Proviso Township hires former state senator as lobbyist

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By SETH STERN

On the heels of the controversial hiring of Westchester resident Tom Robbins as a liaison to expedite communications between the board and the mayors in the township, the Proviso Township Board of Trustees voted last week to hire former Republican State Senator Tom Walsh as a lobbyist.

Township Trustee and Forest Park Commissioner Tim Gillian said he personally called Walsh to ask if he'd be interested in the job. Gillian said that after several meetings during which projects that would require capital funding were discussed, the time was right to hire a lobbyist for the township.

"[Walsh] is a former senator from our area," Gillian said. "He's on a first-name basis with up to nine different state representatives or senators in our district. I felt he was right for the job."

The motion to hire Walsh at a salary of $2,500 per month passed 4-1, with Jesse Martinez, who is also a trustee in Stone Park, voting in opposition.

"My fear is we get no money. ... We haven't even identified the projects [that Walsh would work on]," Martinez said, asking that Walsh only be paid if he delivers funds.

Walsh said at the meeting that it was illegal for lobbyists to work on a commission though some do it anyway. He will receive his monthly salary regardless of the funding he brings into the township.

Gillian said projects requiring funding included acquiring additional buses for the transportation of senior citizens, funding the township's Handyman program, intended to provide area seniors with access to handywork around their homes, and roadwork in West Dale Garden, a part of unincorporated Cook County governed by the township.

At a November meeting, the board was asked to assist Bellwood-based West Suburban Senior Services with its transportation needs.

"We have an election coming up in Springfield," said Gillian. "We have nine different elected officials [serving the Township] who are going to have some money. It is my belief that we can tap at least one of them for funds."

The hiring of Walsh has heightened criticism of the board that began with the hiring of Robbins as a community liaison. Robbins was hired after the township's attorney, Stanley Kusper, reversed his initial ruling in September that Commissioner Anthony Williams' abstention from the vote counted as a no vote.

Martinez voted against that hiring as well, stating that the township did not need a liaison, and that the mayors in the township agreed that it was unnecessary. Stone Park Mayor Beniamino Mazulla attended the meeting to object to the position.

Some critics called the hiring a political appointment, as Robbins had campaigned for Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico in the past. Walsh has also supported and received campaign donations from Serpico.

Serpico, who contributed heavily to the Township Alliance Party which includes Gillian, Commissioner Don Sloan, Township Clerk Grady Rivers and Township Assessor Michael Corrigan, has been quoted in news reports denying any role in that hiring.

Gillian said that the liaison position was created in response to comments from various mayors and officials who said that they had difficulty getting in touch with Township representatives. He said the job was formed on a trial basis, and at a salary of $1,000 per month, is of minimal expense to the township.

Township government is operating on a budget of just under $3.8 million for the current fiscal year.

"It's a position that will be reviewed in a period of six months, and if it's not working and has not brought to bear better communications, it would be eliminated," Gillian said, noting that Robbins was chosen for the job because of his familiarity with the mayors of Proviso Township.

"He knows how to get involved. He knows how to push township services," said Gillian, adding that the job also includes increasing the visibility of township services in Proviso communities and ensuring that township pamphlets are readily available.

Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone said though he has never encountered trouble getting in touch with township officials, "if they're working toward better communications, I think that's a good thing."

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