Winnetka, Wilmette Officials Offer Advice for Congress

While Congress' inability to compromise has led to a government shutdown, members of the local government have worked together to accomplish big things — here's their advice to Congress members.

Congress was unable to come to an agreement about the spending bill, resulting in a government shutdown Tuesday. (Patch file photo)
Congress was unable to come to an agreement about the spending bill, resulting in a government shutdown Tuesday. (Patch file photo)
Gridlock in Washington D.C. has led to the first government shutdown in seventeen years, affecting everything from Social Security to the National Zoo's "Panda Cam". The shutdown is caused by, among other things, some members of Congress' unwillingness to compromise. 

Meanwhile on the North Shore, local village and school officials have proved time and time again that compromise and working together is possible — whether its through successful negotiations of the New Trier Faculty Contract or listening to residents' opinions on the Winnetka Stormwater project. So what do these local officials understand that members of Congress do not?

To get to the bottom of this, Patch reached out to local government and school officials, and asked them to share their advice to Congress on how this shutdown could have been avoided. Time and time again, local officials recommended listening, trying to see the other side and respect. 

"We are lucky at New Trier because we are able to negotiate in good faith with one another," said John Myefski, New Trier Board of Education member. "The Board of Education has a great deal of respect for the teachers. I personally think that the issue facing Congress is that there is no mutual respect between the political parties."

"Grow up!"

Brad McLane, President of the Winnetka Park Board, said that members of the local government constantly reaches out to others to discuss any issues that come up. 

"When the policy issue involves other governmental agencies, both board members and staff reach out to counterparts to engage in the discussion," McLane. said "It may not be the most expeditious way to get things done, but it leads to the best outcomes." 

"Grow up!" McLane added. "Drop the righteousness. Listen, compromise, then take action. Two sides create win/lose scenarios — great for football games, bad for moving a community, county, state or nation forward."

Mac Harris, New Trier Board of Education Vice President, said that he tries to look at issues from all sides — and he keeps in mind that elected officials are representing an array of view points. 

"I try to look at the issue from all sides, not just from my point of view," Harris said. "I then determine my priorities against the other views and decide what is most important to me versus what I can let go. ... As an elected official, you need to keep in mind that you represent a wide range of thoughts, needs and views that must be balanced. You cannot focus on your own point of view."

"There must be common ground."

Alan Swanson, a Wilmette Village Trustee since 2005, recommends that Congress starts by finding similarities on the other side.

"In order to reach a compromise on an issue of disagreement, the parties need to start with the parts of the issue they agree on which makes the differences less imposing," Alan Swanson advised. "There must be some common ground and opportunity for discussion which is apparently lacking in Washington."

Peter Fischer, New Trier Board Member, said that politicians have to learn to distinguish between moral principals and political ones. 

"I think you have to distinguish between political principals and moral principals — and sometimes the two are mixed up too often," Fischer said. "You can't compromise on your morals and ethics, but you certainly can compromise on political principals and reach a pragmatic end. A lot of these issues aren't about right or wrong, but money or numbers...you can make a political compromise without compromising your soul."

At the Winnetka Park District, commissioners were trained on boardmanship, which Gerri Kahnweller believes that Congress should keep in mind. 
"At the beginning of my first term as a WPD commissioner, we all attended a workshop on boardmanship," Kahnweller said. "The most important lesson was that each commissioner was able to voice and advocate for their position on an issue until a vote is taken.  After the vote, the commissioners speak as one voice supporting the majority decision. This served us well as we made tough decisions regarding the development of the Skokie Playfield master plan and resulting renovation of the fields."
GrossPoint October 02, 2013 at 09:01 AM
Hmm...don't we have some of the highest property taxes in Illinois, yet, a 3rd world type of combined sewage system, as well as ancient overhead lines that fall down in the slightest thunderstorm, crumbling schools without air conditioning and a thoroughly corrupt gaggle of government workers in the communities mentioned? Perhaps it is time to stop compromising and start providing some value for the massive tax burden that is placed on our area residents.


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