Joseph Ballerine is sworn in as Riverside village president by outgoing President Ben Sells (foreground) during a ceremony seating those newly elected to the village board on May 6 at the Riverside Township Hall. (Bob Uphues/Editor)

When Ben Sells was sworn in as Riverside president back in May 2013, the village and its government were in the midst of a transition. A global financial meltdown had forced local governments to make tough choices, not all of them universally supported.

At that time, Trustee Sells found himself more often than not in conflict with the then-board majority, which had forced out a longtime village manager, hired one who would learn on the job, attempted to squeeze the Parks and Rec Department into public works and seizing its board’s taxing powers.

On May 6, those past conflicts were nowhere in sight and, despite a lingering pandemic that had intruded into every decision and action of the past year, Sells walked away after two terms as Riverside president with a confidence he might not have had coming in.

He personally administered the oath of office to his successor, Joseph Ballerine, who credited Sells with leading the village through a series of accomplishments during his tenure as village president.

“It’s been 14 years since we met, when you were the [village board] liaison to rec and I was chair. Together we fought for that department and worked jointly to make it what it is today,” Ballerine said in comments after being sworn in as president last week. “The tenacity you have for rec can be witnessed in all the initiatives you brought forth as president.”

A list of those accomplishments, at least from the past four years, were read aloud by Village Manager Jessica Frances and included obtaining nearly $10 million in grants funding which helped complete intersection and streetscape improvements near the downtown Metra station, sustainably repave a commuter parking lot and plan improvements to Swan Pond Park.

During that time, the village also created a pair of business districts and a planned unit development process, teamed with neighboring towns to create a central emergency dispatch center and police lockup and bought and renovated a building to become the Parks and Rec headquarters.

“I hope the residents of Riverside look at that [list] closely and see what Jessica and Ben accomplished with support of this board and boards of the last eight years,” said Trustee Doug Pollock, who began his third term as trustee last week, sworn in alongside new trustees Aberdeen Marsh-Ozga and Megan Claucherty.

“I speak from experience,” said Pollock, an urban planner who recently retired as village administrator of Burr Ridge. “You’re not ever going to find a better team in a village than Ben and Jessica have. The record speaks for itself.”

For his part, Sells credited village staff, the 60 citizens who serve on advisory commissions and his wife, Jill Mateo, for the success he shared.

“In the end, all government exists to serve to will of the citizens, and all any generation can do is to try to leave the world a more beautiful place for the next generation to come,” Sells said. “And I believe that here in our little oasis in the last eight years that we’ve done that. 

“And for that I thank you, the residents of Riverside. The village’s future is bright, especially because this board will be led by an exceptional public servant in Joe Ballerine.”