Between parliamentary maneuvers, points of order, numerous personal jabs and general animosity, all book ended by executive sessions, the River Forest village board worked its way through a long agenda Monday night, and even took care of some business in just over five hours.
The open meeting, which began at 8:15, started with a contentious debate over appointments to the Development Review Board (DRB). Village President Frank Paris asked trustees to affirm his reappointment of six of seven members currently serving on the DRB. He also asked for direction as to which group – the Zoning Board or Plan Commission – the seventh DRB member should be chosen from.
Minority trustees were having no part of it. Sensing a Trojan horse move that would straightjacket the board, they insisted that the next DRB chair must come from the village’s Plan Commission.
“It’s not a discretionary act, it’s a mandatory act,” said Trustee Steve Hoke, who criticized Paris for allowing the DRB chair to illegally remain chaired by Zoning Board chair Frank Martin the past 10 years, despite an ordinance, written by Paris, that requires the chair to rotate between members of the Zoning Board and Plan Commission. Under that law, three DRB members come from either the Plan Commission or the Zoning Board, and four from the other. The DRB chairman must be selected from the minority group.
Village Attorney Jon Gilbert supported the position of Hoke, Steve Dudek and Russ Nummer, saying, “In my opinion both the (DRB) majority and the chair alternate at the same time. The scheme is it goes back and forth.”
With three DRB members appointed from both groups, the board would effectively be precluded from choosing anyone from outside that group, since an outside person selected as chair would require giving that group both the chairmanship and a majority. Hoke pointedly accused Paris of angling to preclude long time Plan Commission chairman Gerald Johnson, who is not favored by Paris, from being considered for DRB chairman.
Hoke also ripped Paris for putting the cart before the horse in allowing an agenda item to discuss the legality and structure of the DRB to be debated after appointments were made.
He also criticized Paris for not announcing who he wanted to appoint to the DRB chair.
“What’s the big secret about the chair?” Hoke asked. “Why wouldn’t you have that done? We’ve been talking about it since the spring.”
In the end, a motion to table the issue was voted down 4-3. The motion to confirm the appointments then passed 4-3.
The distrust bubbled up again near the end of the meeting over an agenda item placed by Paris to appoint a third member of the board’s standing Finance and Administration Committee. That committee is chaired by Steve Hoke, who is also chairman of the Police Committee.
Paris noted in a memo that the 2007 tax levy requires the convening of the Finance Committee the first week in November.
“There’s a complication,” Paris said, mentioning Hoke’s serving as chairman of two standing committees.
“Ahh, so here’s the plan,” said Hoke, shaking his head. After Paris pointedly accused Hoke and Dudek of “hijacking” the Police Commission, Hoke shot back, “Mr. President, under the ordinance, you don’t have a role to play in this.” When Paris again attempted to speak, Hoke replied, “No, I’m not speaking to Frank Paris, this is a conversation among trustees.”
Paris triggered further argument when he insisted that Susan Conti not be required to answer Dudek’s inquiries into her qualifications to serve on the finance committee, with some trustees again telling him he had no voice in the debate. Conti then answered Dudek’s question, saying she had a background in business and finance, with a minor in accounting.
“I can read a spread sheet,” she said. The trustees seemed satisfied with Conti’s qualification, but the underlying issue is not as much qualifications as it is control of the Finance and Administration committee. With Trustee Patrick O’Brien on the committee, Conti’s appointment would give Paris two of three votes on the key committee that approved the village’s budget, tax levy and pension decisions, among other things.
After speaking with Conti briefly, Nummer then suggested an alternate tack to determining committee appointments.
“How about if Susan Conti and I sit down and serve as a nominating committee,” he suggested. The two trustees recommendations, he said, would be “advisory, non-binding,” That appeared to earn general approval, and trustees wrote down their two or three preferences for committee service.
A vote of the six trustees to fill the four vacancies is scheduled for the next board meeting.