Three weeks is an eternity in the columnist business. While concentrating on my book, I have not ignored the ebb and flow of activity in Highland Park. The result? The Election 2012 sound bites version of Highlands and Ravines:
District 112 Teacher's Strike. We still don't know how it ended, but it sure ended fast. Did the TV cameras help or hurt? One day off and it will be made up at the end of the year anyway. From the discussions here on Patch as well as out in the community, it seemed like parents were highly engaged, supportive of the teachers, but perhaps less so of the union's influence from state and national organizations. The Board of Education started communicating to the community later than it should have. Voters and residents now have a much clearer picture of the challenges ahead in District 112, and hopefully the result is that smarter decisions about funding and programs will be made in the future.
As an aside, just after the strike, I had my first exposure to the pre-school programs in District 112. There were a lot of comments during the strike about how this kind of "overhead" could be the target of cuts. I would encourage anyone who has that opinion to spend some time learning about what the District really offers on Green Bay Road. It is exactly the right kind of investment in our community's future.
City 2013 budget and community meetings. The city has published a draft 2013 budget. It includes a proposed 1 percent increase in real estate tax, but a lot of needed improvements for that small increment. Two new enforcement patrol officers are part of the police budget, which might lead to improved driving conditions around town. On the other hand, the Mayor did campaign on an "it's your money" message, stating that there was plenty that could be streamlined about city operations. I'm still not seeing it -- the draft budget looks pretty much the same as Limardi-era operations, just with some shifting of priorities. Mayor Rotering has offered to discuss the budget with me in detail, and I'm still hopeful I can get to one of the budget hearings.
A meeting I did attend was the neighborhood meeting in Fort Sheridan. Mayor Rotering, City Manager David Knapp, Councilman Steve Mandel, Park District Executive Director Liza McElroy and Alyssa Knobel, the chair of the city's Business and Economic Development Commission, were all in attendance. While the down-in-the-weeds discussion of street resurfacing and stop signs was at times a reminder of why our public servants deserve respect for engaging on any issue, what I enjoyed the most about this meeting was the candor from city officials. They recognized places where the city could do better, or where the bureaucracy was stifling. Knapp, who I had not met before, was especially impressive in following up on all of the key issues raised, and eliciting responses from Police, Fire, and Streets departments in writing. Mayor Rotering gracefully accepted all viewpoints, but explained without political weasel words why she had particular positions and agenda items. It was 90 minutes well-spent. A nice touch was Rotering's request at the beginning that everyone introduce themselves. It made for a much more open dialogue.
Carly Rousso. While nobody should be surprised I share the hope and expectation of others that a plea agreement will be reached prior to the winter trial date. It is what the community needs to move forward.
Highwood Pumpkin Festival. This year, I finally understand why Highwood has run this event for four years. It isn't really about whether they win new world records, though there was at least one of those set. It is more an annual celebration, and like other such festivals, seems to be getting more successful as it matures. HGTV will be running a "Pumpkin Wars" documentary about this year's festival, highlighting the good-natured competition between Highwood and Keene, New Hampshire. It is a very fitting story for the spirit of Highwood.
One evil spirit was at the festival, though: it was a little disappointing to see Highland Park police aggressively issuing parking tickets in proximity to the Festival's big day on Saturday.
Election 2012: I thought about writing a column on endorsements, then realized that almost every one of them fit in the "D" column, which would surprise almost no one. I do want to give a special shout-out to Scott Drury and Steve Mandel, both of whom have been very accessible throughout their campaigns and have clearly demonstrated a commitment to our community. If early voting would make the robocalls stop, I would be in line tomorrow morning!