Opposition Village Board fights Towers on public safety post

2012-10-24T17:00:00Z 2012-10-24T18:36:27Z Opposition Village Board fights Towers on public safety postGregory Tejeda Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
October 24, 2012 5:00 pm  • 

CHICAGO | It seems as much of Sauk Village municipal government is happening these days at the Daley Center courthouse more than at Village Board meetings.

A Cook County judge decided earlier this year the Village Board could not arbitrarily fire Police Chief Robert Fox or Village Manager Henrietta Turner, both of whom are tied politically to Village President Lewis Towers.

More recently, a judge upheld the ability to eliminate Turner’s position from the village budget beginning next month and also to refuse Towers the ability to appoint Francine Anderson to the Village Board to fill the vacancy left when Trustee Robert Chavez resigned.

Now, a Cook County judge will be asked to decide just who should lead the village’s Police and Fire departments. The issue has become the latest dispute between Village President Lewis Towers and a majority of the Village Board that opposes him.

Attorneys representing the trustees who oppose Towers are trying to get a judge to hear their request for an injunction to prevent Towers from putting Fox in charge of both public safety agencies.

Attorney Michael McGrath said that a hearing on the matter could take place either Thursday or Friday. A judge likely would issue his ruling shortly after hearing arguments. No hearing had been scheduled.

Citing financial problems, village officials have said the municipal budget for the fiscal year beginning Nov. 1 will only have enough money for one head of a public safety agency.

Towers wants Fox, whom he named to the police post last year, to head both the Police and Fire departments, while trustees want longtime Fire Chief Alan Stoffregen to run the two agencies.

Towers said his plan would put Stoffregen into a “deputy chief” position, which would keep both on the payroll. But critics say keeping both would eliminate the cost-cutting factor that was the basis for merging the two posts to begin with.

“It wouldn’t alleviate the budget at all,” said Village Clerk Debbie Williams, who has sided with the four trustees on the Village Board who oppose Towers. She said Stoffregen is paid a little more than $72,000, while Fox is paid about $75,000.

Both Towers and the trustees make the argument that the man they oppose would not be qualified to run the other department.

Stoffregen, “has no experience at all to oversee a police department,” Towers said.

But Village Trustee Derrick Burgess, challenging Towers for village president in the 2013 municipal elections, said he does not believe Fox is qualified to be a police chief — let alone run a fire department.

Williams provided The Times with a copy of a “no confidence” letter signed by Assistant Fire Chief Edward Myers, who is also a trustee opposing Towers, Lt. Gary Bell and seven firefighters saying they do not think Fox is qualified to lead them.

“I don’t think they would work for Fox,” Williams said of the firefighters. “It’s different with a police department, which has many experienced people. Whereas the firefighters really look to their chief for direction.”

McGrath, whom Towers has tried to dismiss as village attorney but whom trustees have retained in their legal battles, said his argument for an injunction will focus on the idea there is no vacancy in place for Towers to fill, thereby making his maneuver with Fox and Stoffregen improper.

“If there was a vacancy and he were using Fox to try to fill it, then it would be acceptable,” McGrath said. “But there is no vacancy, so he can’t do that.”

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