The normally routine matter of approving the payment of village bills caused some sparks to fly at Monday night’s Village council meeting.
Commissioner Patrick Doolin asked whether the village would place a cap on legal fees it is paying in connection with its attempt to fire Sgt. Dan Harder. Doolin said that the village has paid more than $56,000 in legal fees thus far and, in an interview after the meeting, estimated the total cost would be in excess of $100,000 for the hearing before the Police and Fire Commission.
“I think we need to question is it appropriate, is it a needed expense,” said Doolin. “Are we going to put a cap on this or is there going to be a bottomless pit on this. This is really getting to the point of being ridiculous.”
The specific bills the council voted pay Monday night included legal fees of $14,293.86 to the law firm of Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins, the firm of Patrick Lucansky, who represents police chief James Ryan at the hearing. The council also approved legal fees of $7,201.90 to the law firm of Hervas, Sotos, Condon & Bersani, the law firm of Charles Hervas who represents the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners.
Doolin, who cast the lone dissenting vote, asked how much the village has spent to date on legal fees in regard to the hearing.
Mayor Anthony Calderone, who in his role as Commissioner of Public Affairs is responsible for the Police Department said that he could not provide Doolin with the exact total Monday night and accused Doolin of engaging in a political stunt by not asking for the information prior to the meeting.
“If you had told us in advance instead of an ambush at 7:05 p.m. we could have had all the appropriate information here,” Calderone said. “We could have brought all the bills down here and we could have just gone through them line by line.”
Not surprisingly, Doolin had a different view.
“An ambush, I don’t think is an appropriate response, mayor,” Doolin said. “I’m questioning some legal bills and asking you as commissioner of the (police) department to give us for some type of an update to give us an idea of where we’re at. We just can’t continue to approve bills and approve bills, unfettered and untethered. At some point there’s got to be a cap put on this because there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight, quite frankly.”
Calderone said that it would be a bad practice to just call off a hearing in the middle because the village had passed some arbitrary limit on legal fees.
“We are now in the process of a hearing and there is no way you can budget for an unexpected hearing,” said Calderone. “Am I concerned about it? Absolutely. But these are things that happen in government. As an employer I don’t know that it would be a good, sound business practice to make decisions on disciplinary matters based in the economic side of it. I think that would be a foolish decision.”
Commissioner Mark Hosty agreed. “It’s an ongoing hearing,” said Hosty. “How do you stop in the middle and go, oh, we spent too much money, everybody go home. Where do you draw that line? How do you draw that line?”
Commissioner Tim Gillian also argued that an arbitrary cap on legal fees would be a bad policy.
“A police officer or a fire department guy, or any employee can say, you know what, if we drag this out long enough and run the bill up high enough they’ll stop the prosecution and they’ll stop everything,” said Gillian. “Who’s running the show then? It’s a bad policy.”
No motion was made to cap legal fees, and no formal vote of the council took place.
After the meeting Calderone said that it would be a bad practice for the village council to intervene in the hearing before the police and fire commission.
“Doolin brought this up for political purposes,” said Calderone, who also said that Harder is a friend of Doolin and that Doolin was merely sticking up for his friend. “Elected officials shouldn’t be butting their noses in. This shouldn’t be a political issue and he’s trying to make it a political issue. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen or encountered yet.”
Doolin said the matter could have been taken care with a 20 day suspension which the village could have imposed even if Harder would not agree to it. He said he didn’t think Harder would have fought a 20 day suspension with the tenacity and legal firepower with which he has fought his firing.
Harder refused an offer of a 20 day suspension before the village began the process of seeking his termination.
Doolin acknowledged that he, police lieutenant Steve Johnsen, and Harder went to Las Vegas together in September.
Doolin said he believes that Harder has not been treated fairly.
“I see Dan Harder as the little guy,” said Doolin. “I find the testimony of our Chief and the prosecution of Dan Harder embarrassing. I had no relation with Dan Harder before this hearing started. This man has not been treated fairly and I’m not going to tolerate it. Fairness is not in Tony Calderone’s vocabulary. He is a power hungry politician.”
In other action at Monday’s meeting:
• The Village Council voted 4-1, with Doolin voting no, to authorize an addendum to a lease to allow Clear Channel to erect an advertising billboard on village property at Hannah Avenue and I-290. The lease was agreed to last year, but because of underground village water pipes Clear Channel had to change the location of the billboard and also rent village air space.
Clear Channel will have a 20 year lease beginning May 1, 2006 and the rent will initially be $2,500 a month for the first 10 years of the lease. In years 11 to 20 of the lease the rent will increase to $3,075 a month. After 20 year Clear Channel will have the option of renewing the lease for another 10 years at a rent of $3,712.25 a month. Clear Channel has already paid $20,000 to the village which will cover the air rights.
Doolin voted against the agreement saying that Forest Park already has enough billboards. “You don’t see this in Oak Park,” said Doolin. “Over the long term we’re better off not building it.”
• The council also voted 4-1, with Commissioner Terry Steinbach voting no, to approve, subject to village inspection of a mortgage, allowing Fifth Third Bank to build a branch in the Forest Park Plaza.