Opinion

Page 2: Democracy works when people work it

Homewood leaders at the Aug. 22 board meeting, from left, trustees Vivian Harris-Jones and Jay Heiferman, Village Attorney Chris Cummings, Mayor Rich Hofeld, Village Manager Napoleon Haney, and trustees Anne Colton, Julie Willis and Lisa Purcell. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Sept. 15 is Democracy Day, and I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate it by highlighting several recent moments when local democracy worked rather well.

By democracy, I don’t mean governance solely by elected leaders. When we vote, we delegate authority to our representatives, but that doesn’t relieve us of responsibility. Democracy works best when it means governance by elected leaders in collaboration with the people.

For example, the Homewood Board of Trustees recently deferred a vote on a measure that would have invested federal funding in the expansion of the downtown sound system, which plays music during the day. At the meeting, several downtown residents said they not only opposed the expansion but were annoyed by the existing system.

Trustee Lauren Roman’s comment before voting to table the measure illustrates why speaking up is so important. She said she had talked to a number of residents about the speaker system and had gotten all positive feedback.

“Overall, everyone seemed to love it,” she said. “I started thinking, I didn’t ask anyone that lives downtown.”

The vote doesn’t necessarily mean the sound system expansion won’t happen, but it means elected leaders are listening to people who are affected by their decisions. It means village leaders are going to slow down and consider carefully whether the featured intended to enhance the experience of visitors to the downtown area can be reshaped to fit the lives of the people who live there.

The result was a great example of leaders and residents collaborating on an issue. Had people not spoken up, trustees might have made a decision with the information they had, unaware there was any reason for concern or reconsideration.

At the board’s Aug. 22 meeting, trustees again deferred a vote after hearing from a prospective business owner and several neighboring business owners who object to his proposal to operate a crematorium in the business park on Bretz Drive.

The village Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend the special use permit for the crematorium, but the vote was 4 to 2, and Trustee Anne Colton said the split vote, along with the concerns of nearby business owners, made her want to learn more about the issue before voting. She suggested the board wait until the official minutes of the Planning and Zoning Commission are available so the board can learn more before voting.

Another recent example was the response of Homewood-Flossmoor High School leaders to a petition from students to return graduation ceremonies to Sunday. The board had approved a calender that moved the ceremony to Thursday evening. There were good reasons for making the switch, but the students collectively said they valued the tradition over the practical considerations behind the change.
School leaders listened. They respected the students’ views and responded accordingly.

In Flossmoor, a new stop sign has been added to an intersection near Heather Hill School that is very busy during school drop-off and pick-up times. School crossing guard Sandy Byron approached village officials to ask for the stop sign to help keep kids safe.

Village officials did a traffic study, determined Byron had a good case, and got the sign installed.
The Chronicle participated in the Democracy Day 2022 sponsored by the Collaborative Journalism program at Montclair State University. Doing so convinced me that local newspapers should not assume that we do enough to support democracy merely by going to local government meetings and reporting what we learn. We can and should be more intentional about advocating for democracy in our community.

When we see democracy in action, we need to recognize the good work of elected leaders, staff and residents.

Un-deranged drivers exist
It’s a sort of hobby in Homewood. We criticize the motorists who speed through town, who weave through traffic, who pass on the left or right without regard to lane markers, safety or common sense. We cry out in frustration as drivers seem intent on imitating movie chase scenes through (formerly) quiet residential neighborhoods.

I’ve indulged in this pasttime myself, and so it’s with some astonishment that I have to report that there are, in our midst, members of a rare and unnoticed class of driver: the un-deranged.

I first spotted a specimen when my son, Quinn, and I were out for a bike ride a few weeks ago in Homewood. We were heading down a somewhat narrow residential street when a car approached from the opposite direction. We were at a place where a couple of cars were parked on one side of the street, so it would have been a bit tight for bikes and car to pass each other.

I was preparing to stop, assuming the car would continue on its merry way, unconcerned about the possibility of leaving a couple of crumpled bikes and bruised riders in its wake, when something odd happened. The driver stopped so we could get through the tight spot unscathed. It was so weird that I remarked to Quinn, “Did you see that crazy driver? He stopped for us. Actually stopped.”

Quinn agreed that was mighty strange.

I thought it might have been a fluke. Maybe the driver’s foot slipped off the accelerator momentarily. But then it happened again.

On my way to check the mail at the Flossmoor post office, two different drivers in two different locations downtown stopped and let me pass on my bike. They didn’t have to. They had the right of way. They just did it.

I began to doubt my theory. What are the chances that three separate drivers on three separate occasions would have their foot slip off the accelerator at just the moment I was approaching?

Then it happened again in Homewood just the other day, and it finally dawned on me: These were courteous drivers. I had thought they were extinct, but I am happy to report that I was mistaken.

I would like to thank those considerate, safe, friendly drivers out there. You make this tumultuous world a better place. I only hope your spirit is infectious, because it would be nice if it would spread.

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