Article excerpt

Good reform that could be better

DuPage County residents prize open space. It is their buffer against disfiguring development. It is their place for recreational enjoyment. So they should take a strong interest in what happened in Springfield on Wednesday.

After years of debate and legislative stalling, the state Legislature has finally given the OK for a separate DuPage County Forest Preserve Commission that would have independent decision-making power. This is a significant reform. Preservation would get the undivided policy attention it deserves.

As it is, county board members also serve as forest preserve commissioners. The dual roles present conflicts of interest that have resulted in bad policy, such as the construction of a road through a forest preserve and building landfills on forest preserve land.

County board members have approved these projects in accordance with their transportation and solid waste management duties. But in the process, they have defied their mission as forest preserve commissioners.

This conflict won't occur once the forest preserve district is separate from the county board. A bill approved by the Legislature and awaiting Gov. Jim Edgar's signature would authorize this split, via creation of a six-member, forest preserve commission. Its members would be elected. The bill would also allow for a reduction in the size of the county board from 24 to 18 board members, another vital reform.

This bill is a byproduct of persistence and political acumen on the part of county board members, their chairman Gayle Franzen, and State Rep. Mary Lou Cowlishaw, and the untiring dedication of environmentalists and open space enthusiasts. They are to be congratulated for completing what appeared to be an impossible mission - a separate forest preserve.

But our enthusiasm for the bill is tempered by an item we find curious, and a flaw we find quite serious.

For one, the split would not occur until 2002, when there would be redistricting. …