The Cicero Township board that controls investments for schools in Oak Park, Berwyn and Cicero has suspended its lead administrator pending a public hearing Oct. 2.
The Trustees of Schools board voted 3-0 Tuesday afternoon at a special meeting to suspend Martin O’Connor, who’s held the treasurer’s post just more than two years.
The board flirted with firing O’Connor in February, but ultimately voted to continue his employment. Although no employment contract was signed, a verbal agreement was made at that time, said Trustees of Schools President William B. Sullivan.
This week, the move to suspend O’Connor followed an apparent attempt to ask him to resign. Accepting his resignation was on that day’s agenda, and in an interview before the meeting, O’Connor said he was offered a buy-out but wasn’t interested.
The board hired Jeff Schroeder, a Certified Public Accountant with the Oak Park firm Frank L. Sassetti & Co., as interim township treasurer at $175 an hour, and hired Virchow Krause & Co., at rates of between $375 an hour to $70 an hour, to streamline tasks in the office.
Variations in the Virchow Krause rates are based on different personnel–a partner earns the higher end, while clerical work is at the lower end.
All four employees in the treasurer’s office quit after learning O’Connor’s fate, Sullivan said.
Sullivan would not comment on why the move is being made to remove O’Connor, citing privacy on personnel matters.
O’Connor produced a list of his accomplishments before the meeting Tuesday that included reducing banking fees and increasing earnings. He said he did not know why he was being fired but said he suspected Sullivan and Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 want to get rid of him as part of a bid to close down the office for good.
He couldn’t say how his departure would facilitate elimination of the office.
In July 2004, Oak Park school officials began pushing for removal from the township body, which requires state legislative action. State Sen. Don Harmon said at the time that a powerful trustees of schools lobby put the kibosh on a bill he wrote to give Oak Park schools an out.
The only other way out for Oak Park is by a referendum killing the entire office. All three communities would vote on such a referendum.
At the meeting Tuesday, school officials representing all three communities acknowledged shortcomings in O’Connor performance, including districts receiving late fines on IRS payroll tax payments the treasurer is responsible for paying.
But administrators also warned the board about having too much turnover in the trustee’s position and associated costs.
“The only money you have is the money we send you,” said Robert Giles, director of the Federation of Districts for Special Education. “This money belongs to the kids. It’s not yours to play with foolishly.”
Ken Keeling, business manager at Berwyn North School District 98, said the move was the second time a treasurer had been fired recently, and that the previous treasurer, Gerald Sebesta, “didn’t get a fair shake” when he was forced to retire two years ago.
“We haven’t acted lightly on this, sir,” Sullivan replied. He invited the administrators and the public to testify at the hearing.
The hearing will be held at 3 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 2, at the treasurer’s office, 1515 N. Harlem Ave.