The Rev. Wayne Svida, pastor of Our Lady of the Ridge Church, opened the first Chicago Ridge Village Board meeting of 2016 with a prayer, and everything was going along swimmingly until it hit a rough patch, when trustees voted 4-2 against Mayor Chuck Tokar’s appointment of Burt Odelson as the village attorney.
Trustees Bill McFarland and Jack Lind were the only trustees to vote for the appointment, while trustees Bruce Quintos, Frances Coglianese, Sally Durkin and Amanda Cardin voted against it.
In a related move at the same meeting, trustees voted 5-1 to create the office of legislative consul, to be filled by another attorney chosen by the trustees. Lind was the only one to vote against that measure, which Odelson and Tokar see as a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Several of the trustees who voted for the legislative consul, including Quintos and Cardin, said the office will serve the village well, acting as a second opinion called upon by trustees when they have any question about advice given by the village attorney.
“The attorney won’t be on retainer. He or she will just be consulted occasionally,” said Cardin.
Tokar named Odelson last June as the interim village attorney, replacing George Witous, who retired without notice after 51 years in the post.
“It was a political statement by at least two of the trustees against the mayor,” said Odelson afterward, taking the vote against him in stride. He knew that while the vote allowed trustees to show their disapproval, it had no effect on the mayoral appointment, which is made by the mayor alone.
“I’ll be here as long as the mayor wants me,” he said.
However, he did admit to taking the vote personally to some degree, because he is friendly with some of the trustees who voted against him. “How can you not?” he said.
“I saved them $100,000 in a year,” he asserted, explaining that in the latter years of Witous’ tenure, some of the work had to be farmed out to downtown firms.
“We charge $175 an hour and we do everything,” he said of his firm, Odelson & Sterk.
Odelson noted that he serves as attorney for 14 municipalities, 12 school districts, and even the Chicago Ridge Park District.
Tokar also questioned the logic of the vote against Odelson, pointing out that the trustees who voted against him had asked him last June to help sort out the controversy over health insurance provided free of charge to retired village officials. And he did that.
Odelson is seen as an expert in election law, and Tokar said, “Not too many villages have an attorney who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court,” said the mayor, pointing out that Odelson was involved in the case involving the 2000 election of George W. Bush over Al Gore.
Coglianese said the vote was not against Odelson personally. “I have nothing against him. It is just the procedure (of his appointment) I don’t like,” she said,
Quintos, who had pushed for the vote, said that as a home-rule community, Chicago Ridge should be governed by a mayor “with the advice and consent” of the trustees.
“We agreed to his interim appointment, with the understanding that we would be able to see who else was available, and vet all the candidates. But nothing was ever done and we were not consulted,” said Quintos.
“If the trustees could vote out a village attorney, I suppose they could also vote out a police chief, fire chief or any other appointed official. But they are all mayoral appointments. That is just how it is done,” said Tokar after the meeting.