When the use of eminent domain was first discussed during a closed meeting of the village council in September 2006, Commissioner Theresa Steinbach raised no objections over the possibility that residents could be forced from their homes to make way for new parking along Madison Street, according to the now publicly available minutes of that discussion.
In her unsuccessful attempt to unseat Mayor Anthony Calderone, Steinbach repeatedly claimed to have foiled what she characterized as the mayor’s deceptive attempt at taking homes for parking. In turn, Calderone said his challenger was simply using a hot button issue to rally support for her campaign.
But the unsealed minutes reveal that a majority of the members of the council flip-flopped on a controversial plan to expand several existing parking lots after the public rallied against the proposal when it was made public two months later in November. According to the minutes of the Sept. 25, 2006, meeting, none of the commissioners raised any objections when Village Administrator Mike Sturino suggested that eminent domain might be necessary to seize property from a homeowner unwilling to sell.
“I believe Commissioner Steinbach used it to her advantage for political reasons,” Calderone said. “I don’t believe those minutes reflect the same position Commissioner Steinbach took during the election.”
The details of those closed session comments had been protected from scrutiny until the village council unanimously agreed to release the records on April 23.
But Steinbach said the most relevant issue is the lack of communication extended to her between the September meeting and the November meeting. The discussion at the September meeting was hardly any discussion at all, Steinbach said, and she assumed that no action was being taken.
“The village administrator, his job is to communicate with the village commissioners,” Steinbach said. “He has chosen not to communicate with me. I rest this fully with him.” Steinbach added the mayor is also culpable because he failed to keep the council members abreast of the issue.
According to Steinbach, Sturino’s remark on the use of eminent domain was not a noteworthy portion of the meeting and in fact, she forgot it was ever said. Only after listening to an audio recording of the September meeting did she remember the words “eminent domain” ever being mentioned, she said.
According to the public record of the closed meeting, Steinbach participated in a conversation about acquiring property and “suggested acquiring properties” north of an existing lot on Circle Avenue. She later objected to building a parking garage “due to safety concerns, and supported surface parking” in several locations.
Her participation in the conversation proves Steinbach was fully aware of the topic at hand, Calderone said.
“This is typical and classic Commissioner Steinbach,” Calderone said.
Typically, Sturino said he does not update council members on the progress of a particular task. In this case, however, he did attempt to contact each of the council members the week before the Nov. 13 meeting to inform them of the agenda. Steinbach, he said, did not return his phone call.
Periodic updates aside, Sturino said he specifically asked for objections to using eminent domain during the closed session and received none.
“Why would she think nothing was being done,” Sturino said. “We had a consensus to move forward.”
The proposal to take six privately owned properties to make room for more parking was never put to a vote.