The seating of a trustee

The seating of Galen Gockel as interim village board member last night was a dramatic event in its way. One trustee had no idea he would be sworn in right away and even checked with the clerk to see if she was ready to do so. She was, meaning she had the papers ready for him to swear to and sign, but she added that she was ready for anything, meaning apparently that she could save the papers for later, which no one in his right mind would deny her since she had nothing to say about it.

As soon as the uninformed trustee, Marsey, announced his being uninformed, two things happened rapidly: the president, Pope, who had called trustees up about his idea a few days earlier, said it was his fault, which seems accurate, since Marsey seems usually to know what’s going on; and another trustee, Milstein, shot back that he knew it, leaving it for us to maybe guess that it was not Pope’s fault at all. Who knows?

Milstein followed immediately with his announcement that since the president was acting firmly and with dispatch, they had no business questioning his decision (paraphrase here), to which the president responded saying he was grateful for Milstein’s support — reaching out to touch him fraternally in the next chair — but that Marsey was within his rights to question the decision. Marsey had done so without prejudice to Gockel, whom they all know from his past time on the board, but noted that the criteria for picking him applied to two other past board members, whom he named.

He also had questioned filling the slot at all, the one left vacant by resignation of trustee Baker, who pleaded need for time with family, having earlier complained in a newspaper about length and frequency of meetings. The new trustee, not a veteran of their previous discussions, would be “a drag on the dynamic” they had achieved by these discussions, said Marsey, specifically about the budget, which will be soon calling for their approval. (Gockel said later he’d been following them on TV in the budget discussion, for which he deserves a medal in addition to his newly allocated board seat.) Marsey also questioned the “manner” of filling the interim slot.

Trustee Brock said adding the seventh trustee — let the odd man, she said — in was a good thing, in case of a tie vote on the budget, which is to consider a bad if not worst-case scenario, when they could not agree. Trustee Johnson presented himself as a convert to President Pope’s proposal, having at first wanted a more “collaborative” process; it had taken him a few days.

This is when Marsey asked Clerk Sokol if she was ready, stating his preference for waiting two weeks. A time for public comment had looked preferable to Johnson too, he said. But he decided there was no need for it, because “we all know Galen,” which if they don’t now, they never will, he being probably the most prolific overall living vote-getter in Oak Park, with careers behind him on school, township, and village boards covering maybe 20 years. He was on the elementary school board in 1976, when our oldest was being prepared for kindergarten. I think I have that year right.

Marsey’s concerns carried no water, however. Milstein perhaps least of all would object, recalling as he said that he and Gockel had stood on the same side of a budget vote a few years back when both were on the board. This is when Milstein made his blanket avowal of support for Pope in the matter.

In a matter of minutes, the deed was done: Gockel was sworn in and pointed to his seat, with the understanding that he would not stand for election in April. He delivered a eulogy of sorts for the resigned Baker, sympathizing with him on the need to be with family. When Pope implied Gockel wouldn’t be saying much right away, Gockel told him not to be sure of that.

In any case, it was a coup for Pope, who apparently was clearer on the matter with Milstein than with Marsey when informing the trustees of the proposed Gockel seating, when lining up votes for him, that is. Pope has a tentative way about him that can be deceptive and could become a Frank Paris in the office, Frank being the longtime unthwartable River Forest board president. But that’s a big leap beyond last night’s scenario, dramatic or not. Who knows?

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