It looks like 2008 will be deja vu all over again for the River Forest village board. Board members were back at each other’s throats Monday evening, questioning each other’s motives and jostling for parliamentary advantage as the good will of the holiday season evaporated in a January chill.

After a smooth-running and polite Finance and Administration Committee meeting to discuss an impending stiff water rate hike, board members locked horns and traded jabs over a variety of issues as previous animosities welled up.

As has been the case in recent months, the minority bloc of Steve Hoke, Russ Nummer and Steve Dudek argued that the board needed to accept greater openness and transparency in its processes, and criticized the majority for its reticence to do so. The majority of President Frank Paris and trustees Susan Conti, Patrick O’Brien and Nancy Dillon said things were working just fine until the minority started forcing changes on the board.

The disagreement spread over a number of issues that promise to be subjects of future board tussles, including a purported $500,000 budget deficit, whether village staff was taking covert action to address that deficit, the right of trustees to seek legal opinions from the village attorney during board discussions and the proper implementation of a parking ticket adjudication system.

Sparks started flying soon after the start of a discussion of the village’s new parking ticket adjudication program, which was launched in November. Dudek asked why a second hearing officer had not been appointed to replace one of two originally appointed for the program who had resigned last fall. After 10 minutes of back and forth, Paris suggested the committee system be utilized through Committee of the Whole meetings involving the entire board. It wasn’t lost on Hoke, Dudek and Nummer that Paris, not individual committee chairmen, holds the gavel and thus controls debate at Committee of the Whole meetings.

Hoke bristled and responded, “The president is now proposing that we completely eliminate the committee system.”

At another point, as Dudek sparred with Paris over his refusal to allow trustees to seek legal counsel during meetings.

Paris said he had no problem with that “unless the answer’s going to be wrong.”

Robert’s Rules of Order were mentioned at numerous points during the evening, but Robert’s Rules were nowhere to be found during much of the debate. At one point, a discussion of a proposed red light camera enforcement program morphed into a discussion of the 2008-09 budget.

“We went from red lights to the budget,” said O’Brien, holding up his hands. “I don’t even know how we got on this topic.”

Paris defended the Committee of the Whole (COW) system Tuesday, saying the system has worked well for many years.

“The COW system existed through [previous president] Bob Jones’ tenure and mine,” said Paris. “The first time it changed was under Hoke, Dudek and Nummer.”

Hoke said Tuesday that he was discouraged that civility agreements, entered into by both sides before the end of last year, had been set aside.

“They are apparently planning to renege on the deal,” he said. “I cannot believe that happened. I cannot believe they went back to square one.”

CONTACT: bdwyer@wjinc.com

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