Editorial: Unilateral decision making is the issue in demise of Civil War Days

  • Re-enactors ride into postiton while portraying the Battle of Vicksburg during a previous Civil War Days at Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda.

    Re-enactors ride into postiton while portraying the Battle of Vicksburg during a previous Civil War Days at Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda. DAILY HERALD FILE PHOTO

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

The Lake County Forest Preserve District is embroiled in controversy over cancellation of its annual Civil War Days, which resulted in the end of the popular 27-year event, a likely ripple of financial fallout and the sting of how badly this was bungled.

More to the point, this was a self-inflicted wound that could have been avoided.

The issue is not whether a longtime forest preserve district program such as Civil War Days can be dropped. It certainly can. Few programs are untouchable. They come and go and change in design because of a multitude of factors, ranging from cost to attendance.

No, the fault here rests with how the matter was handled. Forest board President Angelo Kyle, who was named to that post in December, triggered the problem when he unilaterally decided to end the event June 10 through a post on the district's website, then reversed course the next day after hearing from other county board members during a board meeting. He reversed again this week and canceled Civil War Days, citing "safety concerns" stemming from responses to the initial flip-flop.

We don't know what those safety concerns entail because neither Kyle nor John Tannahill, the district's director of public safety, would comment on specifics. Those are details being demanded by forest district commissioners, who were not involved in the decision making, and they merely add to the clumsy confusion surrounding this decision.

When he first raised the issue, Kyle, who is black, said he believed the event "has run its course" and re-enacting a war over the enslavement of African Americans was a historical event some people do not want to revisit.

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Some board members said his comments were persuasive, and agreed more discussion was needed, but they didn't like the way it was being handled.

That's because unilateral decisions rarely lend themselves to good government. The more prudent approach would have been for Kyle to raise his concern over the future of the event with the board and schedule time for a full-throated discussion during committee meetings and public hearings. After all sides are examined, it would go to the board for a vote.

If that meant Civil War Days would continue for one last year at Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda, so be it. County officials would have had ample opportunity to do some research and hear from residents on both sides and make an informed decision.

Along with the lingering bad taste, the decision comes some three weeks before the July 13-14 event, so it could generate unnecessary financial blowback over vendor contract cancellations and lost revenue expected by some nearby businesses.

Kyle said he believed he had authority to call off the event and made the decision because the district was under "time constraints" involving contractual agreements.

That's government of expediency, and it's not how good government operates.

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