They swept into office in 2005, determined to change business as usual in Oak Lawn–Dave Heilmann, Alex Olejniczak and Tom Phelan.
One of them was going to use his legal training to reduce the village’s legal bills. Another would apply his talents to business operations. The third was going to clean up Oak Lawn’s murky finances.
The Unity Party didn’t need a full-time mayor, either. The village’s managerial form of government, in force since the 1950s, worked fine enough.
That was then, this is now. Like a quarreling rock band, the slate mates have since broken up. Mayor Heilmann says the trouble started about a year and a half before things blew up with the village attorneys that he had recommended hiring, as is his mayoral prerogative.
“There were disagreements about how to handle matters,” Heilmann said. “It wasn’t the way to handle the party, it was really the nature of the relationship. People had disagreements about how others conducted themselves.”
One of the trustees, Heilmann said, accused him of being in on a conspiracy with his parish. What that conspiracy was, Heilmann did not specify.
“I’m sure everyone contributed to that happening. I’m not going to suggest one person is at fault,” the mayor said. “It doesn’t mean that this one is a bad person. I don’t want to go there. It just got way too nasty for local government and never had to.”
A professional actor as well as an attorney, Heilmann says he doesn’t lose sleep over whether fellow board members are trying to push him into resigning before his term is up.
“I have pretty thick skin,” he said. “I walk on stage in front of people. Sometimes they like what you do and sometimes they don’t.”
The center of an explosive report into alleged overbillings by the former village attorneys, Heilmann said he’d be willing to put it behind him.
“I would sit down with any one of them tomorrow,” he said.
Does he still like being the mayor?
“I don’t know whether I really liked it. I hate to say it like that,” he said. “I really enjoy when we can do some neat things that I get a kick out of. If I can help Oak Lawn and change it and put forward a vision, I think that’s terrific.
“The last few years of being attacked has been horrible. It’s been hard to go through. It gets old,” Heilmann said.