In a move that everyone involved knew was coming, attorneys for Chicago Ridge Mayor Charles Tokar filed suit on Aug. 9 against five trustees on the village board and the village itself in an effort to overturn an ordinance limiting mayoral powers.
The lawsuit filed by attorney John Murphey wasn’t on the agenda for the village board meeting on Tuesday, but the issue was raised by residents during the public comment section of the meeting.
After the controversial ordinance was passed in June by a 5-1 margin, followed by Tokar’s veto, the same five trustees overrode the veto on July 12. The ordinance requires a majority of trustees to approve all mayoral appointments, including that of village attorney. If the mayor’s selection does not receive the required votes once, the mayor would be given 30 days to change their minds. If the appointee is rejected a second time, the mayor would have to pick somebody else.
The initial dispute arose earlier this year when the five board members rejected Tokar’s choice of Burt Odelson as village attorney. He remains in that position because current state law states that no office can remain vacant, and appointees can hold offices on an interim basis. The trustees such as Bruce Quintos and Frances Coglianese who proposed the new ordinance simply reinforces state statutes that say mayors of home-rule communities govern with the “advice and consent” of the board.
In response to a resident seeking details about the lawsuit, Tokar said, “The bottom line is, it is a case of different interpretations of case law and state law.” He said his legal advisors have told him the ordinance violates the state constitution, because it makes changes to the mayor’s powers without a referendum.
“No one is asking for money. We’re simply asking for a declaratory judgment. Whichever way it goes, we will move on,” said Tokar. “This issue isn’t going to be hanging over us for years. We are hoping to have it resolved in the next eight weeks or so.”
When resident Mary Callan asked why the trustees opposed Odelson’s appointment, the mayor suggested she talk to the trustees individually elsewhere. “This is public comment time. We should be listening to your concerns and taking them under advisement. It is not a question and answer session.”
A proposed ordinance that was on the agenda Tuesday seeks to make village president/mayor a part-time position, and cut the annual salary from $85,000 down to $40,000. Another one would limit the hours and make other changes to the village clerk’s position, which is already part-time. The changes would become effective following the local elections in April 2017.
Quintos said he was prepared to vote on the measure, but at the request of Trustee Sally Durkin, the board agreed to table the ordinances until the mayor and trustees could iron out the details at a workshop on Monday, Aug. 22.
“Maybe this was put on the agenda prematurely,” said Durkin. “A lot of questions (about the ramifications of changing the mayoral position) have come up since this was proposed.”
The current wording of the ordinance calls for the hiring of a village administrator to handle day-to-day business.
Residents who questioned why the workshop is not open to the public were assured that whatever proposals that result from it would be brought up for public discussion at future meetings.