Sparks fly at RF board meeting

Police Committee to bring in volunteer consultant

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Tensions between the River Forest village board's old guard and three trustees demanding numerous changes in practice and procedure continued to escalate Monday night. The jockeying for parliamentary advantage on the board generated more than a few sparks, degenerating at times into outright personal animosity and name calling.

While bad blood was evident throughout the evening, the two primary areas of contention were the insistence by Trustee Steve Hoke, who chairs the Police Committee, to bring in an outside expert advisor, and questions by Hoke and Trustee Steve Dudek as to the propriety of and need for the village's Development Review Board (DRB).

At various times Village Attorney Jon Gilbert clearly supported Hoke's right to bring in Casey, and appeared to express qualified legal support for the existence of the DRB.

The discord started when Hoke told the board that he intended to bring in former Chicago Police Deputy Superintendent Matt Casey as an outside expert to advise him and members of that committee as they investigate alleged problems with the police department and the West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center.

Village President Frank Paris bristled at that suggestion, and immediately called for a "stand in," stopping the proceedings while Village Clerk Cathleen Adduci passed copies of Casey resume to trustees.

Trustee Patrick O'Brien then made a motion that the Police Committee not be allowed to "hire" Casey.

Both Hoke and Gilbert, however, noted that Hoke had only said he was considering recommending Casey to the board, with no intention of hiring him.

When Paris objected to Hoke presenting him with Casey's resume at what he characterized as the last moment, Trustee Russ Nummer said, "I seem to recall very frequently being handed someone's resume [at the last moment] by you. It's disingenuous to chastise another [board] member for doing what you do."

When Paris insisted that Hoke could not bring Casey to the Thursday committee meeting, Hoke fired back, "You're not a member of the police committee. The three members of the police committee will do what they see fit."

As the argument wore on, Hoke asked Paris, "What are you afraid of, Mr. President? Are you afraid of dialogue?"

"No," Paris snapped back, "I'm afraid of you taking over this village and doing a lot of damage."

Hoke called for a point of order and noted that the motion was illegal under the Illinois Open Meetings Act, since it wasn't noticed on the agenda. After the board haggled a while longer, Gilbert expressed a legal opinion that the police committee had a right to interview Casey for its own purposes, and that O'Brien's motion was in fact illegal due to a lack of prior public notice.

O'Brien eventually withdrew his motion, but not before Dudek angrily asked for a vote to censure Paris for his denial of Hoke's appeal of O'Brien's motion.

The rancor resurfaced during discussion of the Development Review Board, an agenda item requested by Hoke. Dudek had also previously sought such a discussion, and Paris appeared to seethe as Hoke questioned Gilbert and Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez about the origins of and rationale for the establishment of the DRB.

Asked about the status of a search for documents related to the creation of the DRB, particularly a legal review of such a board, Gutierrez said he was continuing to search for it.

When Hoke asked Gutierrez whether River Forest was the only municipality in Illinois with a DRB, Paris interjected, "I don't think that makes any difference."

"I wouldn't say it's a common practice," said Gutierrez.

Dennis McMahon, a veteran member of the DRB stood by silently as the board sparred for over half an hour. When he finally spoke, he noted that the DRB handled a large amount of work related to the oversight of village development that would either have to be handled by the Plan Commission or Zoning Board of Appeals, or not done at all.

As Hoke continued to pose questions that clearly called the need for the DRB into question, Paris became increasingly agitated.

"Hasn't it worked well in practice?" he asked Hoke at one point.

Hoke said that while the DRB might be a good idea in the abstract, it was flawed in practice.

When Dudek attempted to comment on the DRB, Paris suggested that Dudek had expressed "unhappiness" with his experience before the DRB as a River Forest park board member. Dudek bristled and accused Paris of betraying comments made in private conversation.

"You're opening up a Pandora's Box," he warned Paris.

As the exchange became increasingly personal, Paris accused Dudek of attacking him.

"I'm not attacking anyone," Dudek replied. "You don't like what I have to say. But I'm elected like you are."

Accusing Hoke and Dudek of attacking the members of the DRB, Paris said, "Don't you think you should look at their performance before you start attacking them?"

"If you ask for a legal discussion of the DRB, that's attacking them," replied Hoke disdainfully as he pushed back his chair. "I think that speaks for itself."

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