Finger-pointing over the reasons for the March departure of Police Chief Frank Limon dominated the evening in an acrimonious River Forest village board meeting Monday night. President John Rigas asked the board to participate in “a public inquiry into the departure of Chief Limon.”
“If I made mistakes, I want to fix them, if possible,” he told the board. He then commandeered the computer to play edited recordings of past village board meetings, including the Police Committee meeting last week and executive session material from meetings more than a year ago.
At issue was the real reason behind the chief’s abrupt decision to take a job heading the New Haven, Conn. police department. During last week’s Police Committee meeting, Trustee Steve Hoke had asserted that the absence of a contract caused Limon to look elsewhere.
In press reports, Hoke and Trustee Steve Dudek implied the village president and Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez had bungled the chief’s job satisfaction by ignoring his request for a contract until it was too late. Dudek also said that not informing the board of the problem was an example of Rigas’ “screening” the agendas.
“I feel like my hands were tied behind my back and I had a blindfold on,” said Dudek at Monday’s meeting.
But Rigas countered that he had spoken to Limon on the telephone and Limon had told him the pay raise (up to $150,000 from $119,000) and family factors had influenced his decision to relocate. According to Rigas, Limon said his wife was no longer employed in the Chicago Police Department and his son was graduating from high school, two factors that had kept him in the area previously. “He was a big-city cop,” said Rigas. “It was never about the money, it was about the challenge.” Rigas asked why Limon would need a contract with only 18 months left of his three-year term. Rigas insisted that Hoke and Dudek used the contract issue as a red herring to turn the Police Committee meeting into a vehicle to discredit himself and Gutierrez.
Hoke countered: “Chief Limon was not climbing the ladder to become chief of the FBI. I think he liked it here and he wanted to stay here.”
At one point Rigas played a recording of himself telling the board last May the chief “was not pushing for a contract.” That recording was intended to disprove an allegation from Hoke that Rigas had never informed the board about the Limon contract situation.
“You’re telling us he came and asked for a contract and he never came back again,” said Dudek. “In business if you ask the boss for something and you don’t get it, you start to look for a new job. If it wasn’t important he wouldn’t have asked. You missed the tea leaves.”
Things got personal when Rigas demanded that Dudek, “Call me a liar! Call me a liar right now!”
“Here, you wanna come at me,” said Dudek, “I never understand what you’re doing. What is up with you?”
The transition between the Frank Paris and Rigas regimes appears to be the point at which nebulous promises were or were not made to the newly hired police chief. Much significance was made by Hoke of a Grandma Sally’s breakfast meeting between Limon, former president Paris and Rigas last summer.
A former trustee in the audience confirmed that a contract had been dangled: Russ Nummer said of Limon, “I knew he did want a contract.” Limon was told “he needed to prove himself and then we’d consider a contract. He’d have to wait for one, “said Nummer.
Retiring Public Works chief Greg Kramer said Limon had told him in private conversation that family and professional opportunities were drawing him to New Haven. “He never once mentioned that a lack of contract was a concern.” Addressing the discord on the board, the perceived scapegoating of Gutierrez and the upcoming replacement of several department heads, Kramer said, “I want to offer my perspective after 25 years as a department head.” He warned, “calling out staff during meetings, and criticizing staff means the board is putting itself in a bad position to attract quality department heads.”