Editorial: Village board faces test of leadership regarding Haymarket addiction center

  • The former Holiday Inn in Itasca is the site of a controversial proposal for a treatment center for people with drug and alcohol addictions.

      The former Holiday Inn in Itasca is the site of a controversial proposal for a treatment center for people with drug and alcohol addictions. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 11/1/2021 4:32 PM

Itasca village board members face an ultimate test of leadership Tuesday. We hope they prove up to the challenge.

At issue is a 240-bed treatment facility fcor people experiencing addiction to drugs or alcohol first proposed in June 2019 by The Haymarket Center. Any such proposal naturally stirs public interest and concern. Village officials have spent the past two years seeking answers from the agency and listening to local citizens. As with so many such controversies, their decision Tuesday comes down to whether they will respond to fear and speculation or will step up to lead the community both to accept a program everyone agrees is needed in DuPage County and to ensure it is operated responsibly and safely.

 

Opposition to the treatment center, which would take over a vacant Holiday Inn hotel at I-290 and Irving Park Road, has focused on size. The proposal is too big, the community too small, opponents say. They fear the demands of the project would overwhelm local emergency services.

But Haymarket responds that it has contracted with at least one private EMT agency, offered to hire another and is willing to do more to work with the village to minimize these concerns. Beyond that, there is much to recommend the site. It is located in a business area and is closer to the local police station than to most residences. The site is separated from much of the town by an interstate highway. It is hard to imagine that proponents would find any location in the suburbs substantially better suited for such a program.

Nor is there any question about the need for it in DuPage County. There as elsewhere in the suburbs, addiction is ravaging families and destroying lives every day. Sheriff's authorities and the county coroner report hundreds of lives lost each year to drug overdose and alcohol abuse.

Treatment, experts agree, is the first step toward getting a handle on the crisis.

All elected officials must contend constantly with the inherent tension between conflicting needs to represent the desires of the people who elected them and to lead their constituents to meet difficult challenges that affect them and the broader community.

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Tuesday night, the latter duty confronts the Itasca village board. Meeting it will require compassion and courage, though it also is not without distinctly practical considerations. It is not outside the realm of possibility, for example, that rejecting the center would lead to costly lawsuits and an ultimate court decision in Haymarket's favor. If that happened, the village would suffer a significant financial burden, likely lose some of its leverage for regulation and still wind up with the facility.

Trustees can ensure against such an outcome by approving the project Tuesday. In the process, they can demonstrate support for programs addressing a serious local need and the leadership to make sure the operation meets standards of quality and safety advancing the interests of the community.

As a political matter, we know that outcome sounds easier to accept than it is. Yet, we hope Itasca village board members -- and, for that matter, leaders in all suburban communities that may face similar controversies -- search their hearts and their reason and ultimately stand up bravely on the side of leadership.

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