Over the past several months, just about all the top administrators in the Oswego area community have decided to bail out of town. What’s going on? Well, mostly, it’s what happens when voters hire extreme activists as board members instead of people who have the long-term welfare of the agencies they’re seeking to run in mind.
There are exceptions, of course. Bill McAdam, for instance, is leaving the park district because he not only got a better job, but it’s closer to his current home as well as to his home town.
But Oswego’s village administrator was driven out by toxic politics, as has Montgomery’s excellent village manager, probably one of the best in the Fox Valley. In Montgomery’s case, it appears that activist board members whose ideology has outstripped their common sense simply had too many problems with a smart, capable woman in a top administrative position. The Oswego School District superintendent is also leaving, along with every other top manager, due to philosophical disagreements with the school board. They’re substantive differences, too, some of the most serious dealing with school board members’ determination to ignore–if not intentionally violate–the School Code of the State of Illinois.
About all we, who didn’t vote for any of the people making these terrible and destructive decisions, can do now is wait for the inevitable melt-down and the general public’s disgust to get some decent board members elected again. We’ve seen it happen time after time, and, in fact, it’s sort of an area tradition dating back to at least the 1890s.
In the spring 1890 elections for Oswego Village Board, a political earthquake struck. The election campaign in Oswego was typically sleepy, with the same candidates running for the same offices, which back then required annual elections. But there was an activist undercurrent. Sort of like today’s right wing, Tea Party affiliated ideological activist politicians, a group of ardent prohibitionists got themselves elected to stamp out Oswego’s saloons. As Lorenzo Rank, the Oswego correspondent for the Kendall County Record reported on April 16, 1890:
Oswego was struck Tuesday by a tidal wave of temperance mixed with a good deal of something else. The no-license ticket was elected by 37 majority out of a vote of 141, G.H. [Gustavus H.] Voss as president and Sam Jessup, Will I. Kennedy, and Harley Richards as trustees were elected.
The next week, Rank reported:
There hasn’t such surprise been caused by any corporation election in Oswego as by that of last Tuesday since the time of the “Finnigins,” and that is so long ago this generation doesn’t know anything about it. The pulling through of the temperance ticket was thought possible, but only by the skinning of the teeth, and the question now is, “To what is this great victory due?” Some hold it resulted from the religious revival last fall; others that it was brought through the influence of the temperance organizations. Then there are those who argue that “all the good comes through evil,” and that it is due to the much drunkenness lately exhibited. It is also said that internal dissension was the cause, that a vigorous knifing of each other of the license men had been going on. But no matter about the cause, let it be known that Oswego is now temperance 2-1..The new members of the board are quite young; all are yet in the 20s, the president being but 23 years old. Some refer to them as “the kids of the board,” but they are displaying as much dignity and statesmanship as the best ever on the board.
And the “kids” got right to work, abolishing the village’s saloon licenses, which was fine as far as it went. The problem was, however, that saloon licenses were virtually the village’s sole source of revenue. That meant that plans to extend the village’s water system and it’s growing web of concrete sidewalks was stopped in its tracks. In response, and in a move that mirrors what has happened when modern politicians attempted to fight ideological activist majorities, the pro-license members of the board simply refused to attend meetings, denying quorums for nearly the entire ensuing year.
By the following spring, the voters–then all male–in Oswego decided enough was enough and a pro-license ticket of village board members was elected. Rank explained the who thing pretty clearly, with some advice to modern would-be activists:
The greatest difficulty about government is not how to manage the people or the affairs of the country, but it is how the officials shall manage themselves. At the commencement of the new village administration last year, the “kids,” or new members, and being in the majority, started out somewhat brash, carelessly brushing away the suggestions the old members were making, as much as to say, “We are going to run this here machine.” The old members then refused to attend any more of the meetings, thus breaking the quorum and the village was left to run itself and perhaps as one full as well as with the help of the board.
When the votes were counted in the April 1891 village election, the anti-license “kids” had been crushed by huge majorities, most likely done in, as Rank suggested, by their own hubris.
Is there a moral here for modern politicians at the local, state, and national levels. Sure there is, but morals abound in history. The problem is politicians seldom ever pay any attention whatsoever to them. Mostly, I suspect, this is because politicians are not the sharpest bunch of knives in the drawer; they tend to be folks without deep understandings of much beyond their own mindsets. It’s really up to voters to dig into candidates’ views on all sorts of subjects to determine whether or not they deserve to be entrusted with the public trust; far too many don’t. As it now stands, those of us who know our history are forever condemned to watching others repeat it, with sadly predictable results.