SAUK VILLAGE | On Nov. 6, Sauk Village President Lewis Towers sent an email to village officials saying he was resigning for family and health reasons.
Lewis’ decision kicked off a flurry of political activity in the village that has resulted in a total of four candidates for the position of village president in April’s general election.
Back in November senior Trustee David Hanks was chosen to serve out the rest of Towers’ term by a 4-1 margin. Hanks was one of the more vocal critics of the Towers administration.
“The most important thing for me to do was to re-open the lines of communication between officials, staff, and the residents,” Hanks said. “People at different levels felt that they did not know what was going on, in the village or in a department.”
Hanks has established weekly meetings with department heads and staff members. They discuss what work is currently under way, and plan next steps. That was not occurring under the old administration, Hanks said.
“Many of our department heads felt they had little or no direction, no help setting priorities,” Hanks said. “Now the Village Board is listening to them, helping them when possible, and making sure we are all on the same page.”
At the time, Hanks said it was his intention not to run for village president in the spring. He has since changed his mind.
“I have been approached by a group of residents who want me to run,” Hanks said. “I finally agreed.”
Trustee Derrick Burgess announced his candidacy for the position months before Towers’ resignation.
“I have a very specific 15-point plan to turn the village around and get it headed in the right direction,” Burgess said. “I believe that Sauk Village needs a leader who can be visible and vocal downstate in Springfield.”
Burgess said that he will be a full-time president on a part-time salary.
“If elected, I will turn my full attention to the job,” he said. “The pay will remain part-time, but the time spent by me will be full-time. The village needs that dedication.”
Both Hanks and Burgess were vocal critics of the Towers’ administration.
Trustee Enoch Benson also announced his candidacy prior to Towers’ resignation. Benson had been a staunch supporter of Towers, but decided the village needed a different direction.
When reached for comment, Benson deferred to his website. According to his website, his campaign will focus on:
• The water infrastructure. Well No. 3 that once provided water to the village has been shut down due to high levels of vinyl chloride.
• Fire hydrants that are out of service throughout the village compounded by water main breaks in the same areas.
• High crime rates due to the lack of and/or removal of appropriate community services.
• No sustainable youth and senior services.
• Low home values due to foreclosures.
Bernice Brewer-Houston was also a staunch supporter of the Towers’ administration. Brewer-Houston, a retired EPA specialist, filed to run for village president during the December filing period.
“We have many serious environmental issues going on in Sauk Village,” she said. “We need to make Lake Michigan water happen. The money and effort being spent on air strippers for the wells is a Band-Aid. The original issues are still there.”
Brewer-Houston also said there are serious financial issues that need to be addressed.
“Many residents do not know where their money goes within the village,” she said. “We have been coming to the public meetings and asking for financial accountability. We have not been receiving answers. The board has robbed Peter to pay Paul on several occasions.”
Judy Cast is the president of the community action group called People Looking for Answers, or PLAN.
“PLAN is a community group, and as a group has no political affiliation,” she said. “But as an independent resident of Sauk Village, I can say that I am backing Derrick Burgess.”
Cast said that resources for the Police Department was one of her main concerns. She feels that Burgess’ plan will best address the issues.
“Our police need better equipment to do their jobs,” Cast said. “I feel Derrick has the best plan to make that happen.”
Rose Langston is the chair of the senior committee of the village. Langston and the seniors will host a pair of moderated forums in March for the candidates to present their views to the voters.
“Because I host the forums I refrain from publicly stating preferences,” Langston said. “”What the seniors try to do is provide the candidates with a forum where they can answer questions from the voters. Then the voters can hear for themselves the differences between viewpoints and make their own decisions.”
Langston said the seniors will host two different forums, once for village president and clerk, and one for trustees.
The board has allocated money to repair police cars and purchase police equipment, items that were sorely needed, said Fire and Police Chief Alan Stoffregen. Fire hydrants have been purchased, and the Public Works Department is installing them where the need is most critical. All village law work has been consolidated to one law firm, Odelson & Sterk. Stoffregen was appointed to the new role of fire and police chief. All engineering work has been consolidated to Robinson Engineering, the village firm for the past 15 years.
The intensity of previous conflicts has subsided. Public board and committee meetings had previously degraded into shouting matches. In the past six to eight weeks, proper decorum has been returned.
Village Clerk Debbie Williams said village staff members feel a sense of relief and peace at work.
Under the Towers’ administration, the village went through three village managers, seven trustees, four law firms, and three police chiefs. The current budget has a $2 million deficit.
“The majority of the residents like the changes that have been made,” Hanks said. “They can tell we are trying to set things right.”