Near the end of a contentious two-hour meeting Monday night that included a contested motion to go into executive session to discuss “pending litigation,” River Forest Park Board President Stephen Dudek removed Commissioner Holly Hirst as board secretary with the support of three other commissioners.
Hirst will be replaced by Commissioner Ron Steele.
There were strong indications during the meeting that board commissioners are preparing for possible legal action. Early in the meeting, Hirst pointedly objected to the budgeting of $50,000 for legal fees in the new budget adopted Monday night.
Asked by Hirst to explain, Grundin replied, “To prepare for litigation. I have to put a number [in the budget] that prepares the park board for that.”
To do so was just being prudent, he explained. “I didn’t want to put in a number of, say, $25,000, and then have to double it.”
Noting that the park district paid over $13,400 for attorneys’ fees to the law firm of Ancel Glink in May alone, (after spending another approximately $15,000 in total on legal issues related to Keystone West since last fall), Hirst told her board colleagues she opposed what she called “an inappropriate anticipated expense” for legal representation, particularly, she said, in light of the fact the village’s Development Review Board had recently ruled in their favor regarding the proposed installation of athletic lights in Keystone Park.
“A 233.33-percent increase in our budget, I just think, is outrageous,” said Hirst.
Later, after Dudek asked for a motion to go into executive session, Steele said “I move we go into executive session pronto!” That was seconded, but when Dudek attempted to move into closed session, Hirst objected, saying, “Sorry, but we haven’t had any discussion [of the motion].”
“What would you like to discuss, Holly?” asked a not-amused Dudek.
“The appropriateness of going into executive session,” Hirst replied. “A?#34;no reason has been given by the person who moved to go into executive session. B?#34;I question the appropriateness of it, and C?#34;I notice our attorney is not present.”
Commissioner Dale Jones then stated that he spoke with park board attorney Robert K. Bush after last month’s Review Board hearing regarding the closed session issue, and “I’m now satisfied we’re on solid ground to go in [to closed session].”
The board voted 4-1, with Hirst opposed, to go into closed session at 8:08 p.m.
Heated words could be heard at times through the glass doors and walls of the library’s meeting room over the next 40 minutes.
After the board returned to open session, Dudek opted to deal with the previously tabled issue of selecting a board treasurer and secretary, as well as an attorney. Dudek had previously expressed concern over what he termed Hirst’s inability to get board meeting minutes back to him in a timely manner. Monday, though, he offered a different rationale for recommending Hirst be replaced.
“I want to ask President Dudek why he’s not re-appointing me as secretary,” Hirst inquired after hearing the motion for her removal.
“Um, I’d like to get a little bit more experience with a person who’s going to be here longer than you’ll be here,” Dudek replied. Both Dudek and Hirst’s terms expire next April.
“Well, that’s not to say I won’t run again,” Hirst replied. “I think that I would like to continue doing it.”
“Any other comments,” queried Dudek.
“No,” replied Hirst. The board then voted 4-1 to approve Dudek’s appointments.
Hirst declined after the meeting to comment on what the board discussed in the evening’s closed session. However, during brief board member comments at the end of the meeting, she offered another hint.
“I’m disappointed that we’re not talking about the DRB recommendation in open session,” she told her colleagues. “I think we had a great opportunity tonight to talk about what we’d be willing to do. We obviously had a very favorable outcome at the DRB hearing.”
Addressing a pattern of increasing secrecy on the part of Dudek and other board members, Hirst added that village residents have a right to know how park board commissioners were intending to respond to the DRB’s action.
“I don’t think that what [the DRB] asked us to do and the costs associated with that need to be postponed in terms of discussion, or be kept secret,” she said. “And I think a lot of people would like to know what we’re going to do and how much it’s going to cost, and get on board with that.”
“Anything else?” asked Dudek, who then moved to adjourn.