Oak Park Township Collector Mary Cozzens will be nominated as township trustee at tonight’s board meeting in spite of concerns raised by another trustee.
Board Supervisor David Boulanger said he plans on nominating Cozzens, the Township collector since 2005, to replace former trustee Eric King, who resigned Aug. 15, after his local residency was questioned. The board has 60 days to appoint a replacement trustee.
Boulanger said Cozzens is well qualified, has been a regular attendee at meetings and has been a fine contributor to the board.
“I intend at the meeting to have a discussion and put her name forward,” Boulanger said.
But Trustee Eric Davis has raised concerns that Cozzens is the only name that has been mentioned for appointment. Boulanger notified trustees in a letter dated Aug. 30 of his intention to nominate Cozzens at the board’s Sept. 13 meeting. If Cozzens is approved, Boulanger said the board would discuss filling the position of collector.
Davis said he would have no problem voting for Cozzens and doesn’t doubt her qualifications, but that the board should allow other candidates to be considered.
“Mary has been a terrific public servant, and I would be happy to have her as a member. My concern is with the process that has been pursued at this point,” said Davis. “My understanding was that Wednesday’s meeting would be the beginning of the process-not the end.”
Boulanger, however, said it has been the tradition to nominate the township collector as a trustee to fill a vacated seat.
Boulanger, who replaced Karen Quinn as township supervisor after her death in 2002, was a trustee at the time. His seat on the board was taken by then-township collector Lee Pulliam. Cozzens was then appointed as township collector to replace Pulliam.
Trustee Clarmarie Keenan was township collector when she was elected to the board in 2001. Trustee William Troyer was collector from 1997 to 1999.
If approved tonight, Cozzens would become the fourth straight collector to serve on the township board.
“It is strictly our judgment as to who would complete that term until the next election,” said Boulanger. “Our tradition has been to operate in this way.”
Davis said that may be the case, but the board should use the 60 days under Illinois statue to allow additional candidates to emerge. Davis also questions whether trustees should stick with what has been the board’s tradition of appointing the collector as a trustee.
He said he has heard from people in the village who expressed interest in serving on the board shortly after King’s resignation.
“This may be the tradition, but that doesn’t preclude us from exploring other options,” said Davis. “I think it is our responsibility, and our opportunity, as a board to include other people, and ask other people if they are interested in contributing to the board,” said Davis, who noted that this looks too similar to the way the Cook County board chose President John Stroger’s replacement, which appeared at the time to be a forgone conclusion.
“That, to me, is not the message we want to send,” he said.
Another concern for Davis was the lack of diversity currently on the board. King was the only African American serving on the board. Lee Pulliam, an African American, lost his reelection bid to Davis in 2005.
Davis said this was an opportunity to address diversity on the board.
“That shouldn’t be a determinant, but I think it’s a consideration,” he said.
Boulanger said the board has chosen candidates for collectors who, if needed, have the qualifications and experience to step in as trustee.
Cozzens said, “Anything we do is not a closed process. Everything is very transparent. The board has typically gone out of its way to make sure that the process is open.”
Cozzens, however, said she agreed that other candidates should be considered.
“I never had the impression that is was a done deal,” she said of her possible appointment. “If there is a better candidate with more qualifications, then that person should be the trustee.”
Cozzens is a licensed social worker, and has 20 years of experience in the areas of mental health and geriatrics. Cozzens was recently featured in a Wednesday Journal Aug. 29 article, “Oak Parkers being taxed out.” She, like other residents, saw a significant jump in her tax bills this year, and was quoted as saying, “We are one referendum away from leaving Oak Park.”
As township collector, she does not have a vote on the board. The collector has acted more as an advisor to the board and liaison to constituency groups.
Boulanger said he expects the board to approve Cozzens’ appointment after some discussion. He said the board may go into closed session to deliberate.
The Oak Park Township Board of Trustees meeting is tonight at 7 p.m. at Oak Park Township Hall, 105 S. Oak Park.