Kadner: New vision for Oak Lawn too focused on politics
Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-6787 June 20, 2012 8:22PM
Updated: July 23, 2012 7:22AM
I can’t help wondering if this was Dave Heilmann’s “new vision” for Oak Lawn when he was first elected mayor in 2005.
Heilmann and his ironically named Unity Party convinced voters then that they were bringing youth, vitality and a fresh way of thinking to Oak Lawn government.
About a year later, Heilmann’s former allies on the village board, including trustees Tom Phelan (6th district) and Alex Olejniczak (2nd), turned on the mayor and joined forces with Trustee Bob Streit (3rd) to form a new board majority.
There were allegations that the mayor was incompetent, uncommunicative and had wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds on a law firm with which he had a special relationship.
Streit, the longest-serving trustee and a wily veteran of Oak Lawn political wars, always seems to be at the center of controversy but always survives.
Once he was a member of Oak Lawn’s Bar Stool Four, a group of village officials who met in a bar after meetings, plotted political coups and briefly controlled the suburb.
He’s a close friend of Dennis Brennan, a former attorney for the local high school district who lost that position after masterminding and financing a political campaign in which hundreds of videotapes were mailed anonymously to Oak Lawn residents, smearing the reputations of school board candidates who had vowed to fire Brennan if elected.
Today, Brennan and Streit are partners in a consulting business that pitches electrical aggregation to municipalities.
And now Streit, once among Heilmann’s harshest critics, has joined forces with the mayor and is demanding a forensic audit of Oak Lawn’s Fall on the Green festival, accusing old allies Phelan and Olejniczak of all manner of misdeeds.
It turns out the “new vision” for Oak Lawn looks a lot like a bad TV reality show. Lawsuits keep flying as fast as the allegations, with Phelan and Olejniczak claiming they have been defamed by their old buddy Streit and the mayor.
The mayor said he was told that Olejniczak called police to complain about the fees associated with a friend’s DUI arrest and has heard reports that the trustee tried to intervene in other police matters.
The bickering sounds childish at times but also involves some serious allegations.
“I told Tom (Phelan) when he took control of the village board that Streit is going to burn you,” said former Trustee Jerry Hurckes. “‘I guarantee you he will burn you,’ I told him three separate times.
“And you know what, if Streit eventually switches sides and burns Heilmann, I wouldn’t be surprised. And Heilmann ought to know that because he’s known Bob for a long time.”
Heilmann recently named Streit as chairman of the village’s special events committee, and Streit immediately issued a news release calling for a forensic audit of Fall on the Green, the annual village festival.
In his news release, Streit not so modestly proclaimed, “Oak Lawn Mayor David Heilmann took the first step toward cleaning up the special events committee by appointing Independent Village Trustee Robert Streit as the chairman of the committee and replacing Trustee Thomas Phelan amid allegations of favoritism and wrongdoing.
“(Phelan) apparently used the sponsor’s passes (for the event) to reward political allies and to bully his opponents, including any trustees that questions his actions,” Streit continued. “Since that time, Streit stated that he has received information from other sources providing him with several other questionable practices.
“I am shocked by the number of issues raised and questionable practices alleged, and I believe the board has a duty to act to determine the validity of these actions,” according to Streit.
In response, Phelan has released hundreds of pages of emails with village officials, contending that they prove he did nothing wrong, while also taking shots at Heilmann’s administration of the village. Among the emails is one from a village trustee seeking employment for an in-law.
I don’t know that anyone has made the argument that the annual festival lost money, and distribution of free passes and drink tickets smells more like self-serving promotion than abuse of public office.
The idea of selling mixed drinks at a family festival sounds risky to me. For example, if a child was hurt during a drunken brawl, exactly how would village officials go about defending the sale of mixed drinks?
Was anyone even adult enough to think about the liability and ramifications?
The egos of elected officials in Oak Lawn are large and their vision focused only on their mirrors.