Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar won his bid for re-election on April 4, but his opponents on the Village Board got a victory of another kind on April 18 when Cook County Judge Rodolfo Garcia ruled in their favor in a lawsuit involving mayoral powers that Tokar had filed against them last August.
Five of the six village trustees were named in the lawsuit the mayor filed after they approved an ordinance limiting the mayor’s ability to make appointments. The issue arose last year when the five board members rejected Tokar’s choice of Burt Odelson as village attorney. Odelson remained in that position on an interim basis despite the vote because current state law states that no office can remain vacant.
But the five trustees — Bruce Quintos, Frances Coglianese, Sally Durkin, Bill McFarland and Amanda Cardin – then passed a new ordinance that requires a majority of trustees to approve all mayoral appointments. If the mayor’s selection does not receive the required votes the first time, the mayor would be given 30 days to change their minds. If the appointee is rejected a second time, the mayor would have to pick somebody else.
Tokar vetoed that ordinance, but the trustees overrode it, with only Trustee Jack Lind siding with the mayor. He was the only trustee not named in the lawsuit. The five trustees who proposed the new ordinance said it simply reinforces state statutes that say mayors of home-rule communities govern with the “advice and consent” of the board.
In the April 4 election, Coglianese and Durkin ran unsuccessfully against Tokar for mayor, and Quintos and Cardin lost their bids for re-election. But Coglianese on Tuesday admitted feeling “somewhat vindicated, at least in this area,” when she heard that the judge upheld the legality of the ordinance she had proposed.
“The ordinance just reinforces the advice and consent in state statutes. It gives us a balance of power,” she said. “I want to find that judge’s name because I have a feeling he will be one of the first I’ll be voting for,” she added with a laugh.
However, the mayor said at the time that his legal advisers from four municipal law firms had advised him that the ordinance violates the state constitution, because it makes changes to the mayor’s powers without a referendum. He said that in filing suit, he was simply seeking a declaratory judgment because it was “a case of different interpretations of case law and state law.”
“No one is asking for money. We’re simply asking for a declaratory judgment. Whichever way it goes, we will move on. This issue isn’t going to be hanging over us for years. We are hoping to have it resolved in the next eight weeks or so,” said Tokar last August.
Both he and his opponents in the case expressed frustration about the slow pace of the litigation whenever they were asked about the status of the case as the election drew closer.
Tokar said on Tuesday that he wanted to wait to see the actual written ruling, which had not been issued yet, before deciding on his next course of action.
“I don’t want to comment on what was said in court,” Tokar said. “I want to see what the ruling says before deciding to appeal or not.”
The case the mayor expected to see decided in eight weeks dragged on so long that three people named in the suit – Durkin, Quintos and Cardin—will no longer be on the board as of this evening, (Thursday, April 27) when three newly elected trustees are scheduled to be sworn in with Tokar.
“He will have a whole new board,” said Coglianese, who remains a trustee.
Appointments will have to be made again also, including that of village attorney, and Coglianese was unwilling to predict how the votes might go this time around.
Deb Pyznarski and Ed Kowalski, two of Tokar's allies who were elected on April 4, may provide the mayor with at least three votes. But if the new ordinance is indeed upheld, the mayor might be casting more tie-breaking votes.