River Forest Village President Frank Paris raised the hackles of his three board political opponents and turned the heads of everyone else in the room at the Jan. 14 village board meeting.

Contending that he’s looking only to assure the effective and respectful functioning of meetings, Paris threatened to take issues currently being dealt with in the committee process and place them on Committee of the Whole agendas. His opponents contend he’s simply unwilling to have those committees delve into sensitive and potentially embarrassing issues related to his governance.

Under the village board’s standing committee system, trustees serve as chairs of six 3-person committees designed to address specific areas of governance in depth-among them Police, Fire, Finance and Administration, and Public Works.

Under the Committee of the Whole (CoW) approach, the entire village board convenes to discuss issues without taking legally binding action during the meeting. As board president, Paris holds the gavel and controls discussion at those meetings.

Russ Nummer said he’s dealt with various issues in both CoW and committee settings, and said committees allow greater depth of discussion.

“Issues I have heard at committee meetings have never been discussed at CoWs,” said Nummer, “not to the extent they are now.” Nummer pointed out that committees are advisory, with no authority to take any substantive action.

“[Committees] have no authority to do anything. It still has to go back to the full village board. There’s plenty of time to discuss it,” he said.

“If we’re going to get rid of the committee structure, we might as well call you king,” Steve Hoke told Paris. “As far as I’m concerned, all the good will that was built up in the last month was just thrown on the floor and stomped on.”

This past Monday, Paris denied he intends to take control of the committee process.

“I’ve no idea,” he said when asked what his plans are. “I haven’t thought about it. I’ve not discussed it with anyone. These things [CoWs] have worked well for many years. I wasn’t the person who invented Committees of the Whole.”

Paris said he believed Hoke performed well as chair of the finance committee prior to the Jan. 14 board meeting. But there were other committee meetings, he said, where trustees felt left out.

Paris reserved his main ire for Trustee Steve Dudek, whom he accused of being intentionally disruptive and offensive to village staff during a police committee meeting called to review a no-confidence vote by the Fraternal Order of Police lodge against police management.

Dudek dismissed Paris’ criticisms of both him and the committee system.

“Committees are [designed] to allow people to develop an expertise, and to have more discussion, at-length discussion, and report back to the main body about what they’ve found. He argued that the real problem lay with Paris’ unwillingness to allow for independent trustees.

“When the president doesn’t like something, he tries to change the rules to what he wants it to be,” said Dudek. Nummer echoed that, saying, “I really have a problem with a threat that, if a committee chairman holds a meeting, we’ll have a motion to disband it. This is a move backwards, and I really don’t appreciate it.”

Putting it another way …

Paris brought discussion to a momentary halt when he attempted to make a point regarding the right of trustees to request legal opinions from the village attorney during board meetings.

At one point Steve Dudek criticized Paris for not allowing Village Attorney Jon Gilbert to make a legal ruling on Paris’ legal duties as board president.

“That always seems to come at a time when that answer might not be desired by a certain person or a certain group,” said Dudek. “I don’t think it’s proper for [Paris] to determine if a question is appropriate to ask the village attorney,” said Nummer.

Paris responded, “I’m not going to allow a question to be asked that automatically is going to have an answer that’s wrong.” He then said, “I’ll answer any question except if you ask me how many times I sodomized my parent. Those kinds of questions can’t be asked.”

After five or six seconds, board members recovered enough to speak, and Paris re-phrased his comment.

“You can’t ask the village attorney if it was legal to beat up my wife last week,” he said.

Paris acknowledged Monday that he could have used a better analogy, but stood by the gist of what he was saying.

“It was a comment that I shouldn’t have made,” he said. “The response was intended to [make the point] that questions can’t be asked that create answers that are misleading or for the purpose of disrupting a meeting.”

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