When we first moved to Winnetka, we rented. We wanted to "test the waters" and see if this was a community where we wanted to drop anchor. The overflow of welcoming neighbors 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 blog isn't begging for a debate about what Winnetkan will pay what FAT portion of the proposed $35? $40? now 75?!+ million for storm water chunneling. 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." (Why? When we were renters, we weren't part of the true community?? We weren't residents on the radar? Our opinions didn't matter?)
At first, we were just puzzled. The name sounded so official and all-encompassing. And the logos/pictures they brazenly used were so clearly the trademarked images that belong to -- and should only be used by -- official governing bodies (ex. Park District, Village Hall, Winnetka 36, etc) -- it was confusing on a casual read. I wondered: How many residents are involved? Are there open meetings? Is it politically motivated?
After more e-mail barrages, 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 subject lines:
- OMG!!! (then OMG - Part 2 & OMG - Part 3)
- ARE YOU FRIGHTENED?
- CAUCUS BOAT IS FLOUNDERING (although just a few days earlier the caucus had announced a slate "WHOA: favored and at that time "WHOA" dubbed that slate their DREAM TEAM!)
- WORST STORIES OF 2008, 2009, 2010
Finally, I got PO'd. This started last year, when the e-mails took a viciously dark turn. "WHOA" had actually created sites & links dedicated to bashing individuals I personally knew that live and/or work in town. Selective bits of certain Trustees' comments were posted with incredibly misleading headlines. E-mails from residents (mostly anonymous, but some with names attached that were scattercast WITHOUT the senders consent) were being circulated that denigrated neighbors by name and sometimes address. Anyone - resident or not - that dared express a viewpoint contrary to what "WHOA" promoted was apparently up for the local firing squad.
Still I wrote several e-mails to the source (the self-dubbed "chairman" who sends these blasts from her personal AOL account). I pointed out several mistakes and misstatements and asked for a simple mission statement. No surprise - I got banished and berated. But my efforts did spark this mass e-mail response that answered some, but not nearly all, of my questions:
WHO IS WHOA? (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.... 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 perpetually goaded to join the caucus, stack meetings & vote!!! All laudable civic duties, right? But the subtext is only if you agree with their candidate/stance. 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 aggressively PACish once again and focused on electing Gene Greable for Village President. Several e-mails featuring his bio & photo have been sent out by them in the last few weeks. Mr. Greable is Winnetka Caucus-slated. Yet interestingly enough, it's unclear if Gene G. even wants to be "WHOA"-backed! At the last open caucus meeting, he adamantly distanced himself from them. And yet, since then, Mr. Greable is silently, seemingly willing to let "WHOA" cheerlead for him.
The other candidate in the bid for Village President is independent Chris Rintz. "WHOA" has already taken the negative campaign route. They have taken several swipes at Mr. Rintz and even the audacity of him choosing to run an 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 will not be corrupted by conspiracy-theories, misstatesments and dead-horse** issues flung about by a non-official group of fiction writers that try (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) to flaunt power.
2. It's nearly springtime and Winnetka's ever popular "Trash Week" is coming up....maybe after two dozen years of nonsense "WHOA" can be booted to the curb..like that dangerous wooden crib circa 1975 and those crooked golf clubs.
QUESTION: Wilmette, Northfield, Kenilworth, do you have an unofficial "HA" that gets this involved with local politics and even the personal business of residents (yard signs, landmark status, etc.)?
- Jen McQuet
* Homeowner is a single, compound word. Thus -"WHOA" should be "WHA!"
** Their most popular scare tactic is to continually harp about the dangers of affordable housing coming anywhere close to Winnetka. Those of us in town that supported the modest moves to improve the rights of both homeowners and renters recently succeeded on two issues that put “WHOA” in an angry tailspin – coach home rentals and a downtown Property Maintenance Code. Then, the vote on affordable housing was negative. It’s now a closed subject with NOTHING in front of our Trustees or on anyone's radar….except for, of course, “WHOA.”