A conflict between Public Property Commissioner Chris Harris and Village Administrator Tim Gillian, who is on vacation, generated a long discussion about the control of village authorities and the commission form of government at the Village Council meeting July 23.
Harris and Gillian have locked horns on outsourcing landscaping duties to McAdam Landscaping for village landscaped street bumpouts, medians and the two hills near the Desplaines Ave. train overpass.
During May’s budget hearings, Gillian and Public Works Director John Doss proposed outsourcing the weeding and pruning to McAdam in lieu of hiring part-time summer help. McAdam would charge around $1,000 per month to weed and prune the plantings, which was cheaper than hiring part-time staff.
But Harris, whose department budget includes overtime and public works salaries, objected to the cost, saying existing staff should cover the work. Harris also objected to Public Streets Commissioner Tom Mannix’s request for staff time to power-wash curbs for repainting. Harris suggested that work should be outsourced instead.
The conflict resulted in Gillian, who was not present at the meeting, complaining about conflicting orders: from the budget hearings to accept the contract, and from the commissioner to shoot it down. Gillian presented his complaints in administrator notes and a memo to the mayor.
The McAdam contract passed, voted 3-2 by Mayor Anthony Calderone, and commissioners Mark Hosty and Tom Mannix. (Commissioner Rory Hoskins pointed out the contract was incomplete because it did not include planters and the ordinance was amended.)
But at the meeting’s end, Mayor Calderone told commissioners that the “Mayor has sole responsibility for bringing matters to the Village Council and that he had ‘issues pertaining to the Public Property Department.'” He said the issues had “reached a boiling point.”
Video of the meeting is on the village website.
He continued that Gillian had written a lengthy memo complaining that Harris had asked him to step aside in the control of the Public Property Dept. through Public Works.
Calderone said the memo and Harris asserting control over the Public Works Department was circumventing the reason to hire a village administrator and the power of the entire council to make decisions “in a democracy.” Calderone defined a democracy as “the minority is heard, but the majority rules.”
Calderone told the council that it was possible that duties of various commissioners might have to be changed.
“We may need to revisit the powers and duties of one department. Or all departments.” He later said the changes would have to be made by ordinance because “there are mechanisms that can be put in place to decide the powers and duties of each one of us in our respective departments.”
“We may have to re-write [the duties] into ordinances of our village code, because policies don’t work. They sound nice, but they don’t work. We may re-write the policies, but they don’t work either.”
Commissioner Hoskins objected saying that the commissioners should be able to read the complaint from the absent Gillian, or at least hear from him in person. “You’re showing us a three-page typewritten letter that we haven’t read. Give us the letter so we can make a decision.” He also referred to the mayor’s allusion to re-codifying duties of specific commissioners as “a power grab.”
The mayor’s emotional remarks became colorful at a couple of points when he rhetorically asked opposing commissioners, “You’re not taking hallucinogenics, are you?” and “how would you like it done? Should I stop and pickup trays of Wendy’s on the way?”
He added later the vague threat: “Individuals who go off half-cocked may not be able to do this without having their duties realigned.”
Harris complained that he was elected to “do a job [as commissioner of Public Property] I’m just trying to do my job.” He said Gillian had told him when he started last April that commissioners had a spectrum of commitment and that some were hands on and some did very little.
During the discussion, the mayor and Commissioner Mark Hosty alluded without context to various conflicts with minority commissioners Hoskins and Harris in the past. The mayor detailed two instances where Harris was tardy to a meeting with Public Works staff members. Hosty mentioned a May budget discussion where Harris had advocated scaling down overtime costs in Public Works by snow plowing less frequently. Hosty characterized the discussion as Harris advocating “getting rid of snowplowing.”
The mayor also alluded to an employee hire recommendation by Hoskins for the Finance Department who had outstanding debts with the village and had not worked out and ended up being let go.
Mannix urged caution and said that the council should define how the commissioner duties interacted with the duties of the village administrator.
The mayor finished with a promise to revisit the issue and asked the commissioners for input.
“I welcome any suggestions and if you’re afraid to talk to me you can email me because I’m the ‘mean evil emperor’ up here on the dais.”