Kadner: Sauk Village clerk pleads ‘We need help’
By PHIL KADNER firstname.lastname@example.org October 3, 2012 3:24PM
The Sauk Village Waterworks Dennis J. Keane, Sr. Main Pumping Station Tuesday July 16, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 5, 2012 11:29AM
“Sauk Village has hit rock bottom. Rules have been broken. The mayor has illegally appointed a trustee.
“We’re facing a $1.7 million budget deficit, and the (village) board can’t even hold a meeting. It’s all about politics, and everyone’s forgotten it’s supposed to be about the people.
“We need help. But no one is willing to help us.”
Those are the words of village Clerk Debbie Williams, who was elected less than four years ago with an entire slate of candidates that included Mayor Lewis Towers.
On Tuesday, she requested an interview to explain “just how bad a mess it’s become out here” and make a public plea for outside intervention.
Later that night, I would attend a village board committee meeting at which the mayor would bang his gavel more than 20 times in succession to silence one trustee and another trustee picked up her purse and walked out of the meeting, declaring she would not be part of an “illegal action.”
Only a few months ago, Sauk Village was in the news due to an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency finding that its wells were contaminated. The Illinois attorney general’s office demanded that the village distribute bottled water to all residents and immediately install a system to clean up the wells.
But Williams, trustees, residents and even the mayor would tell you the water problem was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the woes of this tiny suburb.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has dispatched sheriff’s police to provide security at village board meetings because some elected officials, feeling threatened, don’t trust their police department to do the job.
Residents told me they have gone to the sheriff’s department, the state’s attorney’s and attorney general’s offices and other law enforcement agencies with documentation about illegal acts, questions about missing funds and stacks of information about improper behavior.
“People keep telling us they’re investigating, but nothing happens,” one resident told me.
Another resident said, “I was told our community is just too small. We’re insignificant.”
Towers contends that he has been blocked by trustees from enacting reforms “at every step of the way” since his election in 2009.
In fact, the trustees changed the locks at the police station so a police chief appointed by the mayor couldn’t enter his office. A judge eventually ruled that the mayor had the right to appoint the chief, who remains in office as a temporary appointee.
But several village trustees feel they have found a way around the judge’s order by eliminating the position of police chief from next year’s budget, which begins Nov. 1.
Williams said that although she ran with Towers on the same party, she split with him “the very first day we took office.”
“I arrived at the village hall and found our campaign manager going through personnel files, giving out orders to the staff and acting like she was in charge,” Williams said. “We never discussed that. She had no right being there. But it was apparently the mayor’s intention all along to put her in charge of the village.
“That was the beginning of a long line of actions that I felt were inappropriate, and I wasn’t going to get involved in any of that.
“I ran to serve the people of this community. And I don’t want to make this about me. But I know it’s going to be because I’ve decided I can’t sit here in silence and let this continue any longer.”
Williams’ daughter, Rosie, was a member of the village board before her mother ran for clerk. On Tuesday, Rosie Williams was the trustee who walked out, refusing to participate in an “illegal meeting” and touching off a new village board rebellion against the mayor.
It does appear that Towers illegally appointed a woman, Francine Anderson, to fill a seat vacated by Trustee Robert Chavez.
“It was at a special session (Sept. 27) called just to discuss the budget, and (Towers) announced he was appointing her to the vacancy,” said Trustee Ed Myers, another member of Towers’ 2009 slate who has defected. “Well, the appointment wasn’t on the agenda. And when he made a motion to amend the agenda for that purpose it didn’t pass.
“Then the mayor says he’s amending the agenda anyway, he’s appointing her to the board without the board’s approval and he swears her into office and claims it’s official.”
At least four of the five trustees before that appointment claim it was illegal, as does a law firm employed by the village.
In a letter to the mayor dated Sept. 28, municipal attorney Burton Odelson tells Towers that “you cannot just appoint someone and swear them in, as you attempted to do. ... You do not have the authority to act as the mayor and the board since the (state) statutes prescribe that the ‘corporate authorities’ must confirm or not confirm your appointment.”
Towers originally hired Odelson’s firm, Odelson and Sterk, but later fired it. The village board then voted to retain the firm.
On Tuesday, Towers said his lawyer (not Odelson) has told him the appointment is legal.
But when the woman Towers appointed refused to leave the committee table Tuesday night, the rest of the board refused to participate in an “illegal” meeting and adjourned.
“We’ve had three law firms, two engineering firms, lawsuit after lawsuit, a village manager who is suing us, 160 grievances filed in the police department, funds missing from accounts and the village has no money,” Williams said. “The staff doesn’t even know who to take their orders from.
“We need help. And I don’t know where to go. Our community deserves better than this.”
It certainly does.
Correction: A column about Hollywood Park Family Fun Center in Crestwood on Tuesday may have led people to mistakenly believe that a single ticket for three hours of “unlimited fun” cost $100. Owner Chris Paliga stressed that the tickets are $24 each and would cost a family of four about $100.