The River Forest Park District board has retained the services of the high-powered municipal law firm of Ancel, Glink, Diamond, Bush, DiCanni & Rolek. Park board commissioners voted 4-1 at a special meeting Friday night to approve hiring the firm as its special counsel in the matter of the board's amended application for athletic field lights in Keystone Park West. That application, which received a split 3-3 vote from the village's Development Review Board on Nov. 17, will formally go before the village board of trustees on Jan. 9.
According to park district officials, attorney Mark Burkland will continue to serve as the park's general counsel.
The process of discussing and voting on retaining Ancel Glink's counsel was met with repeated objections from Commissioner Holly Hirst on Monday, at a reconvened meeting Tuesday and at the special board meeting on Friday. Hirst questioned, among other things, the need for any special counsel, the manner in which the issue was brought before the board, and the fact that President Steven Dudek did not know what Ancel Glink's hourly billing rate was prior to hiring them.
Upon announcing the final agenda item Monday night, Dudek told park board members that he intended to have some people at the meeting to address the board, but they couldn't make it, so he asked the board to reconvene the meeting at 6:45 the next evening.
"We'll have [the Park District of] Hoffman Estates in to discuss the process they went through to get lights approved," Dudek said. However, when Hirst asked Dudek exactly who from Hoffman Estates was coming, Dudek answered that it would be representatives from the law firm of Ancel and Glick, which had represented Hoffman Estates in their efforts to get lights installed at some of their fields.
"Why weren't we aware of this?" Hirst responded, and suggested placing the issue on the regular January meeting agenda. Hirst said she was concerned that the reconvened meeting was, in fact, intended to discuss an entirely separate point other than what was on the agenda, and as such would be a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
Dudek replied that he saw no problem with either the notification process or reconvening the meeting. At one point, Hirst exclaimed, "We're a public body, Mr. Dudek! I'm sorry you find the procedures under the Public Meetings Act such a burden."
In a 70-minute presentation Tuesday, attorney Robert Bush outlined the park district's rights and responsibilities in the lights application. He also stressed that there were both legal and political realities attendant to the application, and that any recourse to a lawsuit should be a "last resort," though one the park district should be prepared to use if deemed appropriate.
Bush currently serves as corporation counsel to several municipalities and boards, including five park districts, and has represented Illinois municipalities before various state and local administrative bodies. He is also co-author, along with firm member Stewart H. Diamond, of the Illinois Park District Law Manual.
Besides legal advice, Ancel Glink's website says it offers clients a range of counseling services, noting, "We can assist our park district clients in complex and mixed questions of law, economics finance, engineering and even psychology."
The park board also heard public comment Monday from three River Forest dog owners who asked the board to look into developing a dog park system akin to that being built in Oak Park. With Oak Park currently revamping their dog park system, they said, River Forest residents who have previously used Oak Park facilities will no longer be able to do so. The men said they were willing to be of assistance any way they can.
"What would you guys need from us to ? make this work?" resident Bob Brennan asked the board.
The board appointed Commissioner Ron Steele, Jr. to work with Executive Director Tom Grundin on developing a plan outline and report back to the board at next month's meeting. Possible sites mentioned include Washington Park on the village's south side, as well as the three narrow grassy areas along the north side of Lake Street across from the Jewel parking lot. Grundin said Tuesday that any decision on a site or design of a dog park is at least a "month or two" off, and that it was too early to speak definitively. "We need to do due diligence," he said, adding that he had been in contact with the Park District of Oak Park regarding their research on the subject.
The board also heard concerns expressed by resident Ronald Ghilardi that the 2005 park tax levy would not increase 3.5 percent, but a total of 33 percent due to a 29-percent increase in the median Property Valuation median increase. "This does not take into account the increase in tax rates due to rate increases in the school district, the Village of River Forest, the River Forest Township," said Ghilardi. The board instructed Grundin to meet with Ghilardi to discuss his concerns.