The Oak Park Village Board of Trustees unanimously approved Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb’s appointment of Jim Taglia to fill the board seat vacated by Adam Salman, who resigned from the board in February.
The appointment was not without controversy, however.
Several residents condemned the appointment because Taglia, an Oak Park Township trustee, is currently running for one of three open seats on the board of trustees. He is one of six candidates. Salzman’s seat is not up for reelection, but several residents said the mayor should have waited until after the April 4 election to make the appointment.
Former Oak Park trustee Greg Marsey said he had “nothing against Mr. Taglia” but said he was concerned about the appointment because it took place before voters had the opportunity to evaluate the candidate at the polls.
While neither Marsey nor other critics directly accused Abu-Taleb of wrongdoing in making the appointment, he and several others suggested the decision to make the appointment before the election was undemocratic.
“I feel like we should leave that up to the voters,” said Anthony Clark, executive director of Suburban Unity Alliance and an Oak Park and River Forest High School teacher.
Irrespective of whether Abu-Taleb waited until after the election, it is within his legal purview to appoint Taglia or any other resident of the village subject to village board ratification.
Oak Park Township Supervisor David Boulanger testified in support of Taglia’s years of service with the township, four as Township Collector and six as a trustee. He noted Taglia’s deep commitment to public service and his business acumen.
Oak Park trustees voted unanimously in support of the appointment. Trustee Colette Lueck was, perhaps, the most outspoken supporter of the appointment, noting that Salzman resigned because of a job that precluded him from holding public office. “He had no choice” on the timing, Lueck said, adding that state law requires the position be filled by the mayor.
“Does it really matter (when the appointment is made) … the outcome is going to be the same,” she said.
Abu-Taleb announced the pick on March 2 at Village Hall.
Taglia, who is a certified public accountant and has a master’s degree in business administration, is the owner of the Lake Station, Indiana-based manufacturing chemical company Pro-Chem-Co Inc. and Red Mango frozen yogurt shop, 1044 Lake St.
“He has the capacity to think of the village as a whole and build a better future,” Abu-Taleb said at the Thursday evening press conference. “He believes in the potential of the village and moving our village forward. He’s demonstrated that he has a good judgment.”
Abu-Taleb noted Taglia’s initiatives at the township urging the village government to pass various ordinances – one raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21 and another staffing Oak Park police officers with the anti-opiate overdose drug Narcan.
“He is hardworking, thoughtful and insightful,” Abu-Taleb said. “He will be an excellent village trustee.”
Taglia said at the press conference that Salzman left big shoes to fill, adding, “I’ll work hard every day … to provide value to the board and the residents of Oak Park.”
Taglia faced five opponents for the three at-large seats on the village board of trustees. The remaining candidates are incumbent trustees Peter Barber and Glenn Brewer and challengers Dan Moroney, Simone Boutet and Deno Andrews.
Abu-Taleb said in mid-February that he was likely to wait until after the election to pick a replacement for Salzman, whose seat is not up for reelection for another two years. “The more I think about it the more I think it would be best to wait to allow these folks to introduce their ideas to the community,” he said.
Asked prior to the press conference why he changed his mind and decided not to wait, Abu-Taleb said, “I just believe that the voters of our village should have an opportunity to vote on those three seats without the added distraction of a looming appointment.”
Abu-Taleb said at the press conference that he was conflicted over when to make the appointment, noting, “It is also important to me that the choice I make to fill this vacancy is not viewed in any way in response to the results of the election. That would not be fair to the person I appoint, and that would not be fair to the people of the community.”
Abu-Taleb said he believes Taglia has the ability to bring residents together, an important factor “given what we are facing today on the national level with all this negative energy.”
“I don’t want that to come to our town,” he said.
Five candidates now remain in the trustee race, but that number could still drop to three.
Barber and Brewer, along with village clerk candidate Lori Malinski, are backed by the Village Manager Association (VMA), which slates and vets candidates for public office in Oak Park. The VMA-backed candidates have faced an ongoing legal challenge to their nominating petitions to get on the April 4 ballot. Attorney Burt Odelson, who represents residents Kevin Peppard and Robert Milstein, who have challenged the petition, said this week he is petitioning the Illinois Supreme Court to hear the case.