North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. publicly rebuked Trustee Marybelle Mandel at a special village board meeting on July 27, calling comments she made at a meeting two weeks earlier “slander.”
On July 13, North Riverside trustees voted 4-2 to approve a generous sales tax rebate incentive to Zeigler Ford, 2100 Harlem Ave.
The deal rebates Zeigler Ford half of retail sales taxes on the purchase of automobiles for the next 20 years. In exchange, Zeigler Ford promised to remain in the village for the next two decades and undertake a major renovation and expansion of the showroom and dealership inventory, an initiative they told officials would double revenues there.
Mandel was one of the trustees voting against the rebate; the other was H. Bob Demopoulos. Explaining her vote at the time, Mandel said the Zeigler rebate proposal “was not brought before the board properly.”
“This was not held at a regular board meeting, and it was not asked of the residents to give their input at a public meeting and therefore I feel it’s improper and illegal,” Mandel said on July 13.
Hermanek blasted Mandel’s use of the word “illegal,” saying it prompted him to have the village’s legal counsel write a memorandum of law, a copy of which has been obtained by the Landmark, regarding how the matter was handled.
The memorandum, written by Village Attorney Michael Hayes, reveals that Zeigler Ford approached the village with the sales tax rebate proposal in March and that Hermanek spoke to each trustee individually at least once (and in one case twice) in May to get feedback and gauge support.
At that time six trustees told Hermanek they supported the idea, according to the memorandum, with one expressing no opinion. Hermanek told the Landmark that trustee was Mandel.
The village prepared a letter of intent, which it delivered to Zeigler Ford and village trustees, and the item was placed on the July 13 village board meeting agenda per requirements of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
“As you can tell from reading this memorandum, there was absolutely no misconduct or illegal acts committed with respect to the meetings,” Hermanek said during his prepared remarks at the July 27 special meeting, which was called to pass the village’s 2020-21 appropriations ordinance.
“Being accused of wrongdoing by someone ignorant of the law is not appreciated and uncalled for,” Hermanek said. “Trustees are elected officials of this village and should conduct themselves appropriately, especially at board meetings.”
In an email to the Landmark following the meeting, Mandel confirmed she felt the board failed to discuss the matter publicly prior to it being placed on the July 13 agenda. The July 13 meeting was properly noticed and the item was clearly listed as part of that agenda.
“No village in this area has ever done this without a committee meeting being held,” Mandel wrote. “It is the residents’ money and they should be made aware of the situation. We had several Zoom meetings prior to this, they were on Zoom. Why not in May a committee?”
After being called out by Hermanek on July 27, Mandel continued to insist that the board’s action was improper.
“I did not slander the village, the mayor, the administration,” Mandel said. “I just gave my opinion that the meeting was improper in regards to the situation with the Zeigler deal. And I still feel that the residents should have been notified prior to a decision on the vote for it.
“There should have been a meeting, whether public through Zoom but it should have been advertised prior to the meeting.”
Trustee Terri Sarro, responding to Mandel’s contention that residents should have been notified sooner, said that trustees had been presented with the Zeigler proposal by the mayor and that Mandel had plenty of time to request such a meeting.
“If you felt a Zoom meeting was needed, you had two months to request one, and I don’t appreciate being slandered that we did anything illegal, because we did not,” Sarro said.
Mandel reiterated that “when it comes to taxpayers’ money, they should be involved in decisions.”
To that, Trustee Deborah Czajka responded, “That’s why we’re elected. We are elected to make these decisions.”
Split board passes appropriations ordinance
North Riverside trustees ratified the village’s spending limits for the 2020-21 fiscal year on July 27, voting 4-2 to pass its appropriations ordinance.
Trustees Deborah Czajka, Fernando Flores, Joseph Mengoni and Terri Sarro voted in favor of the ordinance, with H. Bob Demopoulos and Marybelle Mandel voting against.
The ordinance approves spending roughly $27.7 million across all funds, with about $18.5 million of that total directed to general operations.
The two biggest line items in the general operating fund are for the police department and fire department which, combined, account for expenditures of nearly $13.3 million, according to the ordinance passed July 27.
By state law, the village was required to pass an appropriations ordinance before the end of the first quarter of the village’s fiscal year, which began May 1.