When Charles Amrich took over as Island Lake's mayor last month, we were optimistic positive changes were coming to the town that has wrestled with years of political strife.
Amrich and his slate campaigned in the spring election on a platform of openness and listening.
We hoped he would also use his 20 years of previous experience leading the village to build bridges and dial down the rancorous political tone that permeated much of Debbie Herrmann's tenure. However, not much of that has happened in the early weeks of the Amrich reign, and the result is a stain not just on the already bruised reputation of Island Lake politics, but also on the image of local politics everywhere.
The power politics in Island Lake -- enemies being punished, supporters being rewarded and no effort being made to reach out to opponents on the board -- is notable for, if nothing else, simply being so overt. But this kind of to-the-victors-go-the-spoils mentality can have a collateral effect on how people think of their local officials no matter where they live. It gets in the way of the good decision making needed to best serve taxpayers but also squanders an opportunity for local leaders to show that things can be done differently, that petty politics don't have to be the rule.
True, a mayor has some prerogative on how he or she wants to fill certain positions. In the case of Island Lake, the changes aren't a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention.
Amrich said early on he would replace the village's law firm and police chief, and both resigned. Information technology vendor Daniel Field and former Trustee Louis Sharp, whose Sharp Towing handled tow calls for the police department, are also gone. Field and Sharp led the petition challenge to remove Amrich from the ballot.
Amrich's response could have been so much more productive. A request for competitive proposals wasn't required to change the law firm and the towing firm, for example, but doing so would have underscored principles of good government. It didn't happen.
He could have said he wouldn't fill the jobs with anyone who contributed to his campaign, or returned the campaign funds, to separate politics from the business of running the village. He did neither, and both jobs went to donors.
And when Amrich formed a new village board committee to oversee information technology, he initially wanted it made up of two of his slatemates, Mark Beeson and Keith Johns, and Trustee Chuck Cermak. When Cermak said he wasn't tech-savvy and suggested trustees Shannon Fox or Thea Morris would be better, Amrich picked his third running mate, Tony Sciarrone. What could have been an opportunity to build a bridge with sitting board members instead reinforced the us-versus-them politics of the past.
To move communities forward and solve problems, leaders must put local needs ahead of partisan politics. Island Lake is letting down more than just its own residents by failing to use this chance to show how that's done.