Three local government bodies will attempt to resolve their differences out of court and in front of a former Cook County judge who will oversee the "mediation" process and charge $500 an hour, starting June 22.
Village hall was sued by Oak Park and River Forest High School last year in a dispute over how much money village hall owes local taxing bodies from the controversial downtown tax increment financing district. The suit, until now slowly wending its way through the courts, has racked up well over $100,000 in legal bills.
In February, the three sides agreed to try and resolve the dispute out of court in front of an independent, third-party mediator. Just recently, they set a date to start that process — June 22, according to Ray Heise, the Oak Park village attorney.
Former Cook County Circuit Court judge Julia Nowicki will serve as the mediator. Her costs will be split evenly among the three bodies of government, which picked her from a list of possible candidates.
Heise was uncertain how long the process would take, but said it would take at least "one full day." The discussions will be closed to the public and likely occur at the offices of one of the three governing bodies' law firms.
Village Manager Tom Barwin hopes mediation might finally bring the dispute to an end, calling the high school's case "marginal at best."
"I want to be optimistic, but I'm coming from the perspective that this whole effort has been unnecessary and incomprehensible," he said. "I'm hopeful, but at this point, I wouldn't be surprised to be disappointed again."
Dee Millard, president of the District 200 Board of Education, confirmed that a date for mediation has been set, and said the high school hopes the effort is successful. She declined to comment further because the judge has urged the parties not to speak to the media.
Peter Traczyk, president of the District 97 board, could not not be reached for comment on Friday.
Once they're finished with the nonbinding mediation, Heise said, the results would be presented to county Judge Peter Flynn, who will decide the next steps in the process.