On the second try in as many meetings, River Forest’s village board managed to pass its 2010 budget Monday night before devolving into a contentious discussion of the board’s recent level of decorum.

But for all intents and purposes, Monday night’s meeting was mostly about the money with the board passing a $12.8 million budget. It passed on a vote of 4-2, with trustees Steve Dudek and Steve Hoke actively dissenting.

Trustees bantered over the ins and outs of the village’s finances, from the price of parking permits, which Dudek wanted to be increased in price immediately, rather than ramped up over the course of three years; to an 11.5 percent increase to the village’s base electricity tax, which Hoke argued was “obnoxious” and “one step this side of a tax on the living.”

However, neither Dudek nor Hoke could seemingly get their arguments to stick all night, as the rest of the board rebuked their arguments and attempts to put their stamp on the evening’s agenda.

When it came time to finally pass the budget, it went with more of a whimper than a bang.

“I’m disappointed that we haven’t really made an effort to cut costs and control spending, and do the things that are necessary but painful to get our house in order before things go off the end of the table next year,” Dudek added to his “no” vote.

“I don’t recall anybody here making any specific recommendations in that regard” during the budget-authoring process, Trustee James Winikates replied.

The board was not able to pass the budget or vote on any measures at its April 12 meeting because of a clerical error, so the agenda was doubly long this week. By the end of the meeting, frustrations were already running high between the members when President John Rigas brought up the final item of the evening: a “discussion regarding village board behavior.”

Plainly targeted at Dudek and Hoke, Rigas tore into trustees who don’t show up at meetings and “tell staff their head is on backwards.” Rigas lamented being “blindsided at meetings with facts that aren’t 100 percent accurate, or accurate at all.”

Instead, questions and concerns should be addressed in private with village staff before meetings, Rigas said, as a time-saving measure and as a courtesy to those being grilled.

“I’m not sure why this board has to operate this way,” Rigas said. “We need to start working together to have meetings that are perfunctory.”

This did not go over well with Hoke and Dudek. Hoke, whose wife just gave birth to their fifth child, asserted he missed meetings unannounced because he had been on de facto paternity leave.

“You just did what you accused us of” by wasting time, Hoke said. “This is insulting and hypocritical to the extreme,” he said before storming out.

Dudek, however, defended his right and his responsibility to poke, prod and otherwise shake up the village and its business.

In a peek at private conversations about why outgoing Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez is being let go after 20 years, Dudek told Rigas he had the right to tell staff they were in the wrong however he liked.

“We’re talking about a public body doing the public’s business, and if I feel we’re not getting the service we’re supposed to get, I will say so and I will say so in public, and that is my right,” Dudek said. “They need to do their job right – maybe then it’s not a problem. Nobody’s perfect, and I understand that, but when you’ve got a pattern of stuff that goes on and on and on – I’m sorry.”

Addressing Gutierrez directly, Dudek claimed they’d had a conversation “specifically about whether you were the right person for the job.”

Gutierrez will be staying on as administrator until his replacement is found.

In other River Forest board news

The board decided not to adjust Keystone Montessori’s agreement with the village which allows the school to operate on North Avenue in exchange for promising not to file for tax-exempt status. The school had proposed it pay an annual penalty fee of $50,000 instead of paying taxes.

The board named Phil Cotter interim public works director to replace retiring director Greg Kramer. Cotter is currently River Forest’s assistant public works director.

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Ben Meyerson

Ben was Wednesday Journal's crime, parks, and River Forest reporter, until he kept bugging us enough to promote him. Now he's managing two of Wednesday Journal's sister papers in the city, Chicago Journal...