North Riverside’s new mayor, Hubert Hermanek Jr., signaled a more inclusive, open approach to governing Monday night. After being sworn in to office, he called for unity and immediately provided an example of what he was talking about.

He appointed George Georgopoulos — a man the VIP Party has snubbed in the past and has made his every run for public office a gauntlet of challenges — to the Plan Commission.

A cynic could say that VIP is co-opting its opposition. But we don’t think that’s the case here. Georgopoulos for years has said he wants to serve. Until now, he was denied the opportunity.

As a member of the Plan Commission, Georgopoulos will be part of a group that considers important matters concerning commercial and residential development. Apart from the village board, it is perhaps the most important of the village’s advisory commissions.

Hermanek says he wants to unite the factions that made the 2013 mayoral campaign a name-calling, finger-pointing blame fest. He said he’s reached out to the members of the upstart TAP Party that sought to oust VIP from power.

Judging from the reaction Monday night of independent Trustee H. Bob Demopoulos, Hermanek has indeed extended the olive branch, and it’s been accepted.

The last four years were difficult for the North Riverside village board for a number of reasons. In 2009, the departure of longtime Mayor Richard Scheck created a deep leadership void, one the new board was unprepared to deal with.

That problem was exacerbated by an unfolding financial crisis that the village was also unprepared to deal with.

The message we heard Monday — and the message that will be continued next Monday when more changes are announced — is that the North Riverside village board is now ready to stand on its own two feet and step out of Scheck’s shadow.

That’s as it should be. It doesn’t diminish what Scheck did during his years, and it doesn’t discount his role as a valuable advisor and facilitator. This village board and this mayor need to be able to forge their own identity.

We continue to encourage North Riverside to build on its efforts to open up the governmental process to the public, provide more information and reach out to all stakeholders in the village.

While “unity” in North Riverside in the past may have been described by some, including this newspaper, as a bunker mentality, “unity,” as voiced by Hermanek on Monday night, had a completely different ring to it.

Big changes are coming to North Riverside in the next two years, driven by new commercial development. It’s an opportunity for a fresh start and optimism, and for reclaiming the sense of close-knit community that sets the village apart.

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