The latest political battle in Brookfield is being played out on an unlikely battleground?”the village’s Police and Fire Commission. During the Board of Trustees’ April 24 meeting, Trustee Linda Stevanovich challenged the seemingly routine reappointment of Fire and Police Commission Chairperson Sharon Skweres, charging that doing so would mean all three members of the commission were “PEP supporters.”
On April 25 VIP Party President Bill Russ fired off an e-mail to local newspapers stating he might seek a legal remedy if Skweres were reappointed to the board.
“President Garvey should appoint a VIP Party member to the Police and Fire commission,” Russ wrote, citing the village’s ordinance regarding the appointment of Police and Fire Commission members.
“Village ordinance states two must be from the majority party and one from the minority party,” Russ contended. “PEP is the majority party and VIP Party is the minority party in Brookfield.”
Russ also stated in his e-mail that, for the record, none of the three police and fire commissioners, Skweres, Sean Shanahan and Richard Breckinridge, were members of the VIP Party.”
Asked what kind of legal action he was thinking of pursuing, Russ wasn’t specific. Instead, he stated that “if the village can not follow its own ordinance, I will go to the State of Illinois, county and federal government.”
In the wake of Stevanovich’s concern at the April 24 meeting, trustees voted 4-3, with Village President Michael Garvey breaking the tie, to table Skweres appointment until the legal interpretation of the statute could be worked out.
Joining Garvey in the vote to table the appointment were Stevanovich, Catherine Colgrass Edwards and C.P. Hall. Trustees Alan Dorobiala, Kit Ketchmark and Michael Towner voted not to table to appointment.
Garvey, Edwards, Hall, Ketchmark and Towner are all PEP Party members.
“I wasn’t sure on the statute, and I have no idea what Sharon [Skweres]’s, Sean [Shanahan]’s or Breckinridge’s political affiliations are,” Garvey said. “I haven’t seen them at PEP functions, never invited them and never asked them. I thought since Sharon was appointed in 2001 [by Bill Russ], if she was good enough for them, she was good enough for us.”
Skweres has served on the Police and Fire Commission since 1993. From 1987-90 she was the commission’s recording secretary.
Several calls to Skweres for comment were not returned.
Brookfield’s statute regarding the appointment of police and fire commissioners actually mirrors Chapter 65 of the Illinois Municipal Code, which states that “no more than two members of the board shall belong to the same political party existing in such municipality at the time of such appointments. … If only one or no political party exists … then state or national political party affiliations shall be considered in making such appointments.”
Nowhere in the statute is mention made of requiring members to be from a majority or minority party. It does require, however, that “party affiliation shall be determined by affidavit of the person appointed as a member of the board.”
Where the affidavit of political party membership entered into the police and fire commission appointment process isn’t clear. Brookfield Village Attorney Richard Ramello said it was likely part of reform legislation passed in the 1940s.
“It probably came from the notion that you didn’t want your Police and Fire Commission stacked with people from one party, so that all the police officers and firefighters came from the same background,” Ramello said. “It had the intention of [allowing] at least differing viewpoints when nominating or promoting police and firefighters.”
Ramello said that in all his years serving as a municipal attorney the question of political affiliation of police and fire commissioners has never come up and that those boards tend not to be very political.
“I’ve never had it come up as a question before in any municipality I’ve represented,” Ramello said.
Brookfield in the past has required members of the Police and Fire Commission to fill out affidavits stating any political affiliation. Typically, the form, a copy of which was obtained by the Landmark, has asked for Democratic, Republican or “other” affiliation, but not local political party affiliation.
The last person to complete such an affidavit, according to village records was Skweres, in 2001. On May 11, 2001, Skweres filled out two affidavits, one for national and one for local political party affiliation.
Brookfield Deputy Clerk Theresa McCarthy said Skweres told her that Russ and then-Village Manager-James Mann required her to fill out the two affidavits prior to her reappointment to the commission in 2001.
Three days later, on May 14, 2001, former VIP Party officer John Gallagher was sworn in as a police and fire commissioner. No affidavit stating political affiliation appears in village records, according to Deputy Clerk McCarthy. Nor was any affidavit recorded for subsequent appointees to the commission, including Hank Savoy in April 2002 and Shanahan and Breckinridge in 2005.
“The last affidavit we have on record is Sharon’s from May 11, 2001,” McCarthy said.
Ramello said that his recommendation to the board would be to reinstitute the requirement of appointees providing affidavits of political party affiliation. However, Ramello, said that wouldn’t ensure the VIP Party a seat on the commission.
According to his count, Ramello said that there were some eight different political parties operating in Brookfield as of the last election, including PEP, VIP, state and local and various township parties.
He also said that voting for a particular party does not make someone a party member. According to state statute, party membership can be officially determined if someone is a candidate for a party, votes in a party primary or participates in a township caucus.
“Just going to the polls and voting doesn’t make you a member of a party,” Ramello said.