Here’s an idea to chew on a bit; let’s just rename Forest Park “Tonyville” and be done with it. Of course, the new name will have to go up on those nice wooden signs along our village’s borders, as well as village letterhead and all municipal vehicles. Most appropriately, it’ll appear on the patches our police officers wear on their sleeves, since Tony Calderone is clearly making great strides in making the police department his own little fiefdom.
Last November Calderone got an ordinance passed by the village council allowing him to hire part-time cops with the approval of the village council.
“The Mayor is hereby given discretionary authority to hire part time police officers as he deems necessary, subject to approval of the Council of the Village of Forest Park,” it read. Fair enough. The move was ostensibly intended to help the village keep police overtime costs down. But the mere ability to appoint part time police officers with a simple council majority- something which Calderone already has in most cases- apparently wasn’t enough for the would-be mayor of Tonyville.
In early January, Calderone orchestrated an amendment to allow the “Commissioner of Public Affairs”- that’s Tony Calderone- to appoint part-time cops, and further, to make him the sole arbiter of who gets hired and fired, with no outside input from anyone, including our four elected commissioners.
“This authority is similar to that granted to other Commissioners over their respective departments with regard to personnel,” Village Administrator Michael Sturino wrote ever so helpfully on Jan. 5 to Calderone in “recommending” passage of the ordinance- as if Calderone needed any prodding.
Of course, it’s utter nonsense to say that there’s any similarity between cops and other village employees, even fire fighters, since cops carry fire arms, can stop you against your will, put hand cuffs on you and place you in a cell. To allow the decision to hire or fire anyone who has those extraordinary powers to be at the sole discretion of a single person, with no input from any other elected officials, was an irresponsible decision by this village board. I won’t even get into the qualifications of the two men who were hired under this new ordinance. Their qualifications- and at least one appears to be quite qualified- are not the issue. The issue is the manner in which they and future part-time cops are to be identified and hired.
Calderone is clearly not content to just set policy, as is appropriate to his role as Mayor and a Council member. No, the Mayor of Tonyville wants direct administrative authority to hire and fire, as well, with no one able to effectively question his reasons or motivations or do anything about it.
This all begs the question, yet again, of why the village still operates under the Commissioner form of government. That’s a system in which individual Commissioners have direct authority over specific departments- though not to the extent that Calderone recently finnagled. As I’ve written previously, today’s world is too complex to expect any elected official to be expert in the workings of government departments. Such work requires competent professionals who administer those departments under the policy direction of elected officials.
But that state of affairs apparently wouldn’t grant nearly enough power for the likes of Tony Calderone and his supporters. For all of his soft spoken, supposedly reasonable ways, Tony wants what Tony wants, and what Tony most wants is the power to do what’s best for Tony and those who support him.
I asked Commissioner Patrick Doolin, who voted against both the original and amended ordinances, why he thought Calderone felt he needed to make the ordinance change.
“I asked that question at the time,” said Doolin. “What has changed between then and now. Did people not understand what they were voting on?” Calderone’s answer, according to Doolin, was “It was an oversight, Commissioner.”
There’s a nasty whiff of arrogance in that remark. But then, Calderone is a master of quiet, understated arrogance, the sort that politely says, under calm, ever so reasonable words, “I understand you don’t like what I’m doing. And that’s just too bad for you. What I say goes around here.”
Well, yes it does. Next year, though, the voters in Forest Park will have an opportunity to say whether they want to live in Forest Park. Or in Tonyville.