The village council’s failure to approve the payment of more than $1.3 million in bills on Nov. 27 will likely cost the village $1,216 in late fees, according to Village Administrator Mike Sturino.
The council deadlocked 2-2 on a motion to pay the bills after commissioners Patrick Doolin and Terry Steinbach objected to charges related to land acquisitions for a controversial proposal to provide more parking near Madison Street. That proposal is set for a vote on Dec. 11.
Commissioner Tim Gillian missed the Nov. 27 meeting, and neither Mayor Anthony Calderone nor Commissioner Mark Hosty could be convinced to vote with Doolin and Steinbach. Gillian was back Monday morning for a special session of the village council. At the Dec. 4 meeting, the group voted 3-2, with Doolin and Steinbach objecting, to approve the payment of all the submitted bills.
Sturino said he will seek a waiver from those organizations imposing late fees.
The bills in dispute amounted to $6,000 from the LaSalle Appraisal Group for its assessment of four properties connected to the parking proposal. A $2,975 invoice from the law firm of Giglio & Del Gado, a Westchester, Ill., firm hired to do preliminary work relating to the acquisition of property also prompted objections.
Doolin, but not Steinbach, further objected to paying legal bills submitted by Charles Hervas, who is the attorney for the Fire and Police Commission and billed the village for time spent presiding over disciplinary hearings involving two officers.
Both Doolin and Steinbach said the appraisals and legal work were premature because the village had not yet decided whether to pursue acquisition of those properties. They accused Sturino of acting without authorization while Calderone and Hosty accused Steinbach and Doolin of micromanaging village staff.
Sturino said he was acting to further the objectives of the council.
“I am a proactive guy,” Sturino said. “When I see the council wants to get something done I’m going to move heaven and earth to get something done.”
Doolin and Steinbach both rejected claims they were responsible for the village incurring late fees because of the delay in payment. Doolin noted that he offered an amendment at the Nov. 27 meeting to approve all the bills except for those he objected to. That amendment failed to pass by the same 2-2 tally.
“All those other bills could have been paid,” Doolin said. “Two hundred thirteen of those 221 bills could have been approved for payment on Monday night, but it was an all or nothing thing for the mayor and Commissioner Hosty.”
Steinbach agreed, though differing slightly on the number of bills.
“I’m not responsible for 218 bills not being paid,” Steinbach said. “There was an opportunity to pay 210 of those bills. I’m not going to apologize for standing up for the residents and taxpayers of Forest Park.”
However, Hosty said he voted against Doolin’s amendment Monday night because he never thought Doolin and Steinbach would vote not to pay the village’s bills. Hosty noted that Doolin’s amendment was voted on before the vote to pay all the bills.
“What I see is that Patrick and Terry saw an opportunity to stamp their feet in public and it cost the village over $1,200,” Hosty said. “I did not think there was a chance that they wouldn’t do the right thing. It is irresponsible. They voted against paying the bills for political reasons.”
Calderone also claimed Doolin and Steinbach, who have both said they will run for mayor, were trying to score political points. The sitting mayor said Doolin and Steinbach preyed on the public uproar over the parking proposal.
“We’re all getting our heads kicked in by the public and they’re trying to find ways to back out now,” Calderone said.
Calderone said it never occurred to him to set aside those bills eliciting objections and pay the balance in the meantime.
Austin Zimmer, a member of the Forest Park Zoning Board of appeals, is an attorney with Giglio & Del Gado. Sturino said he made the decision to hire the firm.
“They were hired to perform all matter of legal services associated with the acquisition of public property for public services,” Sturino said. “I approached Austin Zimmer, who is a resident of Forest Park who happens to be employed by a law firm that has a lot of experience in this kind of work. I thought it was an especially decent thing to do because he is a resident.”
In March of 2003, members of Zimmer’s law firm made several contributions to Calderone’s campaign for re-election, according to records maintained by the state Board of Elections. The engineering firm hired to evaluate the village’s parking needs also contributed to Calderone’s campaign in July and October of 2005.
On an Internet message board, forestparkforums.com, Calderone defended the decision to hire Zimmer.
“Austin Zimmer is a young, aspiring professional attorney who lives in Forest Park and also happens to be on our zoning board,” Calderone wrote on Nov. 30. “He and his wife Beth made a substantial investment in the purchase of there home. They plan on raising a family here.”
Giglio & Del Gado billed the village at an hourly rate of $175, according to Steinbach. That figure was later confirmed by Sturino. Village Attorney Mike Durkin said his firm’s rate is $135 an hour.
“The village administrator sought to give Austin an opportunity which we would have otherwise paid our regular attorney for,” Calderone stated on the web board. “Austin’s hourly rate was competitive, and the administrator had the authority to make this decision so he did.”
Zimmer, a 31-year-old former prosecutor with the Cook County’s state’s attorney office, joined Giglio & Del Gado in the fall of 2005 and shortly thereafter moved to Forest Park. After writing to the village requesting a seat on a municipal board, Calderone appointed him to the ZBA in December of 2005. The village council unanimously approved his nomination.
Zimmer said he didn’t see any problem with accepting legal work from the village while he was on the ZBA.
“It is something that was discussed by both myself and the village administrator and we agreed that it wasn’t a problem,” Zimmer said. “If something that I worked on came before the ZBA I would recuse myself.”