Village Council rejects Burris as Public Works director

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By BOB SKOLNIK

The bitter split on the Forest Park Village Council was once again on display at Monday night's council meeting.

In a vote apparently unprecedented in recent Forest Park political history, the council voted 3-2 to reject the recommendation of commissioners Patrick Doolin and Terry Steinbach to hire Paul Burris to the new position of director of the Public Works department.

Mayor Anthony Calderone and Commissioners Tim Gillian and Mark Hosty voted against hiring Burris, saying that they were happy with the job that Bob Kutak has been doing for the last 18 months as interim Public Works director and did not see the need to hire anyone new.

Doolin, the commissioner for streets and public improvements, and Steinbach, the commissioner for public property, share responsibility for the department and were outraged that the person they recommended to direct the department was rejected.

"It's yet another example of the majority forcing their will on the minority," said Doolin, who stated that he had always followed the recommendations of other commissioners when they were hiring for their own departments and that those nominees were always approved by unanimous votes.

But when it came time for Doolin and Steinbach to hire their department head things were different.

"The one opportunity that commissioner Steinbach and I had was voted down by a 3-2 vote," Doolin said. "We are now, in effect, ceremonial commissioners. We can't even choose the director we work closely with. This evening was political theater. Because of playground politics a public servant has been sent on his way. It's a damn shame. Three beats two every time and that's just the way it is. They have destroyed the public works department. Our employees will not have any respect for me. Our director will not have any respect for me. We went through a 15 month search process that was dismantled in 15 minutes of political rhetoric. No valid reason was given tonight not to appoint Paul Burris."

Neither Calderone, who is in his sixth year as mayor and served four years on the village council prior to that, nor Gillian, now in his 10th year on the village council, could recall another time when the council voted against hiring a department head who had been recommended by the commissioner in charge of that department.

"I don't think that has happened," Calderone said. This may be the first time."

Kutak has served as director of the old Department of Streets and Public Improvement since 1998 and has worked for the village of Forest Park for the last 17 years. He has been running the public works department on an interim basis since the decision was made to combine the departments of streets and improvements with the department of public property to form the Public Works department.

About that time, public property department director Bill Heider left for another job leaving Kutak in charge of the combined department. Kutak is a high school graduate, but has no other formal education.

Doolin and Steinbach cited Kutak's lack of education as a reason to hire Burris, who now works for a water utility company and has a masters degree in public administration, as director of public works. But Kutak's experience carried more weight with the majority.

"The only reason I have heard for not giving Bob the full reins of this department is his lack of education," said Hosty, who read from a prepared statement before the vote. "Well, I put a lot of stock in the hard earned knowledge 17 years of Forest Park public works experience has brought to him. In my view he has earned a masters degree in Forest Park."

Hosty said that he recognized that it was unusual, but not improper, for the village council to reject a commissioner's selection for their own department.

"While I believe in the commissioner form of government I also believe in the checks and balances of having the entire council ratify department head appointments," Hosty said.

After the meeting, Hosty was critical of the choice made by Doolin and Steinbach.

"The guy they brought in had a specialty in water, no experience in Forest Park," said Hosty after the meeting. "He lived quite a distance away. The key to public works is plowing, potholes. It's knowing the village. It's fixing things here. You got a guy who lives a substantial amount away and you want him to get here in a snow storm. How is he going to get here? We have the reputation as having the best snow removal in the western suburbs. It's because of Bob."

Steinbach felt that the majority should have deferred to the judgment of those charged with responsibility for the Public Works department, namely herself and Doolin.

"I'm not quite sure why they think they can run my department better than I can," Steinbach said. "Many projects have been put on hold because we don't have a leader in that department with the necessary skills. He doesn't have what I feel is the necessary management education or experience."

Doolin said that Kutak has never formally applied for the position, and that if Burris had been hired Kutak would have retained his current job and salary.

"To this day Bob has never submitted a resume to me, his boss, to be part of the interview process," Doolin said.

The majority said they saw no need to hire an expensive outsider.

"We have a person who has been fulfilling the responsibilities down there for a good year and a half, and I don't see the need the need to add to our payroll," said Calderone after the meeting.

"The public has not been ringing my phone off the hook or storming Village Hall to say that public works functions have not been performed. In fact I haven't heard one complaint in 15 to 18 months. If that isn't enough time to test a person's ability I don't know what is."

In other action, the council voted 4-1, with Steinbach the lone dissenter, to award contracts to Cerniglia Company in the amount of $2,422,808.15 and to Johnson Paving for $767,568.50 for work on the Village Improvement Program (VIP).

In awarding the contract to Cerniglia, the council decided to bypass the lowest bidder, A. Lamp Company, which bid $145,000 less than Cerniglia.

Mayor Calderone said that there have been numerous lawsuits files against A. Lamp and that other communities have had problems with their work.

"The village of Oak Park excused A. Lamp from a project," said Calderone. "They positively threw them off the job. Rolling Meadows, Bensenville, and Glendale Heights have issues with A. Lamp."

But Steinbach said that most of the lawsuits against Lamp were from 1997 to 2000 and that the village and its engineers could closely monitor their work. Steinbach noted that A. Lamp was pre-qualified by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

"I feel that for $145,000 we can put those mitigating factors in place," said Steinbach who also had a problem with one of Cerniglia's subcontractors, a company called Orange Crush which Steinbach said is an offshoot of a company barred from federal and state work.

The council also unanimously approved the appointment of the Paul Barbahen, Lillian Coleman, and Kathleen Garness to the village's new ethics commission. Village Administrator Michael Sturino was appointed ethics advisor.

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