North Riverside fire chief hire draws protest

Mayor says search for permanent department head is ongoing

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By Bob Uphues

Editor

Members of a local progressive political group, along with many North Riverside residents, packed the Aug. 13 meeting of the village board to protest the hiring of an interim fire chief, with the mayor stating that a search for a permanent replacement is ongoing.

Typically routine affairs that last 20 or 30 minutes at most, the board meeting featured calls for a new chief and pleas to female elected officials to take seriously the sexual harassment allegations in a lawsuit, settled in 2009 by the village of Oak Lawn, against Interim Fire Chief Scott Boman.

Meanwhile, others, including former North Riverside Mayor Richard Scheck and his wife, Judith, defended Boman, claiming he was innocent of the allegations and the target of a smear campaign launched against him by a disgruntled female employee.

The sometimes raucous meeting devolved at moments into heckling matches, but elected officials themselves stayed out of the fray for the most part.

The only trustee to address Boman's surprise appointment in July was Trustee H. Bob Demopoulos, an opponent of the VIP Party majority on the village board and ally of union firefighters who have been at odds with the North Riverside administration for the past four years.

"Just when you think things were going nice and smooth, it takes a turn for the worse," Demopoulos said.

At the time Boman's appointment was announced a month ago, Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. announced that Boman would be formally sworn in Aug. 13. That, however, did not happen, though he was present at the meeting.

Asked following the meeting when or if Boman would be sworn in, Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. said he was "interim until he's not interim" and that he was still interviewing candidates.

Regarding the search process, Hermanek said he was tapping the resources of the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association and accepting resumes from individuals who have expressed interest in the job.

How long will the search for a permanent chief last?

"Until I find somebody that's good," Hermanek said. "[Boman] is eminently qualified, and as I told you before, this isn't the most sought-after job in the world because of the situation we have with the union."

Members of Indivisible West Suburban Action League organized a protest of the swearing-in, and its members — predominantly women from Riverside and North Riverside — jammed the council chamber in North Riverside Village Commons and loudly applauded the handful of women who stepped up to ask that Hermanek find another candidate for fire chief.

"We are here today to request that you reopen the search for a fire chief, and select a candidate who can be counted on to treat the women of North Riverside and all women with dignity and respect," said Lisa Janunas, who spoke on behalf of the local Indivisible group.

North Riverside resident Tierney Duffy asked about the mayor's search for the interim chief, whether other candidates, specifically female candidates, were considered or whether trustees knew about the allegations in the Oak Lawn lawsuit before Boman was hired.

"We demand transparency from our village leadership," Duffy said. "I believe we are at a crossroads here. We have a choice: Will we be part of the problem or part of the solution?"

But administration defenders, like P.J. Folz, said Hermanek had the right to make the hire as he saw fit, and decried online debates about Boman's appointment as forums for "vitriolic spewing" and "mudslinging against anyone who supported the hire.

"The hiring and firing of department heads falls under the jurisdiction of the mayor, and whether you agree or disagree with the decision being made, this was his decision," Folz said. 

Richard Scheck, the former mayor who moved to Oak Brook nearly a decade ago but who still exerts influence as a member and contributor to the VIP Party he once led, called Boman an "innocent man who is getting painted with a wide brush."

"It's not about woman here tonight," Scheck said. "It's about an innocent man that we're throwing under the bus."

He also then went on the offensive against firefighters he said were engineering the opposition and a specific North Riverside resident who has been a virulent online critic of Boman's hire and the administration in general.

Scheck held up a thick document he said was the response to a Freedom of Information request and that it showed North Riverside police had visited that resident's house 60 times "and most of them were for female harassment, and most of them were by his wife."

Firefighter David Rajk responded to Scheck by saying he didn't appreciate the accusation that firefighters were "riling up" the public and placed the responsibility on the mayor.

"We had nothing to do with this hiring and firing," Rajk said. "We didn't force anyone to do anything or take a stance on this. For people to be coming from out of town to accuse us of wrongdoing, shame on you." 

