Monday night’s highly contentious River Forest village board meeting failed to resolve the question of whether a dispassionate outsider is needed to investigate the ongoing turmoil in the police department.
When the 2-hour-plus, closed-session meeting concluded, according to a source, local attorney Patrick Deady had reportedly been hired by a unanimous vote to provide employment law services to the village administration and board. The River Forest Police Committee’s recommendation to retain an outside counsel to investigate allegations contained in its Feb. 19 report, however, was not acted upon.
Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez confirmed the hiring of “outside employment counsel” Tuesday morning in a one-sentence press release, but did not identify the person hired.
“After productive deliberations the village has decided to retain outside employment counsel to assist in various personnel-related matters,” the statement read.
According to the source, Deady’s legal work for the village will be done under attorney-client privilege and will not be admissible in any court case. Nor will it be made public in any report.
Monday marked the first public board meeting in the wake of a series of developments, including a harassment complaint filed by a deputy chief against several subordinates, the apparent retention of outside legal counsel to investigate harassment complaints filed by numerous police officers against that deputy chief, and the resignation of longtime Village Attorney Jon Gilbert (see full story on page 3).
Would-be outside counsel, Deady sat in the audience and yet-to-be appointed interim village attorney Lance C. Malina sat at the board table, as blame flew back and forth between the two board factions about everything from who was responsible for the expensive resolution of recently settled lawsuits to the tone and conduct during board meetings. There was even disagreement over who was responsible for the scheduling of an early morning police committee.
In opening comments, Trustee Patrick O’Brien said he wanted to make it clear he had nothing to do with a 14-page report released by the police committee, noting he never read it or signed off on it. Additionally, he questioned why the meeting took place at 7 a.m. on Feb. 19.
That was too much for Trustee Steven Hoke, who demanded that Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez explain the reason he disallowed a request to schedule it Monday night. Gutierrez did not answer.
Tuesday morning, Hoke forwarded an e-mail, dated Friday, Feb. 15, in which Gutierrez replied to a scheduling request by Hoke: “Can we hold a meeting on Monday given it is a holiday? Unfortunately, the state statute prohibits any public meetings on Presidents Day. If you wish to hold the meeting on Tuesday morning it will need to be completed no later than 10 a.m.”
There was also disagreement over whether village officials had already begun working with both an interim village attorney and an outside or independent counsel.
According to an invoice filed with the village by Gilbert, he spent time Feb. 14 teleconferencing with Gutierrez and “outside counsel, re: pending complaints” and “reviewing and transmitting files to outside counsel.”