Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hometown blogging...

Since putting out my shingle and holding forth here, I've been trying to figure out how to approach the petty stuff. Well, petty to you perhaps. For me, it's been a long, slogging, frustrating strange trip called "Local Politics".

In the arena of messed up shit, I have a front row seat. For reasons that I can now only equate to addled thinking, my spousal unit and I settled in an inner-ring suburb of the city of Chicago, Crook County, Proviso Township, Forest Park, Illinois.

They say that when it comes to Real Estate, it's location, location, location. That may be true in general, but to paraphrase Vezzini , And only slightly less well known is this: Never live under the jurisdiction of multiple layers of messed up, corrupt, beyond redemption bureaucracies.

These fiefdoms are stuff of legend. Note: the following links may be unsuitable for some, who think "everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds" Clout. Patronage.
Turf. Corruption. Ghost-payrollers. Shackman decrees. Police brutality. Gestapo tactics.
Organized Crime.

Watching them play out on a daily basis provides both pleasure and pain. Distilling the experience down to a cogent summary is, to say the least, a challenge. Under the powerlines of Chicago and Crook County politics is the playground for lesser known, just as ethically challenged, politicians operating their own games. Little fish in the larger puddle, but every bit as greedy.

Proviso Township is not much a place in the national spotlight. Some of its escapees are fairly well known. Doc Rivers. Michael Finley. Ray Nitschke. John Prine. Carol Lawrence. Eugene Cernan became stars or went to them. Fred Hampton cut his teeth here, then found immortality on Chicago's West Side.

The politics are something else. Township governments in the overlapping communities are boutiques. They have their own tax levy, plus they receive a percentage of all the taxes collected on their turf. Most if not all functions of typical township government in less densely populated areas are done here by the local municipalities. To avoid duplication, townships here have carved niches. Senior services, mental health, ummm, errr, maybe a few other initiatives, but even those are often duplicated at a municipal level. They run a car service and a handyman service, but neither are well publicized or over-used.

Our high schools are also township based. Proviso High School District 209 is, IMO, and by any objective evaluation, a failed institution. That hasn't stopped them from spending $65 million every year perpetuating their failure, or issuing $40 Million in Bonds to acquire and open a Magnet school (without taxpayer approval). Ten separate communities with a combined population of 150,000 feed money into the HS district. Eight separate elementary school districts fall in the HS boundaries.

Abandonment issues? Half the potential student body doesn't attend. The actual number is higher, but mobility disguises some of the exodus. In the end, the district, which by normal demographics should have 8-10,000 students posts a student body of roughly 4,500. Less than coincidentally, there are a half dozen private high schools in and around the district. Another 6-10 in the greater metro Chicago area enroll high school age residents too.

It would be a herculean task to track the area's 8th graders' next schools or calculate the effects of this repellent on the socio-economic psyche of the area. Tasks the high school district doesn't care to acknowledge or discuss. But if you know somebody who is looking to do a doctoral level study, I assure you they will not lack for data, charts and gut-wrenching anecdotes.

When I rant and rail against the abuses, I'm asked why I stay? Why would anyone choose to live in the midst of what can only be termed insanity? I honestly don't know. Laziness? Stubbornness? Pigheadedness? Knowing that as bad as things are, they could be worse somewhere else? We like our house, our neighborhood, our amenities?
I tend to think it's all of that, plus the realization that unless somebody stays and gets indignant, the nomadic culture will take over. When things get bad, pick up and move.

I've watched enough of that to see that the problems people were running away from tend to move along with them. If they weren't willing to stand up here, they won't in the next place either, or the next or the next... and I just can't see me as part of that.

There's also the location thing. I'm surrounded by history. I live in the town that taught Ernest Hemingway how to drink. Just over from the place he said had "broad lawns and narrow minds". I'm experiencing diversity and multi-culturalism up close and personal. I think there are answers to the petty stuff and think my continuing presence is part of finding them. I have easy access to a world class city. In fact, my little town's motto is Small Town Charm, Big City Access. The last ten years have tested that. Some of the Big City Charm has found a foothold and some local pols have gotten a taste of the trough and seem to like it. Still, it's small enough to fix.

Now that I've gotten this out. I promise to provide more of the colorful local history which is quite rich and fascinating. If you've ever been to Boston, you might understand. All that history, but they built this really screwed up city around it.


Anonymous said...

Very nice posting...

I've been asked the same questions for the last eight years about staying. Could I go somewhere and have better working conditions - of course. Better prepared students - yes. Safer conditions - yes. Better opportunity for advancement based on intelligence and experience - without a doubt.

Call me an optimist (or a fool), but I stay because I want something better for the children who attend the school, and I want to be a part of that change.

FYI - I went to Boston for the first time two weeks ago and fell in love with it. Though my primary reason for going was to see my team :) I loved the city and surrounding areas. Am going back in a few weeks.

Rehctaw said...

It's a great city, but not exactly well planned or laid out. It's 400 years of sedimentary society, built up on the fly. MTA is the only sane way to get around.

Fenway is a much different experience today than it was for my first visit 40 years ago. Still amazing, still a great place to participate in a "happening". Just different now. Either I'm wider or the seats are narrower. >G<

There is so much history to be found there. If you have the right map and time to do it right.