The Forest Park Village Council put to rest a 3-month-old controversy that until now had gone unresolved, voting unanimously Monday night to appoint Curtis J. Cashman as director of public works.

Current interim director Bob Kutak will be made assistant director.

In August, the council voted 3-2 to reject Paul Burris, the candidate first brought forward by the commissioners in charge of the public works department, Patrick Doolin and Terry Steinbach.

The vote marked the first time a commissioner saw their proposed department head rejected, and led Doolin to accuse the council majority of “destroying the public works department,” as well as the commission form of government.

All of this unexpectedly changed Monday, however, as Cashman, who has for nine years been employed as director of public works in Round Lake Beach, Ill. and holds a degree in civil engineering, was appointed without any contention, or even discussion.

“Everybody wanted to begin 2006 on a different note,” said Mayor Anthony Calderone. “This is a good candidate who was proposed, and I’m sure Bob Kutak is looking forward to working with him.”

Doolin said that Cashman had originally applied for the recently created position of assistant director, but the decision was made, with Kutak’s agreement, to nominate him for director instead.

Both Kutak and Cashman will receive salaries ranging from $70,000 to $80,000, so Kutak, though demoted in title, will retain his past salary. Kutak took over as interim public works director in 2004 when the Departments of Streets and Public Improvement and Public Property were merged to create the Department of Public Works.

He had previously worked as the director of streets and public improvement, and has been employed by the village for about 18 years. When Burris was proposed for the job in August, the council majority protested a newcomer being brought in instead of giving the Forest Park veteran a chance to keep the job on a permanent basis.

Doolin said that when the position was created, the intent all along was for Kutak to move into an assistant role once a replacement was found. He said that Cashman would “serve as a good mentor for Bob,” whom he still believes could have a future as a public works director a few years down the line.

Doolin called Kutak “an excellent operations guy,” and said his role will be that of a “street supervisor,” while Cashman will handle administrative duties, including assessing the department’s long-term needs.

“I think he’ll bring some real stability and maturity and a depth of knowledge and experience in public works,” said Doolin.

New board members

The council also voted unanimously to follow Mayor Calderone’s recommendation and appoint Rebecca Vnuk, a resident of Elgin Avenue, to the library board to replace Dwight Decker, who recently resigned from his position.

Vnuk is currently employed as the head of Adult Services at River Forest Public Library, and has in the past worked at libraries in Elmhurst, Chicago, and Morton Grove.

“I’m very excited to be part of the team,” she said. “I have eight years of public library experience that I hope to use to help.”

Vnuk has been critical of the Forest Park Public Library, writing a letter to the Forest Park Review in August in which she stated that “the staff has been reduced to a skeleton and the collection is quickly following suit,” and said the library’s reputation had been “almost irrevocably damaged.”

In recent months, the library has been a controversial topic in town, with critics claiming that it is being mismanaged by the current board and officials arguing that its problems stem from inadequate funding.

Vnuk said she does not yet know who or what is to blame for the library’s woes, but hopes to “use what I already know about libraries that are working well to help steer the library in the right direction.”

The council also voted to appoint Austin Zimmer, a Lathrop Avenue resident who recently moved to Forest Park, to fill the vacancy on the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) left by the resignation of William Plum.

Zimmer, an attorney, is currently employed by the Westchester-based Giglio & Del Galdo, LLP, and previously worked in the Narcotics Prosecution Bureau of the State’s Attorney’s Office.

Soon after moving to Forest Park, he wrote a letter to Calderone expressing his interest in becoming involved in the village by volunteering to serve on any board where his help was needed.