Oak Lawn mayor supports releasing report on legal fees
BY BOB RAKOW Correspondent August 31, 2012 7:33PM
Oak Lawn Mayor Dave Heilmann
Updated: October 3, 2012 6:22AM
A confidential report on alleged overbilling by a law firm the village of Oak Lawn hired on Mayor Dave Heilmann’s recommendation should be made public, Heilmann said Friday night.
The surprising twist in a long-running saga that has muddied the political landscape in Oak Lawn came in the wake of the law firm, Tressler LLP, saying it wouldn’t fight a ruling by the Illinois attorney general’s office that the report is public information.
“My opinion is release it. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care who gets it,” Heilmann said. “You release it. Period.”
The report was issued in July as part of a legal settlement with Tressler LLP, the village’s former law firm, for allegedly overbilling Oak Lawn over a nearly five-year period. The settlement required that Tressler pay the village $500,000, that Oak Lawn pay the firm $50,000 and that Tressler forgive payment of another $46,360 owed it by the village. The settlement also carried a confidentiality agreement.
“That was a Tressler provision. No one on the village board asked for confidentiality,” Heilmann said.
The report was prepared by a Wisconsin-based law firm, Godfrey and Kahn, that was hired in May 2011 to review a similar report prepared earlier by Evergreen Park attorney Burton Odelson.
Sandra Bury, an Oak Lawn community activist and businesswoman, on July 6 requested a copy of the Godfrey and Kahn report via Illinois’ freedom of information law. The village denied the request, leading Bury to file an appeal with the attorney general’s office.
Tressler on Wednesday informed the village that the firm would not fight Bury’s appeal.
Told Friday night that Heilmann said the report should be released, Bury, who’s rumored to be planning to oppose Heilmann in April’s election, said, “I will go right there (village hall) and get it. He’s hoping it blows over. The eye is on him, and he has to play the part of the mayor. The spotlight is on him, and no one does it better than Dave. All I want to know is what happened.”
Heilmann did not give a timeline for making the report public. The village board has until Wednesday to decide if the village will fight Bury’s appeal. Bury said she expects the board to request an extension.
Bury said if she got the report, she would make it available to the public.
“It has become my personal mission,” she said.
Trustee Tom Phelan (6th) has criticized Heilmann for allegedly delaying the presentation of the report to the board, as agreed to in the settlement. Trustee Alex Olejniczak’s request for a special board meeting last Wednesday to discuss the report was canceled for lack of a quorum.
“It was a travesty,” Olejniczak (2nd) said. “It’s just another example of the majority of leadership in Oak Lawn not wanting to be transparent.”
Trustee Carol Quinlan (5th), one of three trustees who skipped the meeting, said it was unnecessary.
“There’s nothing to talk about,” she said. “I didn’t even want a report. I read it. I don’t have any other questions. This is all for show.”
Trustees Bob Streit (3rd) and Cynthia Trautsch (1st), who also did not attend the meeting, could not be reached for comment.
The legal-fees settlement came more than two years after Odelson began his investigation into the billing practices of the Tressler firm. It also calls for Oak Lawn to get $20,000 from CCMSI, which was retained by the village as a third-party administrator in July 2007 to provide various services, such as monitoring legal billing.
Odelson’s inquiry found that the village paid nearly $556,000 to Klein, Thorpe & Jenkins for legal fees in 2005 but paid more than $1 million in each of the next four years to the Tressler firm and attorney Norm Chimenti for legal work.
D.J. Sartorio — a member of the executive committee at Tressler — told the SouthtownStar in 2011 that the firm’s fees for one “runaway” lawsuit skewed the average of what the firm charged the village.
That case was a 2006 sexual harassment lawsuit by firefighter Sharon Januszewski that was settled in September 2009 for $850,000. Sartorio said defending the village in that case cost $930,000.
He said Tressler’s billing otherwise averaged about $550,000 a year over 41/2 years, comparable to what Klein, Thorpe & Jenkins was paid in 2005.