One of two River Forest men hired by the village to inaugurate an in-house parking ticket adjudication program, has resigned, even before the program launched. According to village parking records obtained by Wednesday Journal, James M. O’Rourke, Jr. had himself benefited by having four parking tickets forgiven under a little known, and according to one village trustee, “an extra-legal,” ticket mediation program run by the police department.

O’Rourke tendered his immediate resignation to Village President Frank Paris Oct. 5. Paris vented his anger at Trustee Steve Hoke, who has been critical of the police department’s administration of parking tickets. “I’m sick and tired of seeing Hoke attack the village and its structures,” said Paris.

Parking records obtained by Wednesday Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request filed Oct. 4 indicate O’Rourke received 18 parking tickets in River Forest over the past six years. He had previously paid $150 in fines and penalties for four tickets. However, he had four other tickets, with fines and penalties totaling $90, forgiven under a “mediation” process that was discontinued by the village board this summer. O’Rourke said he’d been unaware of 10 other outstanding tickets with fines and penalties of $295 that dated back to October, 2001.

Under the mediation process administered by the police department, those petitioning for relief were required to fill out a form and “describe the special circumstances you feel justify the dismissal of your ticket.” The two allowable reasons stated for dismissal were that a citation wasn’t issued properly, or that there were mitigating circumstances.

O’Rourke said in his resignation letter and in a press release that his decision to resign was due to an increasing work load in his law practice.

“This decision is necessitated by unforeseen circumstances as well as the demands of a growing law practice which recently took on some complex and highly time consuming obligations,” he wrote. He was, he said, unaware of the existence of these tickets when he tendered his resignation.

“On Oct. 10, 2007, Mr. O’Rourke was advised by River Forest Police Chief Nick Weiss, that Mr. O’Rourke had a number of unpaid parking tickets dating back to March of 2002,” O’Rourke wrote. “Mr. O’Rourke was unaware of these tickets and was never notified by the Village of River Forest that these tickets were unpaid. Upon learning of these unpaid parking tickets, Mr. O’Rourke immediately paid the tickets in full.”

A year ago, Police Chief Nicholas Weiss recommended that River Forest establish a formal ticket adjudication program after researching allowable programs under Illinois State statute. After considerable discussion the program was given the green light and an ordinance was formally approved on Sept. 24 by a unanimous vote. The program is scheduled to be initiated Nov. 14 at village hall.

The village board approved Paris’s appointment of O’Rourke and former trustee Al Swanson as adjudicators after considerable debate July 9. Trustees Hoke and Steve Dudek objected strenuously to the appointments, arguing that no one else had been considered and that an open application process should have been allowed. Hoke demanded and Paris refused to disclose who else had applied for the posts beside O’Rourke and Swanson. With Trustee Russ Nummer absent, the appointments passed 4-2.

Hoke, an attorney and frequent critic of Paris, said there is no foundation in the village code for the ticket mediation program previously run out of the police department. The only administrative authority the ordinance currently grants the police department is the authority to waive some parking restrictions. The ordinance does allow people to “compromise” a ticket by paying a $20 fee within 10 days of the violation or $50 after 10 days and up to 30 days afterwards. The issuance of compliance warnings, it states, “shall be a courtesy in lieu of instituting prosecution in court,” but that “If the person accused of the violation does not settle the claim, a uniform traffic complaint or notice to appear will be issued for that violation …” and the person will be subject to the provisions of the Illinois Vehicle Code.

“I was unaware, as were a great many people, that the village was operating a ‘parking mitigation’ program that has no authorization in the village ordinances,” said Hoke. “It is troubling that many citizens simply paid their tickets not knowing that there was a way to get your tickets reduced or dismissed, even if it was extra-legal. This is yet another example of the village treating the rule of law casually. When you do that, you become vulnerable to claims of cronyism and insider dealing,” he said.

Paris called Hoke’s assertions “absolutely absurd,” and questioned his motives for the various actions he’s taken as a trustee.

Paris said Hoke’s action since taking office will result in an unnecessary increase in property taxes.

“There’s no doubt in my mind the result will be significant tax increases,” he said.

The village did not appear to be following its own ordinance in the handling of several of the tickets O’Rourke received. It did not uniformly apply a $50 late fee, instead adding fines of between $5 and $15. The directions printed on the P-ticket mediation form also state that “no cases will be mediated after a delinquent notice has been mailed.” However three of four of the citations forgiven in O’Rourke’s case were declared delinquent, and notice post cards were printed. One was well past 30 days of the violation.

CONTACT: bdwyer@wjinc.com

O’Rourke’s county connection

James O’Rourke, a 30-year veteran of Cook County government, served as chairman of the Cook County Judicial Advisory Council until September 2004. He obtained some $100 million in grant funds from the federal government, and created Project BADGE, which disbursed a total of $5 million to 35 municipalities between 1999 and 2004. River Forest was among the towns which received funds.

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