SAUK VILLAGE | With Village Manager Henrietta Turner on leave in recent days, it has fallen on Village President Lewis Towers to handle the day-to-day administrative tasks involved in the operations of municipal government.
Towers’ elected office is a part-time post, and he has a full-time job. He is the office manager of the Cook County assessor’s office located at the Sixth District Cook County Circuit Court in Markham.
Before a special board meeting Thursday, Towers said sometimes starts his workday at 6 a.m., as he tries to put in a few hours of municipal work before going to his day job. He then returns in the evening to Village Hall, 21701 Torrence Ave., for a few more office hours of municipal tasks.
“I worked so late (Wednesday) that I didn’t get to see the (presidential campaign) debate,” Towers said.
He said while at his day job, he keeps in touch with municipal officals via his smartphone.
“I don’t know how I’d manage without my BlackBerry,” he said.
In fact, Towers said he specifically avoids using county government phones for municipal business and tries to tend to Sauk Village business during his lunch hour and other breaks on the job during the day.
In recent weeks, Towers has used a Chicago-based public relations firm, Brown Communications, to issue press releases on his behalf. Those releases sometimes include a line stating that Towers is available for interviews during the day.
Towers’ professional practices have come into question by the Chicago-based Better Government Association. Last month, the BGA issued a report noting that Towers was suspended for two weeks from his county post for allegedly taking homeowner exemptions on properties he owns in Sauk Village and in Chicago, even though the law only permits someone to take one exemption at a time. The report is available on the BGA's website.
The BGA said Towers saved $4,400 in property taxes from 2001 to 2009, but has since returned the money. Towers declined to comment on the association’s report.
Towers’ professional predicament hasn't garnered him any sympathy from other village officials.
Trustees have taken many actions to remove Turner from the post she was appointed to last year by Towers because they say the village cannot afford to pay her salary. They also say they want an investigation because they suspect alleged financial irregularities involving the village manager, although they never specify what those irregularities might be.
Turner last month filed a claim of racial discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights against two trustees and the village clerk. The complaint alleges officials want to eliminate her position from municipal government because of her race. She is African-American and the two trustees and village clerk are white.
After Thursday night's raucous special board meeting that was cut short by arguing, Village Clerk Debbie Williams said the opposition to Towers is necessary.
“For the good of the village, we’re standing up to an official who doesn’t want to listen to anybody,” Williams said.
While Williams admits partisanship threatens the village’s ability to conduct municipal business, including passing a budget that must be approved prior to Nov. 1, she defended it as a way of protecting the village from Towers' actions.