A trespassing charge filed by a Forest Park commissioner claiming that a nosy neighbor had intruded on his family’s privacy was dropped last week, ending a bitter dispute that revealed the elected official had, in fact, renovated his home without the necessary approvals.
During a very brief tribunal held April 1, the village’s prosecutor informed the hearing administrator that she did not have enough evidence to sustain the charge.
Steven Backman was cited in December 2008 for trespassing on Commissioner Mark Hosty’s property at 7419 Warren, which Hosty was in the process of renovating. Backman does not deny taking photographs of Hosty’s home, nor does he dispute that he posted those pictures on the Internet. His intent, he said, was to document that building permits issued for the home did not cover the scope of the project. That claim was later substantiated by the director of the Department of Public Health and Safety.
Backman denies the allegation that he trespassed.
“There were a couple of us taking pictures and I posted the photos,” Backman said after the case was dismissed. “There’s no problem there; that was conceded a long time ago. Trespassing never took place.”
It was also determined that the commissioner needed special permission to do the work because his home sits too close to the property line. The permits and necessary zoning relief were both granted after the work was finished. No penalties were imposed by the village.
Elected officials ought to be role models within the community, said Backman, and that is not the case in Forest Park.
“I’m the guy who buys the permits … I’m not the problem,” Backman said.
Attorney Sharon O’Shea prosecutes local ordinance violations for the village. She said she dropped the charge against Backman because she could not prove who had taken the photos.
“I’m not a lawyer, but I guess logic doesn’t play in with the law,” Hosty said.
The commissioner said he was frustrated by the outcome and contends that Backman violated his privacy by taking photographs of his home. Hosty acknowledged that being a public official invites scrutiny, but that scrutiny should be contained to his actions as a commissioner, he said.
“There is a different line between personal and public when you’re an elected official, but I think my home is that line,” Hosty said.
The relationship between Hosty and Backman was tenuous at best prior to this incident. For years, Backman has dogged public officials and helped organize Citizens United in Forest Park, an advocacy group that has pushed for greater transparency and accountability at village hall.
Hosty’s new home is located just a few doors east of Backman’s, who lives at 7452 Warren.
The two men have had little contact with one another since Hosty moved to the neighborhood, they said, but both continue to keep a close eye on the other. The morning after the trespassing charge was dismissed Backman confirmed that he was outside of another of Hosty’s properties looking for permits.
“The man needs a hobby,” Hosty said. “Or, apparently he’s got one and it’s me.”