A comment thread on an article published last week on the Forest Park Review’s website highlighted the growing divisions between political factions as the mayoral race gets into full swing. 

At a fundraiser for his mayoral campaign on Jan. 30, Marty Tellalian, commissioner of public property, told the Review, “We [village] do not need to spend $14,000 on a band.” He was referring to $14,000 that the village spent on entertainment at last year’s Ribfest. The wording of that statement – a jab at Mayor Anthony Calderone’s spending initiatives – and a similar web comment by Tellalian’s campaign manager, Bill Gerst, sparked a debate that prompted Calderone to join in.

According to an accounting report for last year’s Ribfest, provided by the village, $14,000 was, in fact, spent on entertainment; but for four bands, not one.  Tellalian said later that he didn’t remember making the comment, and that he meant “entertainment.” He also said $8,000 of that money was used to bring the Ides of March, a Chicago favorite from the 1970s, to the event, although he provided no documentation to support that claim.   

Calderone wrote the following in a web comment: “I had to read this one twice to make sure my eyes had not gone bad. We did not spend $14,000 for a band, we did spend $14,000 for four bands including the production company that books, and manages the bands, sound company and stage equipment company. I am not certain how a statement could be made by a current elected official [Tellalian] when the very same person would have seen the entire agreement for this production [sic].”

Actually, staging and lighting was a separate, $4,396 expenditure, according to the report, which Calderone e-mailed to the Review. What’s more, it was the largest additional sum to the $14,000 spent on bands; most of the remaining expenditures were dwarfed by the entertainment cost. 

Gerst posted several comments accusing the mayor of hiding the “true” costs of Ribfest, “spending $14,000 on the Ides of March,” soliciting public workers’ unions for money, and harnessing the event to promote his reelection bid.

“The mayor tries to justify what is essentially his re-election kickoff by claiming that the village makes money in the end [sic],” Gerst wrote in one post. “This is simply not true.”

But, the accounting report states that the village made $10,364.35 at last year’s Ribfest.

The contentious comment thread accompanied last week’s article, “Candidates out
and about.”

When the Review contacted Gerst and provided figures from the report, Gerst said that his accusations were based on information from “a credible source” whose identity he would not divulge.  What’s more, he said he was “fairly new to this type of thing.”

“I have a hard time believing that $10,000 was made,” Gerst said.

Initially, Tellalian said that Ribfest was not profitable, but when he was made aware of the same report, he back-peddled and said he did not know what the village netted because of the administration’s failure to share information.

He had this to say: “We [village council] didn’t get that report. Now I’m told that there was a $10,000 profit…Now we have this report?”

Tellalian said the report was misleading because it did not account for the comprehensive cost of putting on the event, namely the organizational work of
clerical employees, as well as the hourly wages paid to workers who set up and dismantled the street arrangements, and to police officers working security.

“No full time police officers were assigned to work the Ribfest,” Calderone countered, adding that any time that the clerical employees spent organizing the event was part of their salaried jobs.

“Whether they [clerical staff] sit there doing nothing or doing something, we’re
still paying them,” he said.

The report also includes line items for money paid to auxiliary police officers and public works crew. The former group, paid $1,130, reportedly handled the event’s security; the latter, the recipient of $2,880, was in charge of set-up and cleanup, according to the mayor.

There is no mention of full-time police officers in the report.

“Obviously some factually deficient statements are being made,” Calderone said. “For the life of me, I cannot understand where they’re getting the information.”

“That’s what’s most troubling and most puzzling to me,” he added.

Tellalian said that, even if the event turned a profit, hiring bands should not have been a priority. He feels that the event could have been organized in a more fiscally responsible fashion and geared more towards local businesses.

“Why shouldn’t we run it like any other business where the draw is the Ribfest?” Tellalian said. “Why shouldn’t we have paid $6,000 instead?”

“It’s just unnecessary,” he added. “He [Calderone] goes on stage with the Ides of March and beats the tambourine and has a grand ‘ole time,”

“Are we suppose to cancel summerfest, St. Pat’s Parade or The car show nights do to the fact it costs us a few dollars to have some fun [sic]?” Calderone wrote.