The struggle over how to address purported ongoing problems in the River Forest police department played out in a contentious special village board meeting Monday night.
Citing a long-ignored village law, River Forest trustees Steve Hoke, Steve Dudek and Russ Nummer wrested control of the village board’s moribund Police Committee from its longtime chairman, Trustee Patrick O’Brien, and in effect, from Village President Frank Paris.
Under section 1.6.5. of the village code, only trustees may chose members of the board’s six committees, with the village president having no voice in the process. With Trustee Nancy Dillon on vacation, the three trustees passed a motion to place O’Brien, Hoke and Dudek on the police committee. The motion also allowed the police committee members to choose their chairman, as opposed to the chair being appointed by Paris, as had been the practice.
Hoke and Dudek, along with Nummer, have clashed repeatedly with Paris over a number of issues since they were seated in April.
In Dillon’s absence, all Paris could do was request that a motion be made to table the motion to appoint the three trustees. It lost 3-2, and the motion for appointment then passed 3-2.
In response, Paris, who said he has recently been tutored by a professional parliamentarian, asked O’Brien to change his “no” vote to a “yes” vote, which would allow O’Brien to make a motion to reconsider the issue at next week’s regular board meeting. The final vote was 4-1.
Hoke and Dudek were bluntly critical of the motives they perceived of other trustees’ attempts to block Dudek from the police committee. None was more critical than Hoke.
“I guess I’m a bit surprised,” said Hoke, who noted that the committee hasn’t met formally in six years. “Nobody seemed to care about the police committee until it wanted to do something.
“This is clearly political,” he said. “The efforts to defeat the operations of the police committee is being done for just that purpose, to defeat the functioning of the police committee.”
Village Atty. Jon Gilbert confirmed that the committee selection process was the sole purview of trustees.
“This is really up to the six of you,” said Gilbert. “The president’s out here.”
Trustees Susan Conti and O’Brien protested both the lack of a woman on the committee and the threatened removal of O’Brien as chairman. Conti, who said she wished to serve on the committee, said she also had a problem with the motion to “rearrange the chairmanship.”
“I think that unless [O’Brien] wants to give up the chairmanship, he should remain as the chair,” Conti said.
“I agree with Susan that there should be a female member of the committee, given that there are so many women on the police department,” said O’Brien.
When O’Brien voted “no” during the roll call, Paris immediately asked him if he wanted to change his vote. O’Brien first said he couldn’t vote yes if there wasn’t a woman on the committee.
“Well, you have to vote in the affirmative to bring this up at the next meeting,” Paris replied, at which point O’Brien changed his no vote to a yes.
Paris’s parliamentarian move outraged his opponents. Hoke and Dudek objected strenuously and attempted to adjourn the meeting. Paris insisted that the vote was not completed.
“The President has to say that the motion has passed,” Clerk Catherine Adduci noted. “The president didn’t say that, and therefore Trustee O’Brien changed his vote.”
When Hoke reiterated his view that his opponents were playing politics, Dudek said, “I agree … that this has to be one of the most political things I’ve ever watched. The fact that you lose a vote, and then try to change the outcome when you don’t get what you want, I find that reprehensible.”
Nummer declined to speak when asked, saying, “I’m thoroughly disgusted.”
Paris said afterward that he intends to ask for a motion to reconsider the vote next week.
Tuesday morning Hoke called the meeting “a significant step forward for open government in River Forest.”
“We established our legal right to place items on the agenda, which means we can finally advance things such as ethics legislation. And for the first time in six years, we have reactivated the Police Committee which had been systematically dismantled for political purposes. In the history of the village, there has never been a more important time for [that] committee to function.”
Three federal lawsuits alleging age discrimination and retaliation in the police department are pending, and in June the rank-and-file police passed a no-confidence vote against police leadership in River Forest.
Hoke also dismissed Conti’s and O’Brien’s arguments that having a woman on the police committee was important to them.
“It is disingenuous to argue that we need to maintain a certain composition on the Police Committee, when they admit that the Committee hasn’t met in six years,” he said.