski is editor and publisher of eNews Park Forest. Follow him on Twitter at @GaryKopycinski and on Facebook at, or email him at [email protected]. He served as a village trustee in Park Forest from 2003-2006, and then again from 2007-2015. eNews Park Forest, Inc. is an independent media company and is not affiliated with the Village of Park Forest in any way.