By Laura Bollin
A baker and a legal administrative assistant are squaring off in the race for Chicago Ridge village clerk.
The winner of the election on April 9 will be Chicago Ridge’s first village clerk not named Chuck Tokar since 1989. Tokar is giving up his clerk seat to run unopposed for mayor. He will replace Eugene Siegel, who was first elected in 1976 and is not seeking reelection.
Upon Tokar entering the mayor’s office, the village clerk seat will be restructured as a part-time position, Tokar said. Tokar as clerk serves essentially as the village’s chief financial officer, and this year is earning roughly $120,000; however, the next clerk will serve a less demanding role.
In the clerk’s race, George Schleyer, 51, is running as an independent against Lynn Barker, 47, who is running on Tokar’s Village Action Party ticket. Schleyer, a union baker at Kirschbaum’s Bakery in Western Springs, has lived in Chicago Ridge for 19 years. Barker, a legal administrative assistant for a law firm in Chicago, has lived in Chicago Ridge for 38 years.
Schleyer has served as the president of the Ashburn Civic Association in Chicago, and was the executive director of the Southwest Chamber of Commerce. He went to trade school to learn to be a baker.
“I don’t like what’s going on in this town,” Schleyer said. “There is no transparency in the village government.
“For years, the village government has been telling us the village is financially sound. On a day-to-day basis, we are financially sound. The problem is the village is sitting on $33 million in unfunded pension liabilities, and that has to be paid.”
Chicago Ridge, like all municipalities, is powerless over how much money it owes to the Illinois public employees’ pension fund. The state General Assembly decides how much taxing bodies must allocate toward pensions.
Schleyer is also concerned with inflated pensions of Chicago Ridge employees, including what he referred to as the “wild” pension of former village Police Chief Tim Baldermann received.
Baldermann was placed on disability leave in April 2010 after sustaining a back injury while carrying a corpse down a flight of stairs earlier that year. On his last day as Chicago Ridge’s police chief, village trustees voted to increase his salary by 20 percent.
Per a work agreement between Chicago Ridge and its police department employees, Baldermann opted out of the village’s insurance coverage and applied to add unused vacation pay amounting to more than $56,000 to his salary for the final two months of his law enforcement career. Instead of his disability pay being based on a percentage of his annual salary of $128,000 for his roles as chief and police department employee liaison, his pension was calculated using his salary plus the 20 percent raise and his $56,000 in vacation pay. Together, those raised his disability payment to $129,192 per year, and that amount is scheduled to increase to more than $191,000 after he reaches 60 years old.
“The village is padding people’s pensions when they are retiring, and that is not fair to the taxpayers,” Schleyer said. “Over the long-term, we are going to have to pay for the pensions. In a nutshell, I want to give the taxpayer the best bang for their buck and I don’t see that happening.”
Schleyer, if elected, is looking forward to working with Tokar.
“As long as both of our goals are the same – transparency and giving back to the taxpayers, we’re not going to have a problem,” Schleyer said. “I love living in Chicago Ridge. I would like to live here until the end of my life. But I see spiraling tax bills, and I would like to retire someday. If I am paying $6,000 or $7,000 in property taxes, I can’t afford to retire and I can’t afford to live here.”
Schleyer said he paid $2,000 in property taxes when he came to Chicago Ridge in 1994, and today pays $6,400.
“I’m almost being taxes right out of my home,” Schleyer said. “It concerns me. If I am having a difficult time, how are senior citizens and people on fixed incomes able to do this? I find that worrisome.”
Schleyer said if he was elected village clerk, he could be a “watchdog” for the residents.
“Everything financially run through this town would go through my office, and I could stand up and say, hey, we need to think about what we’re doing,” Schleyer said. “I want to be the conscience for the village board.”
Schleyer said his experience running bakeries for the last 20 years and “extremely organized” nature will make him a good village clerk.
“I can’t imagine running the clerk’s office is much different than running a small business. I would be able to manage the staff of three or four people who work in the clerk’s office.”
Schleyer also wants to do more to help out businesses in the village, and bring new businesses to town. He wants to advertise on the radio the benefits of shopping in Chicago Ridge.
“I want that to be part of my responsibility as village clerk,” Schleyer said. “I know what it takes to run and survive as a small business, and I would be an asset to the business community. People can trust me because I have no political ties to this town. I am in this because I truly care about the community. The benefit for me is having a great place to live.”
Schleyer said despite the clerk’s seat being a non-voting position, he still plans to make an impact.
“I think I have the latitude to make suggestions,” he said, adding that he hopes to use the position to help bring in more businesses to town, possibly by overseeing a business committee. “As clerk, one of your responsibilities is to oversee the revenue that comes into town, like vehicle stickers and business licenses. It wouldn’t be too far off to be charged with bringing in businesses. I would not so much do it myself, but if the board saw a fit for it, I could oversee a committee of residents, like a business renewal committee.”
Barker has served as the secretary, vice president and president of the Chicago Ridge School District 127½ board of education, and believes her experience on the board would help her in the role of clerk. She earned her administrative certificate from the Southwest School of Business in Chicago.
“As our clerk, you are the administrator of the records,” Barker said. “You compile the agenda, you get the minutes together; it’s all the administrative behind-the-scenes duties in town.
“Having served on a board, I know what board members are looking for. I have an edge there, and will be able to give them the information that they need. My career has seasoned me to step into the administrative part of [the job].”
Barker said she is running for clerk to stay involved in the community.
“I want to see our village grow, and I want to be able to give back to the community,” Barker said. “I like the way our town has been thriving, and I want to continue down that same part. I want to be a part of it.”
The biggest issue facing Chicago Ridge is the village’s finances, Barker said.
“We are faced with a recession, like everyone else,” Barker said. “We want to maintain a healthy fund balance and stay afloat. Safety is also on everyone’s mind. We want to keep our streets safe in Chicago Ridge.”
Barker said her school board experience will give her a different perspective on the village’s finances.
“Being on the school board, we faced the regular challenges and financial restraints that ll districts face,” Barker said. “While I was on the board, I am very proud of all the decisions we made and the services we offered. We were able to keep our school safe and do facility and technology upgrades. I was part of three negotiating teams for contracts, and I developed a good rapport with the teachers.”
The village clerk in Chicago Ridge is a unique position, Barker said.
“I am not a voting body, but I will be sitting side by side with the board and will be able to offer suggestions and ideas,” Barker said. “I feel that I will be a voice that is heard.”
The Village Action Party ticket is being endorsed by current Mayor Siegel, which Barker said is “an honor.”
“He is saying, ‘I leave this town is these people’s confident hands,’” Barker said. “I am excited to work with Chuck Tokar. I will be able to pop into his office and ask questions and have him mentor me. He has run things smoothly for more than 20 years. Who could better train me?”