When we first moved to Winnetka, we rented. We wanted to "test the waters," if you will, and see if this was a community where we wanted to drop anchor. The overflow of welcoming neighbors, freshwater waves of Lake Michigan and rush of school/park opportunities hooked us. But the (literal) flood in the basement was a clue that we'd be wise to check out "higher ground" if Winnetka was to become home.
This isn't a letter begging for debate about which of us will pay what portion of the proposed $35 million for storm water fixes. It's a topic that might whip up even more of a tsunami.
When we did buy a house, we got a recurring fungus we didn't anticipate -- frequent, sometimes daily e-mails from the "Winnetka Home Owners* Association." (When we were mere renters, we weren't part of the real community?? We weren't residents on the radar? Or had opinions that mattered?)
At first, I was puzzled. The name sounded so official and all-encompassing. And the convincing logos/pictures were clearly the trademarked images that belong to -- and should only be used by -- official governing bodies (ex. Park District, Village Hall, Winnetka 36, etc). Curious as George, I wondered: How many residents are involved? Are there open meetings? Is it politically motivated?
After weeks of more e-mails, I got peeved. What's with the obvious Tea Party slant? Why all the school board bashing? Why all of the dramatic, fear-mongering ALL CAPS headlines? Actual examples of "WHOA's" scariest grabbers:
- CAUCUS BOAT IS FLOUNDERING (although several days earlier the caucus had announced a slate WHOA favored and at that time "WHOA" dubbed the slate their DREAM TEAM!)
- OMG!!! (then OMG - Part 2 & OMG - Part 3)
- ARE YOU FRIGHTENED?
- WORST STORIES OF 2008, 2009, 2010
Finally, I got PO'd. This started last year, when the e-mails took a viciously dark turn. I tried, but simply couldn't ignore them. "WHOA" had actually created sites/links dedicated to bashing individuals I knew that live and/or work in town. Selective bits of Trustees' comments were posted with misleading headlines. Letters from (mostly anonymous) residents were being circulated that denigrated other residents -- by name and sometimes address -- that expressed a viewpoint contrary to what "WHOA" wanted to hear.
I wrote several e-mails to the source (the self-dubbed "chairman" who sends these blasts from a personal AOL account) peppering for a mission statement and and some explanations/clarifications. No surprise - I got banished and berated. But my efforts did spark this e-mail response that answered some, but not nearly all, of my questions:
WHO IS WHOA? (exact words from their e-blast dated 2/8/11)
The Winnetka Home Owners* Association has evolved over more than twenty years. It is true we coalesced around a single issue - preservation and property rights......We started out with a huge Board - most of whom are still in town and still agree with us - well, most of the time. However, now, we have only five officers and no “official” membership. No dues. No monthly meetings....... There are about five hundred people who we communicate with regularly. Another 1,000 open our mail occasionally. It seems we are always asking for help or for opinions....Carry Buck - Chairman, Ann Dillon - Chief Editor, Jim Burke - Treasurer, Mary Joyce Robbins - Secretary, Tracy Yale - Chief of Research
It's true that they are always asking for help. Recipients are goaded to join the caucus, stack meetings & vote!!! (all laudable civic duties, right?) But the subtext is only if you agree with "WHOA" stances/candidates. Sometimes "WHOA" asks for more than help, they flat-out beg for money - like when they gathered funds to publish a "newspaper" that promoted Trustee Spinney. That year, they raised enough funds that they had to formally register as a PAC. And then just as quickly they "un-PACed."
Yet the direction of these ~500 (?) people appears to be PACish once again and focused on electing Gene Greable for Village President. Several e-mails featuring Mr. Greable's bio & photo have been sent out by them in the last few weeks. Mr. Greable is Winnetka Caucus-slated. Yet it's unclear if he even wants to be "WHOA"-backed. At the last open caucus meeting, he adamantly distanced himself from them. To date, Mr. Greable is silently, seemingly willing to let "WHOA" cheerlead for him, although he felt compelled to publicly explain that he is not controlled by them.
The other candidate in the bid for Village President is independent Chris Rintz. "WHOA" has taken the negative campaign route already and taken swipes at him and his unaffiliated, self-funded candidacy. I have two hopes: 1. Whatever happens on election day will be determined by the intelligent, free-thinking voters of Winnetka and not corrupted by paranoid, conspiracy-theories tossed out by a non-official group of fiction writers. 2. It's nearly springtime and Winnetka's ever popular "Trash Week" is coming up....maybe "WHOA" can be booted to the curb like that dangerous wooden crib circa 1965, your crooked 5 iron and that over-priced, over-stuffed purple gorilla you bought a decade ago @ the Lincoln Zoo.
QUESTION: Wilmette, Northfield, Kenilworth, do you have an unofficial "homeowner association" that gets this involved with local politics and personal business?
- Jennifer McQuet
* Anyone that can access dictionary.com, should know that homeowner is a single, compound word. Thus -"WHOA" should be "WHA" !