Kadner: Toscas wants to change Crestwood
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org March 20, 2013 10:10PM
Updated: April 22, 2013 12:11PM
Attorney John Toscas, 56, is waging the most aggressive challenge in 40 years to the political reign of the Stranczek family in Crestwood.
Toscas, who has been the most outspoken critic of village politics since his election as trustee four years ago, promises to end nepotism, cronyism and create a new era of open government.
“For more than 20 years, there were no board meeting agendas in Crestwood,” Toscas said. “If you go back to before I became a trustee, there were no minutes of (closed) sessions. None. Ever.
“And village board decisions were made in committee-of-the-whole meetings instead of regular board meetings, and no minutes were ever kept of those.”
There are two other candidates running for mayor, and one of them is Trustee Lou Presta, a longtime ally of the Stranczek family.
Chester Stranczek, who was mayor for 38 years, is retired and living in Florida. His son, Robert, who succeeded him as mayor in 2007, is not seeking re-election to a second four-year term.
“In 23 years, Lou Presta never cast a ‘no’ vote on that board,” Toscas claimed. “He was a rubber stamp for the Stranczeks, and nothing will change in this village if he’s elected mayor.”
Toscas criticizes Presta for keeping Police Chief Theresa Neubauer on the village payroll at $65,000 a year after she was indicted by the federal government for her role in a tainted-water scandal. Neubauer served as a water department employee before being named police chief.
Toscas also opposed paying for the legal defense of Neubauer and another water department official, which Presta supported.
Presta contends that Toscas is running for mayor and Worth Township assessor in April and that an Illinois attorney general’s opinion states that the two offices are incompatible. Toscas, a municipal attorney, told me the attorney general’s opinion would not apply to his situation.
If elected to both offices, Toscas said he would handle both jobs while operating his law practice and serving as an administrative law judge in the western suburbs.
“The assessor’s job pays $30,000 a year, and the Crestwood mayor makes $6,000,” he said. “The opinion issued by the attorney general’s office applies to township assessors who determine tax assessments.
“In 101 of 102 counties of this state, the (township) assessor actually makes property tax assessments, but in Cook County that responsibility is solely that of the Cook County assessor. Township assessors in Cook County primarily help homeowners and businesses file tax appeals.
“I’m proud to say that in my 12 years as Worth Township assessor, that office has filed more tax appeals on behalf of people than any other township office in Cook County. In one year alone we did more than 7,000 appeals.
“If elected mayor, I would spend more time in the village hall than anyone else running in this campaign.
“You can’t find the current mayor there. It’s a $6,000-a-year part-time job, and no one in their right mind would consider putting full time into a job that pays that kind of money.
“But I work from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, and I would prioritize my schedule and right now this village needs all the help it can get. So that’s where I would put the most time in.
“I own my own law practice so I can make my own hours. I have an efficient staff at the assessor’s office and, although I will continue to be there every day, I can still find time to be at the village hall.”
The attorney general’s opinion, issued in May 2010 regarding a case out of Winnebago County, states that the offices of village trustee and township assessor are incompatible. It notes that there are times when properties purchased by municipal bodies might be taxable, and therefore a trustee who serves as assessor could have a conflict of interest.
But the Illinois attorney general has never issued an opinion on the compatibility of the office of a township assessor and mayor (or trustee or alderman) in Cook County. And Toscas is correct when he claims that township assessors in Cook County do not assess property.
Toscas would rather focus on the issues confronting Crestwood.
“We’re facing 131 class-action lawsuits because of the water scandal,” he said. “We’re facing a lawsuit by the Illinois attorney general’s office that could amount to $1 million in fines. I’m better qualified to deal with these problems than the current mayor or anyone running for mayor in this election.”
Toscas said Presta, as a village trustee, had to know that Crestwood was distributing some well water to village residents, although the village claimed at the time it was 100 percent Lake Michigan water.
That well water was contaminated, according to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which had ordered Crestwood to close the well years earlier.
“Some people here tell me that Presta didn’t know the water was contaminated,” Toscas said. “Whether he knew that or not, he should have known, and he had to have known that the village was distributing that well water.
“Chet Stranczek bragged that we had the cheapest water in the area. We were buying our Lake Michigan water from Alsip. How could it be cheaper unless he was putting well water into that distribution system?”
If elected, Toscas said he would make crime information available to the public. Crestwood has been notorious for refusing to report its crime data to the news media or the public.
Toscas said he would also hire a “professional police chief.”
“I’m the only candidate running for office who does not have relatives or business friends working for the village, and I will not have relatives working for the village if elected mayor,” he said. “That’s a promise.
“This is a village in crisis,” Toscas said. “I’m prepared to face that challenge.”
Voters will have to decide if they want things to change in Crestwood.
For the first time in more than four decades, they actually have that opportunity.