Updated Sept. 18, 2012 – 2:20 p.m.
Ten days after not being named the party’s candidate for village president in 2013, Michael Towner resigned from the PEP Party on Sunday via email to the party’s president, Mark Weber.
And on Monday, the two-term village trustee said he would run for village president as an independent.
“I’ll be pursuing an independent spot on the ticket,” said Towner, a member of PEP since 1999, when he was named to the Parks and Recreation Commission.
PEP will announce its 2013 slate at the party’s monthly meeting Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Paisan’s, 3720 Grand Blvd. But by passing over Towner, it’s likely that the party’s candidate for president will be Kit Ketchmark, who was elected trustee in 2011. Ketchmark previously served two consecutive terms as trustee from 2001 to 2009.
Ketchmark would not confirm that he’s topping the PEP ticket, saying the slate will be revealed Wednesday night and not before.
Also declaring independence from PEP on Sunday was Yvonne Prause, a former village trustee from 2005 to 2009. Both Towner and Prause were interviewed to be slated by the party’s nominating committee for the 2013 election.
Members of the committee included Weber, C.P. Hall, Eric Wahlstrom, Michelle Ryan and David LeClere. They decided to take a pass on both Towner and Prause, who will be running for trustee as an independent, said Towner.
In their joint letter of resignation, Towner and Prause complained that Village President Michael Garvey ruled the board with too tight a grip and that their fellow trustees followed Garvey blindly.
“The last three years it became more frustrating working with the majority of the PEP village board,” the letter states. “They seemed to follow President Garvey without question.”
The letter also accuses Garvey of micromanaging staff and, in one instance, personally conducting a code inspection for a friend.
“Fundamentally, village government still needs to be changed and we do not believe PEP is committed to these changes,” the letter states.
The showdown for PEP on who to nominate for president in 2013 has long been brewing. Garvey, who has served two consecutive terms, can’t run again because of the village’s term-limit ordinance.
Ketchmark served from 2005 to 2009 as the village board’s finance chairman and has long been viewed as Garvey’s successor within PEP. He chairs village board meetings whenever Garvey is absent.
Towner has made clear his desire to seek the party’s nomination for president for at least a year, but has publicly split with Garvey and the board majority on such issues as the need for a property tax referendum, the board’s handling of Brookfield Zoo’s response to a proposed amusement tax, the village’s longstanding policy on ceding control of athletic fields to the local Little League organization and the decision to keep the village’s parking regulations largely unchanged.
“I have shown I’ve been independent to them,” said Towner in an interview Monday morning. “I feel their slate might perpetuate what’s going on. My focus is the village organization. I’d like to see a fundamental change in how we do business.”
But Garvey and Ketchmark questioned why, if Towner was so dissatisfied with PEP’s direction, he ran for re-election in 2009 and again sought the party’s blessing for 2013.
“Why did he bite his lip for so long?” asked Garvey. “If he had been slated, would he have disclosed these things to the public?”
Ketchmark turned Towner’s contention that Garvey ramrods his views through the board on its head, saying Towner is the one who can’t handle dissent.
“What’s become obvious was that it was Mike Towner’s way or the highway,” said Ketchmark. “Does Mike [Garvey] lobby for his positions? Of course. In terms of telling us to be quiet or not say things? Absolutely not.”
Garvey also rejected Towner’s charges that he micromanages village issues and brooks no dissent from trustees.
“I chalk those up to policy disagreements,” said Garvey. “And it’s an insult to other elected officials, that they can’t think for themselves.
“I know he’s disappointed. It’s got to be difficult to be turned down by people who know you the best.”
It may be that PEP viewed Towner’s combative personality as a liability. In addition to sparring with trustees and sometimes residents at village board meetings, Towner also got into a spat with a fellow Little League coach last year, which required police intervention.
“I don’t think he deals well with conflict,” said Garvey.
Still, Garvey said he was hurt by Towner and Prause’s resignation letter (it can be found on the Landmark website at www.rblandmark.com), which compared him at one point to Garvey’s old political foe, Bill Russ.
“I am a little hurt,” said Garvey. “I still consider [Towner] a friend. I just consider this a political difference, a political split. I’m not going to take it beyond that.”