Kadner: Presidential race can’t solve this problem
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org November 5, 2012 9:08PM
Sauk Village Mayor Lewis Towers
Updated: December 7, 2012 6:16AM
As the rest of the nation is focused on Tuesday’s presidential election, I’m focusing on the politics of Sauk Village.
On Monday, Mayor Lewis Towers announced the appointment of a new police chief (former Chief Robert Fox) and village manager (former village manager Henrietta Turner) as well as the hiring of a new legal counsel.
But the police chief and village manager positions were abolished by the village board as of Nov. 1.
“That’s right,” Towers said, “but these are really reappointments because it’s the same village manager and police chief we had before the village board voted to eliminate them.”
Does the village have the money to pay them?
“I don’t know,” the mayor replied.
Well, is there money in the budget for those positions?
“I haven’t seen the budget, and I was not part of the budget process,” he said. “The village board issued a press release saying they passed a balanced budget, but we haven’t had an audit in three years so I don’t know how anyone can say the budget is balanced.”
How much will the police chief and village manager be paid?
“That has yet to be determined,” Towers said.
How do you know Sauk Village can afford their services?
“The police chief only made $70,000, and they (trustees) kept his secretary on at a salary of $60,000, more if you include her overtime, so if we can afford the police chief’s secretary we can afford a police chief.
“I made this as an executive decision for the safety of the community because crime is up, community residents tell me they never see a squad car in the streets and when they go down to the police station to complain there’s no one there to answer their questions.”
Didn’t the village basically give a buyout package to Fox so he would go away?
“He has some kind of written agreement,” Towers said.
Indeed, village attorney Burton Odelson told me Monday that he was planning to go to court to enforce that agreement.
Odelson’s law firm was originally hired by the mayor, who later tried to fire him. The village board intervened, and Odelson remains the Sauk Village attorney.
But Towers said he has employed the services of attorney Stepfon R. Smith, of Smith Amundsen LLC, to represent Sauk Village.
“My guess is we’ll end up in court,” Towers said, when I asked him again about the hiring of Fox and Turner to positions that no longer exist.
Won’t that mean more tax money wasted on lawsuits?
“I suppose it will.”
The next time you hear politicians on the national stage talk about giving more control to local governments because they know best how to serve their communities, you might want to think about Sauk Village.
This summer, the village had to buy bottled water for residents because after years of warnings, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency determined that its drinking water was unsafe.
Already facing a budget shortfall, the village had to spend about $1 million on legal fees and equipment for water filtration to make the water safe again, which it is.
But there’s been a running feud between the mayor and village trustees — some of whom were members of Towers’ slate when he was elected nearly four years ago — about the best way to operate the village.
When Towers originally hired Fox as police chief, the village board attempted to lock Fox out of his own office. A court battle ensued, and Towers won the right to appoint Fox as chief.
By abolishing the office, and placing the fire chief in charge of both the police and fire departments (while giving Fox a financial package to leave), village trustees thought they’d solved that political problem.
Meanwhile, Turner, the village manager, is involved in litigation with Sauk Village over her dismissal.
Odelson said Towers has “gone through five or six legal firms” in his three-plus years as mayor, apparently hoping to find one whose opinions agree with his own.
There are about 10,550 people living in Sauk Village, where the median household income is $51,908, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. The suburb, located along the Indiana state line, is 63 percent black, 23 percent white and 11 percent Hispanic, and its unemployment rate is about 16 percent, or twice the national average, the census data says.
Like many municipalities in Illinois, Sauk Village faces a budget crunch due to the state’s precarious financial situation, high home foreclosure rates and the national recession.
No matter who wins the presidential race, the April village election will likely have a far greater impact on the life of Sauk Village residents.
Village board meetings have grown so contentious that Cook County sheriff’s police have been called out to keep the peace.
The Sauk Village clerk has called on the Cook County state’s attorney, Illinois attorney general and U.S. attorney’s office to intervene in the political feud. Towers said he has also gone to the state’s attorney and Illinois attorney general because “the village board won’t allow me to function as the chief executive.”
Towers, an employee of the Cook County assessor’s office, was recently suspended for taking a property tax exemption to which he was not entitled.
The national media is focused on Obama vs. Romney and will remain on the White House after today’s election is over.
Outside of its borders, not many folks think about Sauk Village.
Today, it has a police chief but may not have the money, or the desire, to pay him.