Voters applauded for draining suburban government 'swamp'
Voters in Orland Park and Tinley Park should be proud of themselves for clearing their local governments after years of controversy, corruption and mismanagement, a public advocacy group said recently.
“It is proof positive that an active citizenry shining a light on what public officials are really up to can have a big impact in our state,” wrote the Edgar County Watchdogs on their Illinois Leaks website. “The swamp in Illinois can indeed be drained … but everything has to start locally at the community level."
First-time candidate Keith Pekau beat 24-year Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin, running primarily on a platform of blocking a proposed pension plan.
McLaughlin began to lose favor following a controversy surrounding the Orland Park Public Library, which some individuals were using to access child pornography and commit other sexual crimes, according to the Edgar County Watchdogs. Village officials did not take a firm stance against these users and instead worked to stonewall library employees and concerned residents, the group said.
McLaughlin’s recent leadership has also been marked by dramatic spending increases, which according to Pekau’s campaign materials has increased Orland Park’s long-term debt from $13.6 million in 1998 to $158 million in 2016. The Edgar County Watchdogs said that irresponsible financial management extends to even smaller administrative matters, such as a Las Vegas trip that Development Services Director Karie Frilling took, ostensibly to attend a conference, where she billed the village for a nearly $100 meal despite having a per-diem limit of $25.
The pension plan was apparently the last straw for voters. The village, led by McLaughlin, sought to increase his salary to $150,000 per year, a more than 200 percent increase from his current salary of $40,000. Because McLaughlin’s state pension would be determined by the highest paying four years of his last 10 years in service, this stood to increase his annual payments from approximately $30,000 per year to more than $100,000 per year for the rest of his life, potentially topping $2 million over time.
Pekau won a solid victory over McLaughlin on promises of sound management of the village’s finances. Voters also rejected a measure to approve development of an outdoor multipurpose sports facility.
In Tinley Park, Mayor David Seaman, Clerk Patrick Rea and Trustee Kevin Suggs all lost their seats, along with other officials who presided over a controversy involving tampering with the village’s planning code. Resident-led investigations, relying heavily on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, appear to have unearthed collusion between the villages’ planning director and an organization that wanted to develop a low-income housing project in 2015.
Amy Connolly, the former planning director, was alleged to have worked altered the village planning code to remove a requirement and help the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, which would have benefited from a tax credit related to the development.
The controversy was largely unearthed by Tinley Park resident and construction worker Michael Glotz, who submitted numerous FOIA requests and demanded answers at multiple township board meetings. At one meeting, ousted Trustee T.J. Grady verbally attacked Glotz, according to Edgar County Watchdogs.
“That shameful Trustee is now removed from power and in his place is the concerned citizen who knew his rights, became skilled in utilizing FOIAs to uncover corruption, and attended board meetings to express his opinions and question public officials who were either behaving badly or breaking the law,” wrote the Watchdogs. “April 4th was a wonderful, wonderful election day in southwestern Chicago.”
Organizations in this Story
Edgar County, IL, United States