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Commissioner, village explain permits for 7419 Warren (see sidebar)

A running feud between a Forest Park council member and an outspoken critic of local government has escalated and is now the subject of a police report.

According to a complaint filed with the police department on Dec. 1, Commissioner Mark Hosty is accusing Steven Backman of trespassing, despite repeated requests from the commissioner that Backman steer clear. Hosty’s claim is based on a series of photos Backman allegedly snapped of the commissioner’s home and posted online. According to text that appears with the photographs, Backman was allegedly trying to out Hosty for skirting local building and zoning codes.

Hosty is renovating a single-family home at 7419 Warren and is in the process of relocating his family there. Backman lives just a few houses down at 7452 Warren.

“Mr. Backman has offended me so many times; I don’t care for him,” Hosty said of their relationship.

Backman is a co-founder of Citizens United in Forest Park, a watchdog organization incorporated in 2004. For years, he has irked elected officials and others at village hall with what Backman has described as an earnest attempt to bring accountability and transparency to local government. Several council members, including Hosty and Mayor Anthony Calderone, have criticized Backman as a disingenuous, self-appointed hall monitor.

Police Chief Jim Ryan said a detective in the department took the commissioner’s complaint and made several attempts to get Backman’s side of the story. Backman responded that he would speak with the detective on the condition that Ryan sit-in on the meeting. According to Ryan, he contacted Backman three times to schedule the meeting before receiving an e-mail that any communication should be directed through Backman’s attorney.

“I basically never heard back from him,” Ryan said.

On Dec. 10, police issued a citation to Backman alleging that he trespassed onto Hosty’s property in October to take the photos. With only one side of the story, said Ryan, the police will let a judge sort out the details. Backman is scheduled to appear in the basement of village hall on Feb. 4, 2009, for an administrative hearing on the ordinance violation.

Backman confirmed that he has hired an attorney and said he intends to defend himself against the accusation. He acknowledged taking the photos but said he never stepped onto Hosty’s property. Several public rights-of-way surround the home, said Backman, and he took the photos without trespassing.

“It’s the same thing I’ve been doing for years,” Backman said.

Documenting construction work in Forest Park is nothing new for Backman, and he regularly photographs homes and businesses that he suspects are not in compliance with local ordinances. He and his wife, Gloria, did not contact village hall with their suspicions about Hosty’s property, Backman said.

“We don’t do that anymore,” Backman said. “Our decision here was to get it out and let the public know what was going on. If we had just notified Boyle they probably have some internal mechanism to bring it all up to snuff.”

Records blurry on commissioner's permits

Steve Backman's interest in the renovations to Commissioner Mark Hosty's home grew as he drove by the property each day and saw an increasing amount of debris on the lawn. What looked like plumbing, plaster and electrical components were clearly visible, he said, and indicative of work beyond what was stipulated in a Sept. 19 permit posted in a window of the property.

"I think Mark has a public persona of being a scofflaw," Backman said. "I think he has created a persona; he's not doing what he's elected to enforce."

In an undated memo from Mike Boyle, director of Public Health and Safety, Boyle noted that the contractor hired to work on Hosty's home had skipped town. The contractor, Cherryfield Development, had also gone "beyond the scope of work" permitted by the village.

Boyle said he learned of these circumstances in late October when Hosty contacted the village. Hosty's mother and uncle died shortly after Cherryfield began work, during which time the commissioner said he was unable to monitor the renovations. The commissioner and the municipality's building department both said that a series of inspections and after-the-fact permits were issued in an attempt to document renovations to Hosty's home.

Boyle acknowledged that much of the paperwork was filed out of order, but not because Hosty was trying to shirk local regulations.

"He alerted us of the problem and what had occurred," Boyle said. "He came to us."

During a Dec. 15 interview, Hosty provided the Review with copies of municipal documents related to the renovations. Within those records is an application for an exemption to the village's zoning code dated Dec. 15. A public hearing on the request is scheduled for Jan. 5, 2009. At that hearing, Hosty will retroactively seek permission to adjust the roof line on the rear of the property.

According to Hosty, work on the home is nearing completion and he hopes to move in by the end of December.

Several of the permit applications and approvals provided to the newspaper illustrate a confusing timeline as to when the requests were actually made. Dates, both on the applications and on the approvals, are often missing and in some cases suggest that they weren't completed until Dec. 15 – the day Hosty provided them to the Review. According to Boyle, his office may have neglected to accurately record Hosty's efforts to bring the property into compliance. However, he pointed to a series of inspection records from mid November that demonstrate his office repeatedly visited the site and ensured that work was being done in accordance with local building codes. Boyle said that the commissioner will not be cited for violations of the permitting process because Hosty made a genuine effort to correct the contractor's mistakes.