The absence of a village administrator in Forest Park has created another vacancy for elected officials to tend to, and it appears a battle may be brewing on this front as well.
Mike Sturino, who vacated his role as village administrator in mid January, also held the title of ethics adviser. The job required Sturino to help municipal employees and elected officials understand state laws mandating scrupulous behavior, such as whether it would be appropriate to accept gifts from vendors doing business with the village.
A local ordinance gives Mayor Anthony Calderone the task of appointing someone to hold that position, and he attempted to do so during the council’s Jan. 26 meeting. However, Calderone’s nomination of village attorney Mike Durkin never even made it to the floor for a vote.
A motion by Commissioner Marty Tellalian to approve the mayor’s nominee failed for lack of a second.
“I definitely was surprised,” Calderone said of the silence that killed his recommendation.
Since Sturino’s departure from village hall, the public has witnessed an absolute sea change in the way elected officials interact with one another. Never has the mayor been challenged so aggressively and so publicly by members of the council since the group was seated in 2007. Conversely, it’s apparent that several commissioners are leery of Calderone’s interest in redefining the village administrator’s role, and his claims that it is difficult to pinpoint the value of having a full-time employee to manage day-to-day operations.
It took only days after Sturino left office for this power struggle to begin dominating the council’s proceedings.
“Personally, I didn’t think it was appropriate to have a vendor as the ethics adviser,” Commissioner Rory Hoskins said referring to Durkin.
Hoskins is among the elected officials who appear to be flexing their newfound muscles, and said financially the mayor’s recommendation was a poor choice. If someone called on Durkin as the ethics adviser, said Hoskins, Forest Park would be billed for the attorney’s time.
The commissioner also suggested that the mayor should be looking to include newcomers in local government rather than rely on those he’s most familiar with.
“I think you could look to somebody else other than your longtime village attorney to fill that role,” Hoskins said.
Commissioner Mike Curry had a different reason for opposing the mayor’s choice: he asked for the mayor’s nomination for the post.
According to Calderone, he was contacted by Curry at least twice before the Jan. 26 council meeting about the position. For any elected official to serve in that capacity would be inappropriate, said Calderone.
Alongside Hoskins, Curry has seemingly discovered a new propensity for challenging the mayor and at times his comments have bordered on mocking. In particular, Curry has likened the need for a village administrator to that of a multimillion dollar company operating without a CEO.
In asking for the nomination, Calderone said he suspects Curry was simply looking to grab a title that previously was held by a village employee.
“So much for letting staff do their job,” Calderone said.
Curry, a practicing attorney, acknowledged having an interest in being the ethics adviser. He also conceded that the dual role could create a potential conflict. However, Curry downplayed the issue and said that in a town as small as Forest Park such hazards are everywhere. He flatly denied the mayor’s accusation of making a power play.
“I don’t see the ethics adviser having any power at all,” Curry said. “It was a way to use my assets for the village without incurring a further financial burden.”
Curry has also endorsed appointing Hoskins to serve as an interim village administrator. That proposal has not been discussed publicly by the council.
Curry, Hoskins and the mayor said that the ethics adviser would likely be consulted on a fairly infrequent basis.
Kathleen Garness is a member of the ethics commission, which was formed in 2005 to consider unresolved allegations of impropriety. The group is yet to hear a case. The vacancy doesn’t create an urgent situation, said Garness, but probably should be addressed in the next two months or so. She said she was unaware of the mayor’s recent nomination.
As for having a sitting council member serve as the ethics adviser, Garness balked.
“I would almost see that as a conflict of interest,” Garness said. “Personally, I would prefer to see somebody outside of a commissioner role. That’s my gut feeling about it.”