THE BLADE: Heilmann's Gang of 4 and the 'Quality Control 3'
Moon moves into the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars at May 22 Oak Lawn Village Board meeting. (Watch the raw video of the end of Mayor Heilmann's and Trustee Phelan's argument.)
Not since the ‘theatrics of the fight’—when Oak Lawn trustees and the mayor battled their way through the Feb. 8, 2011 board agenda—have we witnessed such dramatics at a village board meeting as we did on May 22.
It all started peaceably enough with the mayor handing out awards to some civic-minded Brownies who lobbied the village to repair a sidewalk by their school. The mayor was hotter than a standup comic at Riddles, joking with the girls and feigning shock whenever he called the name of an absent Brownie. It was Dave Heilmann at his best, starring in the role of Oak Lawn Mayor.
So it was probably wise that the Brownies left early before the meeting got fully underway, because by the end of the evening I felt as if I wandered into an old Bette Davis movie.
The warm-up act was the conclusion of the recent legal settlement with the former, former village attorneys, Tressler, Soderstrom, Maloney and Preiss. After accepting a $500,000 settlement to avoid litagation, the village board voted unanimously to keep their mouths shut about what the village's special counsel may have dug up in his investigation, if anything.
The mayor motioned to table setting a date for a special executive session to hear the final report from Godfrey and Kahn until trustees had a chance to read it. It's still up in the air whether such a session will be scheduled.
Unlike the Odelson Report, which was leaked to the press, Village Manager Larry Deetjen glanced at Patch when he reminded board members of their responsibility to abide by the confidentiality agreement. Trustees unanimously approved the mayor's motion.
But the main act was the village presidents’ report where we watched the final implosion of the tattered remains of the Unity Party. After seven years of holding the same board committee positions, Heilmann revealed his recommendations for reassignment, which Trustee Tom Phelan (Dist. 6) complained that trustees did not receive until 30 minutes before the village board meeting.
Thus ensued sparring that came out of a Hollywood script, with the mayor hurling accusations at the Dist. 6 trustee of almost costing the village its bond rating, as well as personally negotiating vendor contracts and excluding certain elected officials from the VIP tent at Fall on the Green. (I got into the VIP tent just fine with a minimal amount of groveling.)
Watch the raw video of the sparring.
The mayor said he had received complaints from “livid” village staff members about Phelan’s alleged micromanaging.
Trustee Alex Olejniczak (Dist. 2) was similarly skewered by the mayor in the Southtown-Star, whom Heilmann accused of tampering with police reports to "protect friends." (The said cover-upped report was found in the press pile at the Oak Lawn Police Department.)
Twice the mayor was the tie-breaking vote, first denying Phelan’s motion to table the board committee recommendations, and then to approve his own recommendations, backed by his ally, Trustee Carol Quinlan (Dist. 5), and Trustees Cindy Trautsch (Dist. 1) and Bob Streit (Dist. 3).
Olejniczak and Phelan saw themselves removed of their high-profile committee positions and banished to the Quality Control Committee which hasn’t met in six years. Olejniczak was removed as police liaison and the public works committee with Trautsch taking over both slots.
Phelan was relieved of his duties as the fire department liaison and the special events committee, now assumed by Quinlan and Streit, respectively.
Rounding out the ‘Quality Control 3’ is Trustee Tom Duhig, whose fourth district is home to the 600-million-pound gorilla, Advocate Christ Medical Center. A few weeks ago, Duhig warned fellow board members and residents to “be wary” of Advocate Christ’s expansion plans.
“Anyone could have said something in the last six months,” Heilmann said the next day. “I don’t know what they expected last night. They forced [former Dist. 1 trustee] Jerry Hurckes out for three years.”
The mayor said Trautsch needed something to do, as did Duhig, who hasn’t been assigned to a board committee since being elected in 2009.
Asked if phone calls had been placed prior to the last week’s village board meeting, Quinlan, the newly assigned liaison to the beleaguered Oak Lawn Fire Department, said the mayor “mentioned it in passing.”
“He said he needed to look at committees and that’s about it,” Quinlan said, adding that she had no idea what function the quality control committee served.
The most bizarre votes cast that evening were by Streit, who a year ago, in the wake of the Odelson Report told Patch: “It’s worst than I expected. Clear evidence was presented in the report that indicated a misrepresentation by the [Tressler] and gross mismanagement of the legal team that went to the highest level of village government.”
With the new “Gang of 4,” Heilmann has the votes, including his own, to fire the village manager, who has proposed charging Advocate Christ a community health services fee as “the cost of doing business in Oak Lawn.” An alternative optional plan to charge a parking tax fee was ultimately turned down by Advocate Christ, which now offers free visitor parking.
Last December, the mayor had proposed tabling both ordinances after the medical center claimed it knew nothing of the village’s parking tax plan. Heilmann was voted down by the old “Gang of 4”—Streit, Olejniczak, Phelan, and Duhig.
Earlier this month, Heilmann was honored as "Outstanding Community Leader" at Advocate Christ's Salute gala that raised a record-breaking $1.5 million for modernization of the medical center.
Regarding his “vendor contract negotiations,” Phelan says he worked with village business director Chad Weiler in “streamlining costs for bands” that performed at Fall on the Green.
"You will find ZERO, nada, none of me or my name on any contract for our special events,” Phelan said in an email. “Each and every one was signed by our village managers or perhaps one of their designees.”
In addition to the Quality Control 3, Phelan has been reassigned to the technology committee, a role in which I believe he will be extremely effective. (Put me back on your list, bro.)
Phelan can start by spearheading a redesign of the village’s hideous web site. A search function and directory of village staff members’ phone extensions and email addresses would be a nice start.
In the words of Bette Davis, with the next consolidated election fast approaching, "fasten your seatbelts because it’s going to be a bumpy ride."