A special meeting of the River Forest village board last week was unusual for at least two reasons: no business was done and bickering dominated the discussion.
The tension between Trustee Stephen Hoke and President Frank Paris began right at the start of the meeting when Jason Slowinski, assistant to the village manager, was asked to sit in as deputy village clerk when Clerk Cathy Adduci was late.
Hoke has said the village needs to follow its own ordinance, which requires deputy clerk appoints to be approved by the village board. The board hasn’t approved any appointments, therefore, Hoke says, the village doesn’t have any rightfully appointed deputy clerks.
Village Atty. Jon Gilbert says the local ordinance conflicts with the state law governing appointments of deputy clerks, which does not require board approval. Changes to the village’s ordinance are expected to be on the agenda for its next regular meeting on July 9.
[Summarized information spoken by board and staff members is set off with (parentheses) while information inserted to provide context is noted with [brackets].]
SH: I was hoping to avoid this. (He understood at the last meeting the board agreed to rewrite the ordinance.)
FP: We offered to do that and you said you didn’t want it.
SH: No, I didn’t say that.
FP: Well, that’s what I heard you say.
SH: No, I said I did want it.
FP: Well, it’s kinda too late now.
SH: No, it’s not too late.
Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez explained his impression was that Village Atty. Jon Gilbert said that there technically wasn’t a problem.
Trustee Stephen Dudek said Gilbert had said the village’s ordinance probably wasn’t legal because it conflicted with state law.
SD: I don’t believe the ordinance has been changed.
FP: We believe that we’re following the code and we’ll proceed accordingly. (He suggested that if Hoke wanted to avoid the issue, he should have let Paris know before the meeting and they would have dealt with it at the meeting.)
SH: This is the last thing I thought we’d be talking about this evening. (He said the village’s ordinance was “at best not followed, at worse illegal.”) In either event we have to follow it or fix it, but we can’t proceed as if this problem doesn’t exist, because it does.
FP: I think we’re going to go on with the meeting. I think you’re nit-picking. I think if a problem exists, the main problem is the attitude of our two new Steves [Hoke and Dudek]. (He added that he wished the trustees would think about the people of River Forest.) We’re done talking about this.
Trustee Dudek began to talk, but Paris gaveled him down.
SD: We’re talking about following an ordinance, that’s all we’re talking about. That’s it.
FP: Steve, I heard what you’re talking about and I don’t want to hear it again.
President Paris asked for a motion to enter executive session. Dudek, Hoke and Russ Nummer voted “No.” When Paris was asked for his vote, he said, “Thank you.”
SH: You do not vote on this. You need a two-thirds vote.
FP: [Louder] I said, “Thank you!”
SH: Are we going into executive session?
SH: Under what authority, Attorney Gilbert?
Gilbert said he wasn’t aware a vote to enter closed session required a two-thirds majority.
Paris said Dudek implied before the meeting that he might walk out if the meeting was closed. (Paris later said he did not have such a conversation with Dudek.)
FP: If you wish to leave, you may.
SH: Frank, are you saying you’re going to disregard the rules?
FP: I’m saying I’m going to disregard your nonsense.
SH: Frank, the rules are not nonsense.
At that point, Village Clerk Catherine Adduci entered the board room.
FP: I’m disappointed in you and ashamed of you both (referring to trustees Dudek and Hoke).
Dudek said he never heard Paris vote “Yes” to enter closed session. Hoke said he wasn’t prepared to enter closed session, calling the vote “illegal.”
Village Atty. Gilbert clarified that said the state’s law (on deputy clerk appointments) was not consistent with the municipal code. He said that the part of the ordinance that requires the advice and consent of the board conflicts with the state law and is not enforceable. He said the board could forward with a new ordinance if the clerk wanted to.
Paris asked if he could start the meeting, now that Adduci was there.
SH: No, I’m not satisfied till I say what I have to say, Frank. And every time this happens I’m going to continue to do this. So you’re going to let me have my peace, or we will continue to grind like this every meeting till you do.
Trustee Patrick O’Brien: Mr. Hoke, I think your comments are out of line. … I’ve sat on this board for years. I’ve never heard anybody disrespect the village president like this.
SH: If disagreeing with the village president is disrespectful … . Maybe no one thought to question the president. Maybe people should have questioned the president. I am not going to sit here and say, just because for 14 years we did it one way, even though it was wrong, that I have to put up with it. No. I’m here. I was elected. And we’re going to do it according to the law.
