Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, speaking before a banquet hall of local leaders, made the case Friday for making the village’s next top elected official a full-time position with a real salary.

But his six colleagues on the village board have since voiced either outright opposition to the plan or the need for cautious consideration.

It’s not the first time Abu-Taleb has called for better pay for the mayor’s position, which currently pays an annual stipend of $10,800. Last year, Abu-Taleb successfully pushed for a title change from village president to mayor and called for a pay increase for the next mayor.

Last Friday at the Oak Park Business and Civic Council’s “State of the Village” with Abu-Taleb as guest speaker, he said the mayor’s work is a full-time job that has taken him away from his day job as a restaurateur. He owns Maya del Sol on Oak Park Avenue.

He told community leaders that taxpayers lose value by not having a mayor who can commit full-time to the position.

“The position requires passion, drive and a full-time commitment,” he said at the business breakfast. “It requires the energy and the desire to treat the village and its residents as one’s first and top priority every day. By not recognizing this position of mayor as a full-time commitment, the taxpayers will stand to lose a great deal of value and will not be represented properly, fairly and fully.”

He called Village Manager Cara Pavlicek “superb” at her job, noting that she “executes what the board has approved …”

“But there is a difference in execution and vision,” he said. “The village needs both. The execution component will always be there with a village manager, but in order for the vision to be realized, it requires the commitment of the board and the commitment of a full-time mayor.”

Abu-Taleb said in a telephone interview following the meeting that he believes an appropriate salary would fall between the village manager’s annual pay of $165,000 and the village clerk’s salary of $76,625.

Abu-Taleb is currently in the third year of his four-year term. Asked at the forum whether he plans to run for a second term as mayor, he said he has not yet made a decision.

Village trustees who discussed the idea in subsequent interviews had a mixed reaction. Trustees largely argued that it might make sense to have a conversation about higher pay for the mayor but agreed that it would need support from the community.

Trustee Bob Tucker gave the most definitive response, saying he would not support a large pay increase for either the mayor or the trustees. “I wouldn’t be taking it,” he said of a possible pay increase for trustees. “I don’t think it’s right to be voting on your own position increase like that.”

Tucker said trustees did briefly discuss trustee pay at a public goal-setting meeting earlier this year. He noted that it’s been years since trustee pay has increased. He said he might be willing to discuss increase pay adjusted for inflation, but “from what I read in the newspaper, I think the village president is talking about a much larger number.” He noted that Abu-Taleb works “tremendously hard for the people of Oak Park.”

“I admire him for doing that,” Tucker said.

Trustee Adam Salzman said he and other trustees have long known that Abu-Taleb believes pay for his position should be increased, but noted, “I am surprised, however, that Anan used his remarks at the Business and Civic Council on Friday to call for an increase to his compensation. And I am also surprised at the size of the increase he is seeking.”

While noting that he is a “big fan of Anan’s leadership in our village,” Salzman added that the council-manager form of government attracts elected officials “who are motivated by the spirit of service rather than the promise of financial and professional reward.”

“I am concerned that if we were to compensate the village president in the same range as our professional staff, the line between public servant and professional management would become blurred,” Salzman said in an email response to questions. “When local elected officials are given a professional portfolio and professional compensation, politics inevitably seeps into areas of municipal operations where it does not belong. There are examples of that happening all over the State of Illinois. But it doesn’t happen in Oak Park. And we must not let it happen in Oak Park.”

Salzman said the existing pay for trustees was established in 1996 and that “I see nothing wrong with indexing the stipend to inflation to offset the personal and financial costs associated with the position.

Trustee Colette Lueck said she believes the pay increase called for by the mayor is “a really bad idea.”

“I think it really changes the type of government we have,” she said. “We have a council management form of government where the [village] manager is meant to be the person who runs the village and village hall.”

She agreed that maybe it makes sense to adjust the pay to inflation, but “the amount is so small that it’s hard to see that it would make any real difference.”

Lueck said she’s willing to have a discussion about increasing pay, but added, “I can’t imagine I would change my position because it’s the antithesis of what our village government was structured to do.”

Trustee Glenn Brewer said he believes such a pay increase would constitute a fundamental change in the way village government is structured.

“I don’t think it’s the proper role for seven people [on the village board] to say this is going to happen,” Brewer said.

He said it might be time for a review of the current village manager form of government, where the manager takes the lead in enacting policy determined by the citizen-led board of trustees.

“Times change and things often need to be looked at again,” he said. “If that’s something people want to get a petition around and put on the ballot, then OK.”

Trustee Andrea Ott echoed that sentiment, saying that the mayor’s pay is “worth reevaluating, but to what extent is up for discussion.”

“I think it should be open for public comment and consideration,” she said.

Trustee Peter Barber said there had been no formal or informal discussion by board members about such a change, adding that any conversation about pay would need to include whether it changes the village’s current form of government. Barber acknowledged that Abu-Taleb has been a hands-on leader in his role, but also said he’s “not personally convinced it’s time to do that.”

“If the community thinks it’s time for us to reconsider that, then we can and we should,” Barber said.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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