Contact:
Email: buphues@wjinc.com Twitter: @RBLandmark

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Kathryn Dennis  

Posted: August 16th, 2018 10:53 AM

D.u. John was right on point that the village has paid out about $ 1,000,000 so far of taxpayer money in legal bills and is now dumping the shortfall onto the residents in terms of higher fees. As I sat in the audience at Monday's board mtg., I heard gasps and curses as the sharp increases of fees were announced. The mayor has recklessly wasted the taxpayers' money to fund a now proven, hopeless pipedream of trying to privatize the fire department. In this endless, shameless, pointless effort he has freely handed over public taxpayer funds to the attorneys with no regard to how it will inevitably impact the residents he was elected to watch over. Now the innocent citizens of North Riverside will begin to feel the pinch and sting of the byproduct of the mayor's ongoing personal attack on the firefighters. In an Oct. 3rd, 2017 Landmark article entitled "North Riverside Waves White Flag on Fire Privatization" the article reads "The Landmark's analysis of village financial records showed that North Riverside spent more than $ 800,000 on total legal fees between 2013 and 2016. The privatization effort started in the summer of 2014. For the three years prior to the 2013-14 fiscal years, the village had never spent more than $76,000 annually for legal services." That total has since risen over the past two years with the ongoing litigation?"especially since the mayor's quest was taken shamelessly and pointlessly to the Illinois Supreme Court since the article. If you do the math, the residents are on the hook for about $ 1,000,000 so far and keep in mind the mayor still has his lawyers working. The mayor is quoted as saying in the same article "It's done. The only option not being pursued is litigation". Now we know the mayor lied since, after the article, he took the case to the Supreme Court and lost. Lost his case as well as taxpayer money--yet again.

Steven Spiro  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 5:16 PM

Mr. Scheck's public speaking style, and, I surmise, his overall leadership style seem to me to be akin to that of Richard J. Daley's. Although a big fish in a much much smaller pond, it seems to me that he ascribes to that old-school, bull-in-a-china shop approach which prioritizes, and doesn't seek to hide or sugar-coat over, the exercise of control and power, and that demands subservience and loyalty from those in his "fiefdom". I suspect strongly that Mr. Scheck is pulling the strings of the automatons claiming to run North Riverside. I suspect that he says, "Jump", and they say, in response, "How high?". If I'm correct, for this exercise of power and control, I believe that you have to give the man credit. He's pulled it off, and he keeps it going. For this, I also believe, you have to view with sheer disdain and utter disgust the automatons that collectively respond to orders like Pavlov's dogs responded to the sight of food. It might be a different story if Mr. Scheck had demonstrated consistently good managerial skills during his tenure as mayor, and is demanding the same kind of performances from his automatons. But, during Mr. Scheck's "reign", pension funds were either under-funded or not funded at all leaving the automatons scurrying to fix what he participated in breaking, and current village taxpayers on the hook for increased fees across the board. I will give him the credit that he is due for starting the Betty Scheck runs, curtailing the obnoxious train-horns blaring in the village, and other accomplishments. But, it really is time for NR taxpayers and voters to rid themselves of the automatons, and their master.

Josie Polanek from North Riverside  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 3:29 PM

It was encouraging to see such a strong turn out to this last village board meeting. And I applaud the public comments that were delivered with concern, respect and passion. I don't understand why the former mayor's public comment was hostile toward the residents of the village. I find it concerning that he ended up looking to be the spokesperson for much of the board and yet he hasn't been elected to that position or even lived here in years. I hope the board takes note that many of the actual residents of North Riverside love this town and want what's best for it. Criticism of questionable hires like that of the current interim fire chief means we want better for our community. If the board loves this village too, they should be genuinely reflecting on the public outcry to this possible hire and consider its affect on this community.

Nilsa Sweetser  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 3:11 PM

I was disappointed that the tone of the public comments changed dramatically over the course of the evening. The first few people addressed the trustees, asked sincere questions and made specific requests. The last few people spoke to the audience (Mr Sheck even turned his back to the trustees for much of his time at the podium), made accusations of residents and employees, and used the spotlight to incite anger from people in attendance at the meeting. The point to their comments was muddled in all that finger-pointing.

Cristin Evans  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 11:03 AM

Mr. Scheck's use of victim blaming and victim character assassination in his defense of the interim fire chief was egregious. Victims are never to blame for unwanted sexual behavior perpetrated against them. Sexual harassment and other unwanted sexual behavior are caused only by the perpetrator's individual choice to offend and the systems, institutions, and people in positions of power that fail to hold them accountable.