O’Brien stood up and left.
FP: Please come back. Pat, we can’t do anything without you.
Trustee Susan Conti urged the board to get to its business. Hoke said the law is improper and should be fixed. Dudek later agreed.
SD: My point is, a rule is a rule, until it is changed.
Paris said the board wasn’t breaking any rules and said the board would enter executive session. Gilbert said Paris needed to vote to break the 3-3 tie.
FP: I will vote “Yes.”
The tape goes silent while the board was in executive session. Coming out into open session, Trustee Nancy Dillon suggested the board ought to interview the candidate for finance director.
But Gutierrez and Nummer were concerned that not all of the trustees would be involved because O’Brien and Conti had left.
ND: Since we’ve lost so much decency already in this meeting, I suggest we return to some decency and interview this man.
SH: I don’t disagree with the sentiment. But I’ve gotta say, I think that the laws of decency were when someone was called a jerk. I don’t appreciate that, Nancy.
ND: My opinion of a jerk is someone who acts completely out of context and completely out of how they should be acting … in a board meeting.
FP: The three of you–you wanted to interview this person. You wanted to have something to do with some comfort level with a village employee, which I never thought you had the right to ask for. Now we called this meeting and we brought this man down from wherever he lives exclusively for the purpose to interview him.You decided that you don’t want to interview him. I think that’s disgusting. I think that it’s impolite. I think you’ve let the voters down, and you’ve certainly let staff down, and you’ve made us look like a laughing stock.We’re adjourned. We’re done.
SH: You don’t have the right to adjourn. You are not a dictator!
Paris explained that he has the right to remove everything from the agenda. Hoke said he never asked to talk to the finance director candidate. Nummer said he never said that he didn’t want to interview the candidate that night. Hoke spoke, but was gaveled down.
SH: When you gavel me down, Frank, the rules aren’t being followed.
FP: Come on, this is nonsense, Steve. Are you tired of hearing yourself? Are you tired of hearing yourself? You didn’t answer me. Are you tired of hearing yourself? Cause I’m sick and tired of hearing you.
SH: There you go again, Frank. There you go again.The bottom line is, when they play the tape, the adjectives will be recorded. When the adjectives are recorded, the public can draw who was acting badly here. And when you start talking about words like “jerk” and “disgusting” …
(Paris cut him off.)
FP: Steve, I’m sure that there isn’t any member of the public other than your pal George Parry who won’t agree that what you’re doing is out of line, ridiculous, nit-picking, deliberately ending a meeting that was planned, refusing to interview someone who came a long way to be interviewed. You’ve embarrassed us all.
SH: Do you want to venture into the George Parry land again, Frank? Do you really want to go there?
FP: Go where? I don’t want to go anywhere with you, Steve. I’ve had it with you.
ND: Since you’re so precise, I said both of you–meaning Trustee Dudek and you–are acting like jerks. I didn’t say you are a jerk, I said you are acting like a jerk.
SH: Nancy, that’s a distinction without a difference.
ND: I’m just [upset] by your constant arguing all the time.
SH: I’m not arguing. I’m just asking for the rules to be followed.
FP: The meeting is over. … As far as I’m concerned, you refused to interview him.
Paris left, and Dudek said he never said he didn’t want to interview the candidate. Gilbert pointed out that the meeting could not be adjourned without a quorum, and without Paris there wasn’t a quorum. Gutierrez asked remaining trustees if they could meet again Monday, June 25.
After more discussion and Paris’ return, Gilbert explained that the village clerk ordinance may have been illegal, but that it couldn’t be changed overnight. In the meantime, the village does nothing about possible violations. He compared it to the village’s sign ordinance.
JG: We don’t follow [the sign ordinance] because it’s as illegal as hell. That’s a legal term.
Gilbert said he and Gutierrez had already begun work on amending the ordinance, in part to jibe with the village’s practice of using two deputy village clerks. He said the ordinance would be before the board at its next meeting.
But the discord soon returned.
SH: I am tired of you cutting me off.
FP: Then stop putting yourself in a position where you ought to be cut off.
Paris said he suspected Hoke deliberately took issue with the deputy village clerk matter to disrupt the meeting. Nummer took issue with that.
RN: You’re trying to connect dots that there’s no way for you to connect them. … I think that’s a reach.
Paris ended the meeting by saying, “He’s gone home,” referring to the finance director candidate. (The candidate in fact was still waiting outside the boardroom to come in for an interview.) The board voted 3-0 to adjourn.