Our View: Hope for open government in Crestwood?
SouthtownStar editorial April 16, 2013 8:50PM
Updated: May 18, 2013 6:42AM
Perhaps the most interesting municipal election last week in the Southland was in Crestwood, where voters for the first time in decades had a real choice for mayor amid the lingering effects of the town’s alarming water scandal.
They elected Trustee Lou Presta, a longtime ally of former Mayor Chester Stranczek, whom federal prosecutors believe jeopardized the health of his residents for more than 20 years by ordering the use of polluted well water in the drinking supply. Presta easily defeated Trustee John Toscas, who ran on a platform of reform after nearly 45 years of rule by the Stranczek family, in a three-way race that included a pizzeria owner making his first run for public office.
The main issue in the election was Crestwood’s use of well water containing a carcinogen in its drinking water — a dangerous practice that led to the federal indictment of two top officials in the water department and a guilty plea by one of them last week. The feds didn’t charge Stranczek, likely because he suffers from dementia, but made it clear they believed he had ordered the use of the polluted water to save water costs.
We don’t know who would be the better mayor, but we want to see a more responsive and open village government — one that does away with the Kremlin-like secrecy that existed under Stranczek and his son.
Toscas pledged to do that — contending that electing Presta, a trustee for 23 years, would mean business as usual because he was a supporter of Chester Stranczek (mayor for 38 years) and his son Robert (mayor since 2007).
But just because Presta supported the Stranczeks doesn’t mean he will blindly follow them now that they are out of power. He said he was unaware of the use of the well water, and after winning the election, he vowed to be his “own man. I have a whole new slate. ... We’ll move the town forward.”
That should include a transparent government, with easy access to village records, issues being discussed and decisions made in open meetings and residents encouraged to speak at public meetings.
It’s a foreign concept in Crestwood but hopefully not for long.