For the second straight village council meeting, Commissioner Patrick Doolin and Mayor Anthony Calderone skirmished for more than 20 minutes about the village's mounting legal bills in the proceedings to terminate Police Sergeant Dan Harder before the Fire and Police Commission.
Doolin again spoke up when the normally routine matter of authorizing the payment of bills came up at the beginning of the council meeting. Those bills included $24,027.78 in legal fees associated with the Harder hearing. $10,449.63 was billed by the law firm of Patrick Lucansky which represents Police Chief James Ryan at the hearing, and $13,578.15 was billed by the law firm of Charles Hervas, who represents the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners.
According to Doolin, the village's legal bills in the proceeding now total $99,323.78 with more to come.
"I want to know who's accountable for this," said Doolin. "I would like to know who made the decision to go forward on this."
Calderone suggested that Doolin was merely interceding on behalf of a friend and that his calls for capping legal fees were motivated by a desire to help Harder by ending the hearing.
"I understand that you want to do that," said Calderone. "I understand your desire to bring an end to a hearing for your friend," said Calderone.
Doolin bristled at that and charged that the village was wasting money that could be better spent.
"This has nothing to do with friendship," said Doolin. "This has to do with $100,000 to date. This has to do with a police department working without a contract because we can't come to an agreement. You've got working class people who have not received a raise since '03. This is a lot of money. The question is where is the merit to this case? When did it become appropriate to spend this kind of money for these kinds of issues?"
Calderone replied, as he did at the last council hearing, that it would be wrong for an elected official to interfere in an employment matter.
"I don't believe it is our role as elected officials to attend these hearings and attempt, in some fashion, to be drawing conclusions," said Calderone. "We should allow the process to work. It does not make sense to cap fees associated with a disciplinary action because that in itself sends the wrong message. Is $100,000 a lot of money? Absolutely."
Calderone also denied that he had played any role in the decision to try to fire Harder.
"I didn't bring on any disciplinary matters," said Calderone. "I didn't instruct anybody to bring on any disciplinary matters and the chiefs or our departments, particularly with civil service employees, they have the right, they have the absolute right to bring forth disciplinary charges without the authorization of this council. They have that right to do so. That's how it works in a civil service environment. You should know. You chaired the Fire and Police Commission."
"There is no inherent right to spend as much money as one wants to spend," said Doolin in response. "I would be very surprised if any other department head would be given the fiscal latitude that this particular department head has received in an open-ended case that in the end is going to cost us an immeasurable amount of money. It wasn't that long ago that $150,000 would actually mean something to us up here. It would have saved a couple of jobs rather than spent to take away a job."
Calderone then charged that it is Harder's attorney, Jeanine Stevens, who is responsible for running up the village's legal fees by putting on a lengthy defense. Calderone noted that it took the village 1½ hearings to present its case while Stevens has taken 4½ hearings, with another one scheduled for village hall on Thursday at 4 p.m., to present Harder's case.
"The longer they want to make their case, the higher the bill gets," said Calderone. "Every hearing that we have, we've got bills that are going to be due to Hervas, and we've go bills that are going to be due to Lucansky."
Calderone then suggested to Doolin that if he wants to save the village some money, he should urge Stevens to bring the hearing to a speedy conclusion. "If you feel you have a responsibility to the community somehow, maybe at the next hearing why don't you ask the attorney to move it along, shake it up, let's get it done. Then you would be doing the village some justice then."
After the verbal jabs ended, the Council voted 4-1, with Doolin dissenting, to approve the payment of all the bills presented.
Then the village council needed less than 30 minutes to race through a 20-item action agenda approving 20 routine motions, all by unanimous vote.
The council gave the go-ahead for Phase II of the village improvement program which will include the repaving of numerous streets and alleys.
The council also approved the appointment of Rich Vitton, Kim Zandstra, Matt Mallers, Tom Pacyga and Ramya S. Bavikatte to the newly created Historical Preservation Commission.