Faced with daunting systemic budget challenges in a flat economy, the River Forest Village Board of Trustees on Monday night approved creation of a citzens’ finance committee. The new panel will advise the board on what expenditures to cut and what additional revenues might be pursued.

The committee will meet on Wednesday and consist of the village board’s finance committee and seven private citizens, one each recommended by individual trustees and the village president.

Finance committee chair Jim Winikates introduced the idea of the citizens committee.

“It would be very useful to get citizens’ input,” Winikates said. “One of these (recommendations) may lead to some type of referendum, and we should get some input.”

Trustee Steve Hoke said that while he supported getting citizens’ advice on how to cut expenditures, “it was not appropriate on how to advise on a referendum.”

“If there’s a referendum, I’d still like to hear it from them rather than have it initiated from this table,” said Winikates.

“Why would we bring in a citizens’ advisory committee to tell us how to do our job,” asked Hoke, who noted that the village “is broke now,” and that any group of citizens would take months to get up to speed on the realities of village governance and budgeting.

Hoke argued that the committee would serve a political purpose of setting the stage for what he’s said previously is an inevitable tax hike, either sales or property taxes.

When several trustees argued that Hoke has made no suggestions in the past regarding cutting expenses and increasing revenues, Steve Dudek responded that that wasn’t his role.

“It’s not his job to have the answer,” said Dudek. “It’s his job to put somebody in place to get the job done.”

Winikates insisted the board has the final responsibility on budget decisions.

“We will make those decisions,” he said. “It’s not something you’ll dump on staff and say ‘Go do this.'”

“Were a board,” Hoke said. “We hire a professional administrator with years of experience to advise us. We should not be there micromanaging.”

Village president John Rigas stated he believed an advisory committee would pay dividends. “I do believe a citizens’ advisory committee could be very beneficial regarding input,” he said. He asked the board to codify the committee by the next regular meeting Oct. 12. “I’d think we could do this is three or four meetings.”

Hoke again scoffed, referring to his experience on the 2007 home rule committee.

“The home rule committee took eight months, and for a lesser (task).”

Dudek said he could support the concept if given a deadline. Rigas said he expected the committee to be able to report back to the full board at a committee of the whole scheduled for Nov. 16.

Echoes of the past

There were echoes of the old hypercontentious village board at Monday special board meeting. What was different, however, were the results. While trustees sparred over a number of issues, and the meeting dragged on past midnight, business got conducted and issues resolved, if only tentatively.

Both sides scored points, and a proposal by trustee Cathy Adduci had the effect, intended or not, of putting trustees on notice regarding the scheduling and conduct of standing board committee meetings.

The board showed clear differences from the previous board when it let die a motion to pass an ordinance that would have effectively killed the independence of committee chairman, requiring them to obtain permission from the full village board before scheduling meetings.

Adduci, participating in the meeting via telephone because of business obligations, said she was suggesting the ordinance because she was concerned about making the board more efficient, fiscally responsible and purposeful. She said she was most concerned with lessening the stress on the administration she said was caused by numerous committee meetings.

Former trustee Russ Nummer, however, commented that the move was “nothing short of an attempt to shut down the transparency of village government.” The current system, he argued, “allows the committees to act independently.”

Both Hoke and Dudek called concerns over efficiency and productivity “a red herring” and said the goal was to place the functioning of the committees under direct board majority control. Dudek may have turned the argument when he complemented the comportment of current board deliberations. Referring to a comment by Susan Conti that she worried that the board was returning to a “mminority-majority” mindset, Dudek said that if the proposed ordinance passed, “it’s back to a minority/majority situation.”

Adduci said she was “open to re-considering” her suggestion.

“Let’s see what happens as we go forward,” said Winikates. “We’ve all expressed some things, of what we do like and what we don’t like.” When Adduci said she was willing to re-consider her proposal and see how things went “from here on out,” it was left to die for lack of a motion.

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