A series of proposed changes to the renovation of a vacant building at 501 Desplaines ignited a terse discussion between village council members Monday night, and the exchange focused on transparency and the centralization of power at village hall.
For months now, municipal officials have been planning to rehab the building immediately north of village hall so that detectives in the police department would have a little more elbow room. Space within the department is so tight that for years officers have been forced to use a trailer parked behind the police station. Going into Monday’s council meeting, the expansion was pegged at $185,317, all of which would have been covered by a $200,000 state grant.
However, that very grant seems to have expanded the scope of the project, according to Village Administrator Tim Gillian, and another $183,682 worth of improvements were requested. The additional cost would be paid for with proceeds netted in drug busts and other assets seized by the police department.
“The grant money came through, and they started looking at the whole building and decided it was a reasonable time to go forward,” said Gillian, who assumed the administrator’s job in mid September.
Gillian grouped the items into five separate lists based on what he perceived to be the most important, and presented them to the council for a vote. The three lists given the highest level of priority were approved by the council, adding another $113,322 to the original cost. A fourth list of changes was not approved for lack of a super majority needed to waive bidding procedures. Electrical work for $12,100 was the only item on the final list to win approval.
None of the proposed changes are particularly lavish. The most expensive list focused on the need for a new roof. Electrical work, additional furniture, new windows, and a steel staircase along the back of the property were also among the suggested improvements.
In fact, it was the very routine nature of the additional items that prompted commissioners Marty Tellalian and Rory Hoskins to balk. Much of what was on the lists should have been accounted for long ago, argued Tellalian, but because it wasn’t the council was now being asked to waive the bidding process in order to meet a November deadline for completing the renovation. Tellalian said the council didn’t have enough information on what it was being asked to pay for – such as what materials would be used – to make an informed decision.
Mayor Anthony Calderone, who in the spring negotiated for a local ironworkers union to donate labor to the project, suggested it is the responsibility of individual commissioners to get their questions answered prior to the council meeting.
“Did we ask our village administrator any of these technical questions ahead of time,” Calderone said of Tellalian’s concerns.
Hoskins, meanwhile, suggested the mayor failed to share that information with members of the council, in particular Tellalian, who oversees public property. During a particularly snappish exchange with Calderone, Hoskins reminded the mayor of the “division of responsibilities” under the commission form of government.
“We knew that the grant was available for some time now,” Hoskins said.
In early June, Forest Park learned that $200,000 would be coming from Springfield to help pay for the project. Gillian’s memo and list of proposed changes to the project were dated Sept. 24. Tellalian said he did not receive the information until Sept. 25 when the council’s agenda is made available to the general public.
“Why [are the changes] dated five days before we’re voting on it and we’re waiving the bidding,” Tellalian asked.