Chicago Ridge candidates talk about loyalty, accessibility

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Candidates running for mayor and village clerk in Chicago Ridge fielded residents’ questions during a March 8 forum sponsored by the Chicago Ridge-Worth Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber Vice President Christopher Lisek moderated the event, asking the questions submitted by audience members.

The candidates for village clerk, incumbent George Schleyer and Barbara Harrison, didn’t get as many questions as the mayoral candidates: incumbent Chuck Tokar and trustees Fran Coglianese and Sally Durkin. But the clerk candidates did argue about how many hours could be spent working at what is a part-time position.

Harrison, who grew up in Chicago Ridge, stressed her strong ties to the community.

“I do have a loyalty to the town,” she said, recalling her days playing in Freedom Park when it was known as Birmingham Park, and playing on a boys field hockey team for three years. She pledged to be accessible, saying, “I know this town and the people in it, and I have the will to work hard to serve them.”

Schleyer, who is completing his first four-year term as clerk, has lived in Chicago Ridge since the mid-1990s. A production manager in a bakery who led a Chicago neighborhood organization before moving to Chicago Ridge, Schleyer said besides handling the duties of the office, he also helped get the Chicago Ridge Lions Club started last year, and revived the Chicago Ridge-Worth Chamber of Commerce.

He told Harrison that a labor lawyer mentioned to him working more than 20 hours in the clerk’s position per week could be illegal, and might require the officeholder to pay into the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

“Does that mean not returning phone calls from home?” asked Harrison, promising to do that.

Schleyer said he often does return calls when he is away from the office, and disputed Harrison’s claim that he is not accessible to the public.

The mayoral candidates all cited economic development as a prime objective, but they had a few minor “dust-ups” when discussing how to go about it, as well as several other issues.

“Economic development is the only way we will be able to hold the line on property taxes and make it possible to reinstate the property tax rebate,” said Tokar, who is completing his first term as mayor. Prior to that, the lifelong village resident served for 24 years as village clerk and 14 years as trustee.

When asked to point to development successes during his term, Tokar cited the craft brewery opening this summer in the Harlem Avenue TIF district, as well as a medical facility being built on the east side of the district. He said the sale of the brewery site, and a possible purchase of another village-owned piece of property where a developer wants to build the village’s first Starbuck’s restaurant will be profitable.

Durkin and Coglianese want to see more economic development in the village as well, but they both oppose allowing any more video gaming in town. Tokar said recent decisions by the village board to reject business proposals that included video gaming has cost the village tax money.

Durkin, who said she is running for mayor because she feels like her hands are tied as a trustee, said the “infighting in the village board” has got to stop. She said hiring a village manager to run the village on a day-to-day basis would be on her agenda. She, like Coglianese, also supports the idea of making the mayor’s office part-time.

“Definitely we need it. I think an administrator is needed to put some distance between the board and running the village hall.”

Coglianese, who worked as a secretary in the building department before retiring, said $75,000 has been budgeted for that position. But Tokar said village administrators would cost a lot more than that.

Both Durkin and Coglianese criticized Tokar for taking annual salaries of $12,000 for liquor commissioner and $18,000 for budget director, in addition to the $88,000 salary for mayor. State statute does allow mayors to serve as budget officers, but Tokar said he is the only one of the three with the master’s degree in public administration that the job requires.

While Tokar and Durkin agreed that term limits “should be set by voters,” Coglianese is running on a platform that includes a call for term limits to be set at two.

The mayoral candidates were also asked who paid for robocalls to be made to residents. None of the three took credit for them, but Tokar said that since the calls were critical of Durkin and him, the residents “could draw their own conclusions.”

“I don’t appreciate these tactics in Chicago Ridge,” said Durkin.

Coglianese said she filed a Freedom of Information request to the FCC to find out who placed the calls. She denied the speculation that her team was behind them.

“If it was something I did, they would have pronounced my name right,” she said. She said she expects to get an answer by March 29 about who was behind them.