Several village board members exchanged heated words during a contentious meeting last week that was called to discuss the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2012.
Much of the vitriol occurred between newly elected Commissioner Chris Harris and Mayor Anthony Calderone, who Harris has made a point of publically challenging numerous times since he was seated. Commissioner Tom Mannix, another rookie, and his colleague, Rory Hoskins, a second-term board member did their best to stray from the fighting, but Calderone, alongside Commissioner Mark Hosty, a staunch ally, teamed up several times to bait Hoskins into an argument. But Hoskins, who has publically bickered with both Hosty and Calderone in the past, did not respond to either council member’s attempt. Neither Calderone nor Hosty went after Mannix, who both of them ran with on a slate at the end of the election.
Tension was apparent before the meeting began: Harris commented to the Forest Park Review that he didn’t know why Calderone did not require the department heads to be present. That way, they could answer questions that commissioners might have had about specific line items; after all, he noted, they were at the last meeting.
The bickering started when Harris pressed Calderone to explain why there was not a specific “plan” for a shop-local campaign that was budgeted to receive $15,000. This was only the beginning, though; the arguing really picked up when Harris proceeded to trumpet the need to plan for economic development along Roosevelt Road.
When Calderone asked Harris what Harris, personally, would do to court businesses to that corridor – specifically the Forest Park Plaza, which became a focal point for some time – Harris could not provide the mayor with an answer.
“I want to talk about ideas,” Harris said. He admitted that he didn’t have any at the time, but he said that talking about the initiative was not a bad thing. “Let’s do some studies.”
“I’m just quizzing you a little bit…trying to ascertain your knowledge, because you’ve been ill-informed,” said Calderone, in reference to the notion that the village could recruit businesses to the Forest Park Plaza, which is owned by Dr. Bill Winston, the pastor of the Living World Christian Center. “You have to get the concurrence of the corporation.”
Calderone then explained that, as mayor, he was closely involved with the redevelopment of the plaza 10 years ago (previously, it was a naval base), to which Harris sarcastically replied, “Thanks for the history lesson. Let’s all give the mayor a pat on the back and a round of applause.”
“I’m going to give you a history lesson, [and] you’re going to get a lot more,” said Calderone, raising his voice.
The two continued to argue after Harris insisted that the village do something about its combined sewer system, which has backed up and flooded residents’ homes regularly over the years. Calderone and Hosty noted that flooding has always been a problem, and that the village has gone out of its way to respond to residents. Hosty also noted that separating the sewer, which he noted has a capacity problem, could cost between $60 million and $90 million.
“I’ve lived here for 55 years; our house always flooded. I’ve got firsthand experience, not hyperbole,” Calderone said.
Harris said that “on behalf of the citizens,” he thinks something should be done to the sewer.
“I stand here for the citizens too, don’t ever confuse that,” Calderone told Harris, sternly.
This was a continuation of a topic that was originally raised by Village Administrator Tim Gillian, who cited an article published by the Review last week that detailed the repeated flooding of a resident when he suggested that $40,000 be budgeted to purchase sewer cameras. The cameras will be used to identify problems whenever the sewers back up, Gillian said. Calderone noted that this would not “alleviate” the problem entirely, though, when Mannix commended Gillian’s suggestion.
Roosevelt Road, on the other hand, became a topic of discussion after Hoskins asked Village Administrator Tim Gillian – who used a digital slideshow to present a breakdown of the preliminary $21.8 million budget – if the village would consider pursuing an enterprise zone. An enterprise zone is a state program that gives businesses various monetary incentives for locating within the zone; it was one of Hoskins’ major talking points during his second run for commissioner.
Hoskins told the Review in March that, because of state laws, Forest Park would likely have to latch onto enterprise zones in Cicero and Maywood if it wanted to take advantage of the program. The Review also reported that, for the last five years, both programs have been largely inactive, and it is not clear it Forest Park would have to offer either village concessions to link up, or if it was even possible.
Calderone then turned to Hoskins and said sarcastically, “Did you have a chance to see how they were performing? Not too good.” He was referring to annual reports that rate the performance of all the state’s zones and are published by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO)
“To take those two communities and say, ‘No, it’s a horrible idea,’ is the bad way to go,” Hoskins said, noting that he wasn’t trying to make the issue “personal.”
“Well, I just wanted an idea of how they were performing in the region,” Calderone said, noting he had done some “investigating.”
He didn’t mention, though, that, throughout the state, over the last six years, there are enterprise zones that have regularly gathered hundreds of millions of dollars annually in business investments and have also created and retained hundreds of jobs because of the benefits the program offers.
In yet another display of combativeness, following an exchange between Hoskins and Calderone, Hosty felt that Hoskins interrupted him while he started to talk. So Hosty turned to Hoskins and barked, loudly, “Excuse me, don’t cut me off.” He then proceeded to talk over Hoskins, in a taunting attempt to drown out Hoskins’ words, “I can keep talking, and I’ll keep talking.”
“And they’re off,” Gillian muttered.
As the meeting was drawing to a close, Calderone pointed out that $5,000 was budgeted in the department of public health and safety, which Hoskins oversees, to hire a second “inspector.” Calderone and Hosty then traded turns expressing how bothered they were that Hoskins did not bring the matter before the council before approving the hire.
“I am extremely bothered that one commissioner would think he’s above the council,” Hosty said.
Gillian told both Hosty and Calderone that it would not happen again, but also noted that money has already been spent for the current fiscal year in other departments without coming before the council.
After the meeting, the Review contacted Fire Chief Steve Glinke, who oversees the “inspector” – a youth who was hired as a summer employee for $10 an hour to walk the streets to enforce property maintenance (a crucial part of the village’s initiative to prevent rodent infestation).
“Ten dollars an hour? It’s a bargain,” Glinke said, adding that the expense was “justified.”
What’s more, Glinke also said that he went directly to Gillian to ask about the hire; Gillian reportedly approved it and sent it to Hoskins, who acted likewise.
Throughout the twists and turns of the meeting, Calderone turned to this reporter at one point, and said “You writing fast and furious there?”