The meeting began contentiously with a curt exchange between Mayor Anthony Calderone and vocal community activist Steven Backman, who asked the mayor to explain his involvement with Senate Bill 1296, a piece of legislation which would ease restrictions under the state’s Open Meetings Act.
The mayor responded by telling Backman that he was speaking during the public comment portion of the proceedings, admonishing him saying he knew better and asking Backman if he had anything to comment on.
The bill in question is an amendment to the Open Meetings Act, which would affect only commissioner form of governments, allowing two commissioners to meet and discuss non-legislative village matters without it being a violation of the act (See page 3 for further details).
“If the bill should pass it would cause serious harm to the well being of the citizens of Forest Park,” Backman told Calderone.
The issue was reignited when Commi-ssioner Theresa Steinbach chose to speak out against the bill during her commissioner report.
“I don’t support the bill,” she said. “I spoke to our lobbyist, who said he was instructed by the mayor to draft the bill. We overspent on our appropriations for the lobbyist.The lobbyist works on behalf of the village council and residents, not the mayor.”
Steinbach said she was disappointed the mayor had not shared these lobbying activities with the rest of the council and that the other commissioners were not consulted before initiating the lobbying process.
“I would like to see a change in the regulations on how we do business in legislation, I would like to see us meet our lobbyist and set the agenda,” she told Calderone.
Calderone told Steinbach she needed to curb her statements because they were misleading.
“That work has not cost the village one extra dollar,” he said. “We originally had appropriated $30,000 in lobby fees prior to this fiscal year. When we went through the budget we agreed to reduce the fees to the lobbyist then the village administrator left and it fell through the cracks.
“You’re the one who has been misfinancing,” he told Steinbach. “You’ve been appropriating bills and haven’t had any problems before.”
Steinbach reminded Calderone he had “clearly told [me] finance was not my department and I was slapped down.”
She also attacked Calderone for his attitude in dealing with her, adding that, as the council was arriving at the village hall chambers, she spoke to the mayor and told him she had not been advised of the reason the council would be going into executive session that evening.
“I don’t like to go into meetings blind,” Steinbach told the audience. “The mayor said, ‘well, if SB 1296 went though, I could tell you’.”
Steinbach also brought up allegations of violations of the Open Meeting Act from January of 2004, regarding a meeting between Calderone and Commissioner Mark Hosty.
Hosty said he took exception to her bringing this up.
“The accusations haven’t been proven,” he told her angrily. “After 18 months you continue to accuse us of doing something we didn’t do. Either apologize or come up with proof.”
For his part Calderone admonished Steinbach, saying she shouldn’t be bringing this up during her commissioner report and stating she was only doing this because she had an audience.
Steinbach questioned Calderone as to how to address the issue, stating she had trouble getting items on the agenda, as the mayor controlled the agenda.
“Which mayor would you like to have supervise it?” Calderone asked her. “I don’t believe you have been disallowed any item in your agenda. You need to quit flipping a little bit when you’ve got a public audience. You’ve had plenty of time. I think you made a conscious decision to hold back because you had a substantial audience and it gave you another opportunity to overalarm the public and it is not the first time.”
Calderone also took issue with audience members, calling CUinFP’s videotaping of the proceedings ‘Backman TV,’ telling them the bills are public record and could be found online, thus the mayor was not hiding anything or being sneaky. The comment elicited snake-like hisses from the audience.
“SB 1296 is under the purview of the mayor, I know you don’t like to face that but the fact of the matter is that I am the commissioner of public affairs,” he told Steinbach and the audience. “Each one of us have responsibilities and end up making decisions [without consulting other commissioners].”
Calderone added that the bill is a common sense bill that corrects flaws in the system and will help make the commissioner form of government more efficient.
“We have those amongst us that anytime anything positive is brought forth by Mayor Calderone it is conspiracy talk,” he said, then pointed at Commissioners Patrick Doolin and Steinbach. “You guys to the left have always gone against me in anything positive I do. I hate to tell you that you are wrong, you can come up with reasons and CUinFP can come up with reasons. Under this form of government you cannot trump my authority.”
“It is not broken why change it?” Steinbach asked Calderone. “There is nothing that has happened to the extreme that we need to change the law. What is the harm in telling us what our lobbyist is doing.”
“There are certain matters I don’t need to bring here to vote,” he said. “I know how you feel, I know you wish we weren’t a commissioner form of government. You are unnecessarily alarming the public and I will not allow that to happen, it is disheartening.”