In the short time he’s been village president, John Rigas has made at least two things clear: The village board is a deliberative body in which everyone’s views will be heard and respected, and it has much work to do on an array of pressing issues.
At its first full regular meeting May 26, the new board showed it was ready work. A follow-up committee of the whole meeting on June 1 gave ample evidence that the village board has plenty of issues to address. In stark contrast to meeting of the previous board, there was little friction during the three-plus hours of discussion May 26, the last hour of which was spent discussing process and procedure.
“I plan to use the COW much more often than in the past couple of years,” Rigas told the board, referring to committee of the whole meetings. There were reminders of past animosity, however, including pointed remarks by Susan Conti to Steve Hoke about his motion to repeal a $350,000 pass-through of garbage fees approved by the previous board. Rigas and Hoke also had a testy but ultimately unresolved exchange over Hoke’s release of e-mails to the media.
The six trustees took all of three minutes to agree in principal to the chairmen of standing committee, then another 10 minutes to hammer out which of three of the six standing committees they would sit on.
Conti suggested naming the committee chairs first, then filling them out, and recommended James Winikates to chair the finance and administration committee. Hoke, the previous chair, said he had no interest in remaining chair, but insisted on remaining a committee member.
Even the disagreements were collegial. “I don’t really want to change what I’m doing,” said Dudek of his committee appointments. “The point is to develop some expertise.”
Rigas said he didn’t believe individual trustee expertise was as necessary as in the past, saying, “It’s not about building expertise, it’s about single issues now.” He noted that the standing board committee system functioned as a quasi-commissioner form of governance prior to the establishment of the village administrator system in 1986. Back then trustees literally performed oversight on different village departments, taking monthly reports directly from department heads.
“It was very similar to the commission form of government,” Rigas said. That changed, he said, with the appointment of the village’s second administrator, Chuck Biondo, who asked for and got a committee of the whole system.
Hoke and Dudek are staunch advocates of the committee system, which they credit with allowing them to wrest enough control from former president Frank Paris to initiate an investigative process into a number of problems on the police department.
Rigas said that while the committee system is perfect for things like sending an issue back for an in-depth review, he wanted board discussion of specific issues to be handled through the committee of the whole system. Drawing on his experience with the District 200 board, Rigas removed one likely objection for the River Forest village board.
“At the high school committees (of the whole), the chair moved based on the topic,” Rigas noted. “If that’s what the preference of this board is, that’s fine with me, too.”
Addressing board agendas, Rigas said the procedure for placing items on the agenda, was “extremely rigid.” That procedure, he added, “puts a burden on the administration, puts a burden on the board.”
When Rigas noted that the procedure had been established by the prior board under the more autocratic Frank Paris, Dudek said, “There were some different things going on then.”
“As long as people can put things on the agenda, I have no problem with people being flexible. But, in the old regime, that really wasn’t how it worked,” Dudek said.
Rigas also addressed the routine use of Robert’s Rules of Order during meetings, mandated by village ordinance. He noted that village ordinance states that Robert’s Rules of Order shall guide debate.
“I’d like to go back to where we encourage people to debate like we did tonight, and when we’re done debating, we move on,” Rigas said.
Hoke said last Wednesday that he was fine with a relaxed treatment of Robert’s Rules, but wanted the underlying ordinance to remain in place. “You need guidelines,” he said, noting that rigid implementation of the rules stemmed from Frank Paris’s behavior on the board. “Trust, but verify,” he added.
If the May 26 board meeting was polite, the committee of the whole was positively warm and fuzzy. At one point, board members broke up in laughter at a Dudek quip.
During the 2½ hour meeting, Rigas, who has made it clear he wants all aspects of village government reviewed, led a relaxed but detailed discussion of economic development, a proposed ethics ordinance and the village’s finances.
The board discussed the December expiration of the Lake Street property tax increment financing district, likely effects of that termination, the possible early defeasement of the sales tax TIF (scheduled to expire in 2013), and what to do with funds held in the TIF.
Those issues were referred to the appropriate standing committee for further review.
In addition, the board directed Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez to compile a list of all village discretionary spending for further discussion.
Rigas, who owns a software company reviewed a number of technology issues he’d identified within village hall. Calling the largely outmoded systems used by the village “a sort of medium-term risk,” Rigas urged closer examination of issues related to upgrading.
“No doubt, we need a tech plan,” Cathy Adduci said. “You can debate the details.”
After the May 26 meeting, Dudek, who admitted he’s feeling “a lot less stress” than he did previously, said the board is “180 degrees from where it was before.”
“I think the difference I see so far is, people are respectful of everyone’s opinion. We’re all on the same side, working for the betterment of the village.”
Rigas agreed. “I think it went well,” he said. Repeating what appears likely to become his mantra, he added, “There’s a lot of work to do.”