Pardon the residents of North Riverside if they’re feeling just a little embarrassed these days.
Known for their hard work and sense of fairness and accountability, North Riverside residents have been faithfully paying their tax bills each year with the understanding their elected officials have been taking care of village business.
Fact is, the politicians who decide how to spend the hard-earned tax dollars of North Riverside have been misappropriating village funds and diverting public workers’ funds for other purposes.
That’s exactly what this is: by rerouting revenues earmarked for police and firefighter pension payments for other purposes, the politicians who run the village of North Riverside have in fact been misappropriating public funds.
In five of the last 10 fiscal years, the village board has declined to pay even one dollar into the pension fund for its firefighters. Now, Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. is threatening to privatize the village fire department, not because the current firefighting corps is incapable but rather to siphon off additional dollars that should be earmarked for public safety.
In fact, members of the North Riverside Fire Department are among the most professional firefighters in the Midwest. No, Mayor Hermanek is flirting with privatization, because his own village board isn’t honest enough to pay its bills the same way its residents do.
This is not a new crisis, only one of cynical opportunity for Mayor Hermanek. Indeed, on July 5, 2011, the Landmark ran a story detailing warnings by then-Trustee Rocco DeSantis that the village faced lawsuits because of its refusal to comply with its legal obligation to police and firefighter pensions.
Interestingly, Trustee DeSantis also accused the board of hypocrisy because its own pensions were current and healthy under terms of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
Privatization of a professional public fire department raises all sorts of questions of political propriety. After all, no one makes a profit from public service — at least not legally.
But most importantly, this cynical display of irresponsibility by Mayor Hermanek represents a serious threat to the safety of all North Riverside citizens. The reason communities maintain public police and fire departments is because the safety and security of our families should be the top priority at all levels of government.
The performance of Mayor Hermanek and the village board is more than a source of embarrassment for the taxpayers of North Riverside.
Pat Devaney, president
Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois