Oak Lawn mayor, trustee at odds over village manager’s crash
BY STEVE METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org January 22, 2014 9:19AM
Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and Village Trustee Bob Streit argued at last week’s village board meeting over whether to discuss publicly a December incident in which the village manager drove an Oak Lawn owned car into a ditch in nearby Palos Park.
Streit (3rd) said during the board meeting that he was looking for answers surrounding the incident involving Village Manager Larry Deetjen.
“A lot has happened since our last meeting of Dec. 10 ... I’ve been getting a lot of phone calls and emails from residents in my district on a number of issues. Many times I’m not sure how to answer them because, quite frankly, I don’t have the answers,” Streit said. “Like many people in the Village of Oak Lawn, I’ve been kept in the dark.”
Deetjen was involved in a minor one-car crash on Dec. 12, in which he drove a village-owned vehicle into a ditch on the east side of Southwest Highway, just south of Illinois 83, according to police. Deetjen and his wife were not injured in the crash, police said, after which he arranged for a ride home and called the Oak Lawn Public Works Department for a tow back to Oak Lawn, Palos Park Police Chief Joe Miller said at the time.
No charges were filed against Deetjen.
“First of all, we have the incident of the village manager driving his vehicle into a ditch in Palos Park and abandoning it there ...” Streit said.
But before Streit could complete his question, Bury promptly slammed down her gavel and ordered him to be quiet.
“You know what, this is my ‘new business’ report,” Streit said. “If you don’t want to take the opportunity to address it, that’s your choice.”
Bury said the issue could be discussed in executive session since it involved an employee of the village.
“I’ve got people asking me questions. I’d like to give them an honest answer,” Streit said. “If that’s how you want to do this, fine.”
Streit’s comments came moments after Village Trustee Tim Desmond (1st) made light of the incident when talking about the public works department’s snow clearing efforts in recent storms.
“I actually heard these guys worked so hard, that even Mr. Deetjen was able to keep his car on the road,” Desmond said, causing the board — including Streit and Deetjen — to bust out laughing, along with some residents in the audience.
Moments later, however, Bury was not laughing when Streit began talking about the incident.
“Where we were going was to publicly berate an employee. We know that. The joke (by Desmond) was not intended to humiliate or berate (Deetjen),” Bury said after the meeting.
Asked how she knew Streit would have tried to humiliate or berate Deetjen, Bury replied, “I know.”
The next day, Streit said that he wants Bury and/or Deetjen “to address the issue because you’re talking about an incident where you have village property involved, and where the manager left the scene of an accident.”
“Let’s put it this way, he certainly should answer to someone. It’s unfortunate what the mayor and board intend to do is whitewash the whole issue,” Streit said. “If any of the village’s 400 employees did what he did, they would be fired.”
Deetjen last month called the crash a “non-issue.”
“I miscalculated a turn on Southwest Highway and got stuck in a snow/ice-covered shoulder. I attempted to rock the car out to no avail and only slipped into a storm drainage swale area. (There was) zero damage to car; no other vehicles nor injuries involved,” Deetjen wrote last month. “Because I was working and our night maintenance crew were still on duty, they were called to pull the vehicle out and bring it back to Village Hall. That has happened before when the vehicle has broken down.”