Brookfield Village President Bill Russ reluctantly admitted last week that a village loan made in 2002 to pay a private debt could have been handled differently, but steadfastly reiterated that nothing illegal took place and that the village was not harmed in any way.
During an endorsement interview between Russ and the Landmark editorial board last Friday, Russ was asked about his role in authorizing a $14,754 check that was paid out of village funds to cover back real estate taxes for Ogden Avenue property later sold to the CVS pharmacy chain.
Russ said that he never told a village employee to write the check in March of 2002. Rather, he said, the village attorney directed the check to be written. The village attorney then notified Russ what was happening.
Asked why village trustees were never notified about the transaction, Russ said that delaying the payment of the taxes might have killed a deal to land the CVS chain for Brookfield.
However, Russ said, "If I had to do it over again, I probably would have had the attorney call the trustees."
The real estate deal between CVS and the owners of the former Santino's restaurant was finally consummated in October 2002 and the $14,754 check appeared on the village's list of bills in November of that year. Although the village board never voted to allow the loan, they did vote to accept the November 2002 bills in which the loan appeared.
Rebuild commuter bridge
Among the other topics Russ discussed during the interview, he said that a recent sale of village property in the 8900 block of Fairview Avenue would free up money "to pay cash for a new [pedestrian] bridge over Salt Creek" on Brookfield Avenue.
The pedestrian bridge, which is used by commuters going to and from the Prairie Avenue train station, has been closed since April 2004. Since that time, its future has been up in the air. Estimates to repair the bridge, compiled by the village last October, ran between $125,000 and $148,000.
But that's not all, Russ said. "With the money left over, we can demolish the [former Cullerton] Cadillac building. What's going to go there? I'd like to see an Outback Steakhouse or a Bennigan's. My goal is to have people coming over the bridge to Brookfield from LaGrange."
With bond money for the current round of street repairs nearly expended, Russ said he'd like to "get another $5 to $6 million for streets."
Russ said that the village has a water bond that is about to mature, which would free up the ability to issue more debt without affecting property taxes. According to Russ, the village has the capacity to bond out another $12 to $15 million.
With respect to economic development, Russ said that he is trying to follow the village's new master plan by tapping into what residents had to say in surveys done for the plan.
"They want single-family homes, townhomes and condos," Russ said.
He indicated, however, that he would be against four-story buildings in the 3700 block of Grand Boulevard, such as the one proposed and recommended recently by the village's Zoning Board of Appeals.
He would also favor charging impact fees to developers who want to bring larger-scale development to Brookfield's commercial corridors, such as Ogden Avenue.
Russ also said that his recent announcement of an ambitious plan that would replace the current village hall with an 80- to 100-room "inn" was still just a concept and that his goal was to "integrate this thing into the neighborhood."
Russ has been criticized by opponents for what they perceive to be overstepping his role as village president. In a village manager form of government, the village president has no vote (except in the case of ties) on the village board. The village manager is there to handle the daily management of village services.
Russ, however, sees the village president as "the guy who gets things done." He emphasized the fact that he holds office hours every Saturday morning to hear about citizen problems and concerns.
He also said that if Village Manager Dave Owen decides to retire in the next year or so, he'd like to find "somebody experienced in another town." Russ said he would conduct a manager search if needed, but that he has been in contact with managers in other municipalities.
"It's always helpful if you know some of these people," Russ said.