The North Riverside administration’s attempt to privatize the fire department certainly has been the biggest story about local government since the mayor announced the gambit in 2014.
But as voters go to the polls (as early as this week) they need to keep in mind that the fire department issue is not the only one facing the next North Riverside mayor and trustees.
The most critical issue facing the village is its long-term financial viability. For that reason, we’re endorsing Hubert Hermanek Jr. for mayor over H. Bob Demopoulos, though our backing comes with a load of caveats.
First, Hermanek gets credit for being in the mayor’s chair during a time when the village board overhauled the many past practices that placed North Riverside in its precarious financial position.
Waste hauling and water are no longer subsidized by the general operating fund, and the village is building cash reserves in the water and sewer fund in order to attend to long-deferred maintenance. The village has begun extending its property tax levy annually, ensuring the capture of growing EAV, particularly from commercial properties.
The practice of extending lifetime health insurance to retired village employees has ended, though its effects will still be felt for decades, and the village has traded its Cadillac employee health insurance plans for more affordable ones for new employees.
A street improvement program last year was long overdue but addressed the streets most in need of repair.
However, Hermanek’s unyielding commitment over three years to privatizing the fire department was a serious misstep, and his continued resistance to bidding out paramedic services or considering a plan that would drop them is mystifying.
Demopoulos’ insistence on bidding out services like waste hauling, paramedic services, and legal and engineering services is, frankly, sound. Why wouldn’t a municipality seek to periodically do those things?
However, Demopoulos’ last two campaigns have been so intertwined with the demands of the fire union that we question his ability to act independently as mayor when it comes to determining that department’s future.
His “silver spanner” plan for replacing private paramedic services with union firefighter/paramedics, which includes hiring additional union employees via a grant that will pay their costs only for a short time, is not sustainable financially.
His plan for making the police department some kind of profit center, through aggressive traffic ticketing, places revenue above public safety and his contention that lending an officer to federal drug enforcement efforts in return for a windfall in revenue is unrealistic.
There’s no magic bullet for North Riverside. It’s going to take careful management of resources and personnel to attain long-term financial sustainability.
Finally, we question Demopoulos’ ability to choose running mates. For the second straight election, he’s surrounded himself with those unfamiliar with government — one of his fellow trustee candidates, Priscilia Runquist, has never voted in a single election, and she and trustee candidate Kevin Melvin have been registered to vote in North Riverside only since 2016. The third MVP trustee candidate, Lawrence Manetti, registered in the village in 2008 but has only voted in one election — last November — since that time.
Even though three seats are up for election, we can only endorse two people who are running: incumbent Joseph Mengoni and newcomer Theresa “Terri” Sarro. Both have long records of involvement in village organizations and understand what it takes to serve as a trustee. Fernando Flores is also running as part of the VIP slate, which includes Mengoni and Sarro, but he is not endorsed.
For clerk, we’re endorsing Kathy Ranieri. Though we believe much more could be done by the clerk in terms of promoting transparency, her opponent, again, seems to have had little interest in village government prior to 2016, which is when she registered to vote in North Riverside.
Marybelle Mandel is also running for mayor. Though she has created a political committee and has apparently shelled out some money for a direct mail piece and yard signs, she has no campaign website or Facebook page and has not participated in the Landmark’s endorsement process.
She appears to have entered the race to merely siphon votes away from, most likely, Demopoulos, a former political ally.