Mickey Zd  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 9:53 AM

I think the most ridiculous part of all this is that the Mayor has some very qualified and deserving firefights in the department that SHOULD be made chief but because of their politics can't even get an interview. How sad is it for North Riverside firefighters to know that unless they "Pay to Play," meaning join the VIP Party, they will never be made chief. The politics in North Riverside is costing the village millions. The gross mismanagement of the village should anger all the residents and they should make a change at the next election. This Mayor and the trustees, except Bobby, are all Rich Scheck's puppets. Scheck hasn't lived in NR for 9 years. Why is he still giving money to the VIP Party and attending all the Board Meetings? This should bother the residents because it seems like he is still running the village through Hermanek and the VIP trustees. I wonder why???

Kathryn Dennis  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 8:44 AM

Lindsey, yes it is not fiscally responsible for the mayor to make yet another poor decision to hire an employee that due to his behavior has been proven to cause financial damages to his previous employer and could be exposing this village to a high risk financially. Also, I would like to reiterate the findings of a July 6, 2012 investigation completed for the Village of Oak Lawn that included a review of all costs incurred, including legal costs paid to the village's attorney as well as settlement costs paid to the female firefighter. The sexual harassment lawsuit in which Boman was named cost the village a total of: ***** $ 2,000,000 *****

D.u. John from Earth  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 7:27 AM

Lindsay, I wouldn't call it a surprise deficit when this administration has paid their lawyers about $1,000,000 of tax payer money in legal fees for the unsuccessful and continued attempt at firing dedicated Firefighters. But now residents are finally getting the squeeze

Lindsay Hunter Morrison from Riverside   

Posted: August 14th, 2018 10:02 PM

North Riverside had a $300,000 surprise budget deficit, and at this meeting raised water rates and car sticker fees for all residents. It's not fiscally responsible for NR to hire a fire chief whose leadership cost another town $850,000 in a harassment settlement. Too much financial risk.

Malone Vince  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 5:46 PM

To the LM. Before I come in tomorrow. I'll go pull my own public records. And you can post them & apologize to me, So the public can see. And also prove Schecks a liar. And my wife wants to come also. See you tommmow with Facts in Hand. Ridiculous what you'll post with out researching first. Shame on you.

Malone Vince  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 5:32 PM

Really MAYOR SCHECK. It is about the Women!!! Qoute from someone who shouldn't even be there. THE PUPPET MASTER. ." "It's not about woman here tonight," Scheck said. "It's about an innocent man that we're throwing under the bus." WOW. SAYS IT ALL RIGHT THERE. SORRY LADIES.YOU DONT MATTER !! PER MAYOR SCHECK

Steven Spiro  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 5:21 PM

Brian, you should be proud of your mother. And, I do agree with you that some members of the audience acted rudely. Not to make excuses, but the issue of a North Riverside employee having a reported history of sexual harassment and related predatory behaviors is a very sensitive and emotion-arousing topic for a lot of our residents. And, there are those, of course, myself included, that have had it up to our ears with what we believe to be the incredible incompetency of the mayor and majority of the trustees. Another increase in the cost of water bills. Another increase in the cost of vehicle stickers for non-seniors. Money snatched from taxpayers' hands and handed over to attorneys in the TOTAL failure to privatize the fire department. Complete lack of transparency acting as if the majority of North Riversiders are uninterested and unquestioning fools. And, the list goes on and on.

Vince Melone  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 5:04 PM

Mr. Arthur. Yes I-Team had a Representative there taking notes. I spoke with him for 30 min . Far from Over.

Brian Arthur  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 4:52 PM

Mr. Spiro: As the son of PJ Folz, I want to thank you for your kind words in regards to my mother's speech that she gave at the board meeting last night. Even though you disagreed with her speech, I respect your opinion. I had attended the board meeting myself last night, standing in the back of the room, and I was very proud of mother having the courage to stand up and give the speech that she did last night, knowing that she would face some backlash for it. I found it disheartening that while my mother was giving her speech, a group of people (you know who you are) decided to interrupt my mother while she was giving her speech, just because they disagreed with what she had to say. I find that to be rude and disrespectful considering the previous speakers before my mother spoke, we're NEVER once interrupted when they spoke. That's just unacceptable to me and maybe that's just because I'm on son looking out for his mother. Lastly, I thought there was suppose to be a Channel 7 I-Team reporter at the board meeting last night. Was that person there? Or did Chuck Goudie have something better to do? Thank you.

Steven Spiro  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 3:33 PM

I applauded P.J. Folz's comment, although I disagreed with much of what she said. I admired her courage in speaking out when it seemed the vast number of audience members were the opposition. I just wish the elected female trustees would have voiced their opinions for or against the interim hire. Who knows? Maybe, they will in time.

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