One of the surest signs of spring for 85 years in the suburbs has been Lilac Time, Lombard's annual festival celebrating the beauty of the lilacs that blanket Lilacia Park.
But this year, the festival was soured by controversy -- one that could have been avoided with some forethought.
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As bucolic as Lilacia Park is in the springtime, don't confuse Lombard with Mayberry, where the biggest disagreements seemed to center on who puts up the best pickles for the county fair.
Politics this year put one of the highlights of Lilac Time -- the coronation of the Lilac Queen and her court -- in the cross hairs.
Two days before the queen and court were to be announced, a pair of trustees questioned why one of the five princesses -- the daughter of a village trustee -- would get a $1,000 scholarship. The scholarships, given annually to the princesses, have been funded by the village's hotel/motel tax for 14 years.
The Lombard Junior Women's Club sponsors the Princess competition. Penny Chanez, the president of the club, told Daily Herald staff writer Jessica Cilella that 20 to 30 young women who range in age from 16 to 21 apply each year to compete. They are judged based on their poise and grace and answers to interview questions posed by people who live outside of the community. The contestants' last names are not disclosed to the judges.
Trustees Peter Breen and Laura Fitzpatrick said they felt it would be a conflict of interest if 17-year-old Morgan Fugiel, daughter of Trustee Mike Fugiel, were to receive a scholarship. Breen cited the need for governmental transparency.
Fitzpatrick noted that the village board decided less than two years ago that the village would not buy food from Village President Keith Giagnorio's pizzeria. "I feel it is morally wrong to accept personal gain from the village," she said before the board voted 4-2 to award the scholarship to Morgan.
Giagnorio, who says he is angry over this episode, pledges to have the board take a look at its policies.
"I can't help but think what Morgan Fugiel is thinking, what she's gone through," the mayor said. "I have a daughter. I can only imagine. I am embarrassed for that."
That's understandable. It needn't have come to this, but Breen and Fitzpatrick do have a point.
In the same way that good fences make good neighbors, well thought-out policies take some of the politics out of government. In the absence of policy, this sort of thing occurs. In this case, the village board did the only honorable thing in refusing to withhold Morgan's scholarship. She should not be made a political scapegoat.
But the village board -- and boards long before this one -- needs to have a set of rules in place to deal with potential conflicts of interest such as this. Giagnorio obviously recognizes this, noting both the problem in appearance -- justified or not -- when giving a $1,000 scholarship award to the daughter of a village trustee and the need to revisit the policy that allows it.
He's also right that it was unfortunate to bring this up two days before the start of an event that's a highlight of the spring not just for Lombard but for the entire region. The timing was terrible. But the issue is legitimate and needs to be addressed.