It’s been said at the national level that government frequently has a problem recognizing perception versus reality. In Forest Park, how businesses sort perception of a government message from its reality is the latest wrinkle in the Team Blonde spa services debate.

The local version of this “What’s really the deal here?” challenge surfaced at the last zoning board meeting and has been steaming since. At issue is what was meant during a critical call three years ago made by then-Village Administrator Mike Sturino.

A reference to the call’s chilling effects was the shocker at the April 19 meeting of the village zoning board of appeals. Lee Conte, an owner of Chi Balancing Center at 7249 Madison, told the zoning board:

“Back in 2007 when we were in communication with the village about Team Blonde’s spa activities, we were given the message from the village administrator at the time that, if we continued to question the issue concerning their zoning violation, the village would shut us down.”

The Review had not, in last week’s paper, reported on this allegation because people who knew of the call firsthand could not be reached for comment by the next morning’s press deadline. In interviews since, the Review has sought to answer the following:

  • What was the reality of a call made from village hall to a Madison Street property manager in late 2007?
  • How was it perceived by the person taking the call?
  • How was that property manager’s reaction to the call perceived by the tenant she then called?

“All I did was call Stacy Taxman (the property manager) and say, ‘We need peace in the neighborbood,'” Sturino told the Review, noting he stated a general expectation but not any detailed steps toward it or consequences if it weren’t met. Sturino, who left village hall in January 2009 to become president and CEO of Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association, is a lobbyist with a group headquartered in Itasca. He reached the Review office just before this newspaper put in a call to him.

A lawyer, Sturino told the Review he understands the accusation made at the hearing comprises an illegal action. He says he never met Conte and never had a phone conversation with her.

Taxman, the property manager Sturino does say he reached, is president of Skokie-based Taxman Corp. and one of the owners of Madison Street Commons-Commercial LLC, which owns the building known as Madison Commons. Chi Balancing Center does business in the building. Taxman recalls a particular conversation with Sturino.

“Mike Sturino called to make me aware of the situation – the global situation. No specifics,” Taxman told the Review. “Solely and entirely, this is an issue the two businesses must resolve,” she added, referring to Chi Balancing Center – a business she said she does not know – and Team Blonde.

“That was my position then. And that’s my position now. It’s a small community,” Taxman said.

The business at 7249 Madison that Taxman does know is Skin Care Company, a spa owned and run by Brookfield resident Sandra Capizzi. Conte, the woman who addressed the zoning board about the perceived threat from Sturino, is an independent contractor in Capizzi’s 1,200-square-foot space. Conte and her husband, David Riddle, are Oak Parkers who own and run Chi Balancing Center, a shiatsu massage business.

Taxman and Capizzi both recall a phone conversation about three letters Capizzi had sent village hall in May 2007 noting that Team Blonde’s spa services were no longer the permissible once-a-month Girls’ Night Out events. Taxman has a general recollection about making a call to Capizzi, whom she praises as “a model tenant.” Capizzi recalls the call in some detail. Conte, who says she was sitting next to Capizzi when the call came, recalls other detail.

“I know Mike Sturino did call my landlord,” Capizzi told the Review. “I remember her calling and saying they wanted peace on the street. And they wanted to see how we could resolve this.”

Capizzi paused.

“If I didn’t move on, I could potentially have problems,” Capizzi said, choosing not go on the record with specifics.

“I remember that Sandra turned stark white and was shaking when she hung up the phone. She told me we had to stop pursuing the issue with Team Blonde, because Mr. Sturino told Ms. Taxman if we didn’t back off, we would be closed down,” Conte wrote in an e-mail to the Review.

In a later e-mail, Conte specified: “The exact words we were told was that they would ‘pull our license.'”

Conte places the call in early August 2007, after, she says, coming across mention of the threat in an e-mail to a relative.

“I stopped. I let it go. I continued to run my business. I was afraid,” Capizzi told the Review.

“From that moment on, we operated under a veil of fear,” Conte wrote. “I remember all of us expecting at any moment that the village would come charging in and shut us down. At some point, David thought we could still pursue the issue since we had a valid business license, and he felt it was more likely that they just wouldn’t give us the renewal.”

Riddle, in his remarks last week to the zoning board, said he lost his spirit for Madison Street when he and his wife felt they lost their voice and their security.

“I put my fliers out in Oak Park and River Forest. I couldn’t put them out in Forest Park anymore,” Riddle said both during the zoning board meeting and to the Review afterward.

“The threat was real enough to us that we ceased all contact with the village,” Conte said.

What’s next in review of the Team Blonde request?

When the village council met Monday night, Team Blonde’s request for a zoning variance was not on the agenda.

The matter likely will be brought up at the council’s next meeting, on Monday, May 10.

The wait, according to Village Administrator Tim Gillian, is because time must be allowed for the person taking and filing the zoning board meeting minutes to have them entered and sent to each commissioner.

The zoning board, the council’s advisory panel, was split on the vote, sending no direction to the council.

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