Mayor uneasy with possible change to Thorn Creek board
A longtime political ally of Chicago Heights Mayor Dave Gonzalez is trying to get on the Thorn Creek Basin Sanitary District Board, a move that a local mayor says will give Chicago Heights officials control of the district that serves six south suburbs.
The district’s attorneys are reviewing the petition of Chicago Heights Park District Supt. Frank Perez, who’s seeking to replace Thomas Brabec, who’s also a Homewood School District 153 Board member.
If he joins the sanitary district board, Perez and board member David Zerante would form a majority on the three-member board. Zerante is a Chicago Heights resident and a supporter of Gonzalez, having donated $500 in June to Gonzalez’s campaign fund.
Crete Mayor Michael Einhorn, who spoke during the district board’s Sept. 20 meeting, said he was worried about the concentration of power. He suggested that Chicago Heights officials may turn the sanitary district, which has a $5.3 million budget, into a patronage operation.
“I don’t think its good for one municipality to have control of the sanitary service for six different communities,” Einhorn said. “Maybe I’m crying wolf or thinking the sky is falling and it’s not. I’m pointing out the fact that there is the potential for problems here.”
The district’s sewage treatment plant in Chicago Heights serves about 90,000 residents of Crete, South Chicago Heights, Chicago Heights, Homewood, Park Forest and Steger. About 26 people work at the plant, 700 West End Ave.
The district board consists of Zerante, Brabec and Park Forest resident Bernadette M. Morrison. Each member has a staggered term of three years and is paid $6,000 per year. State legislators who represent the areas served by the district all have to sign off on each appointee to the board, according to John Izzo, the sanitary district board’s attorney.
Izzo said he was contacted Sept. 19 by Chicago Heights city attorney TJ Somer, who forwarded him a petition to appoint Perez to the board. When the board met the next day, Izzo told members that he needed to review Perez’s petition due to some irregularities. The board will now consider Perez’s petition Oct. 18.
Izzo said the petition was signed and dated May 31, a month after the legal deadline. He said a new state law extends the deadline for such petitions to July 1 but doesn’t go into effect until next year.
Izzo also said Perez didn’t secure a bond from an insurance company prior to submitting his petition, which is required by law. And Perez’s petition was missing the signature of state Rep. Thaddeus Jones (D-Calumet City), whose House district is partly within the Thorn Creek Basin Sanitary District, according to Izzo.
He said state Sens. Michael Hastings (D-Orland Park), Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) and Napoleon Harris (D-Flossmoor) signed Perez’s petition May 31, as did state Reps. Anthony DeLuca (D-Chicago Heights), Al Riley (D-Olympia Fields) and Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest).
As for Brabec, he said he wants to stay on the district board.
“The guiding principle I use in my board service is that wastewater treatment is a regional proposition, and it is not a little entity over here or this town over there,” Brabec said. “It’s what’s in the best interest of the entire area.”
Homewood Mayor Rich Hofeld said he wasn’t concerned about Chicago Heights officials controlling the sanitary district board.
“I’m sure they’re responsible people, and they’ll provide a good service to us,” Hofeld said.
Perez, Zerante and Gonzalez could not be reached for comment.