North Riverside trustees to change committee structure

Goal is to reduce overlap, broaden debate

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By Bob Uphues


North Riverside trustees next week are expected to approve a change in the way they conduct business, specifically the structure of the village board's standing committees, which meet on an as-needed basis to discuss policy initiatives and other governance matters.

The plan is to shrink the number of committees from six to three and to increase the number of trustees who sit on each of the committees. Trustees agreed to move ahead with the plan at a meeting of the village board's Recreation, Ordinance and Judiciary Committee on July 27.

Because the change will require the village code to be amended, trustees will formally vote to make the change at their Aug. 17 regular business meeting.

"All of our committees are basically overlapping anyway … and our committee meetings have like the entire board there," said Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. "So, I thought that by having less committees with more [trustees] on it, because so many overlap, that it would help."

Hermanek said another option would have been to eliminate all standing committees and convene a committee of the whole whenever the need arose, but Trustee Deborah Czajka was alone in favoring that option.

Reducing the number of committees will eliminate some confusion over what subjects should be tackled by what committee. For example, the village board has a committee that tackles public buildings and grounds, which overlaps with a committee devoted to streets, alleys and sidewalks. There's also one committee for police/fire matters and another tasked with E911 issues. 

There are also obsolete committee assignments, such as separate committee assignments for Plan Commission matters and those related to the Zoning Board of Appeals. North Riverside trustees in January created a combined Planning and Zoning Commission.

The three new committees will be an Administrative Committee, which will handle finance, appropriations, ordinances, licenses, health and judiciary matters; a Development Committee, which will address public property and transportation, public works and planning and zoning matters; and a Public Services Committee, which will address police, fire, emergency dispatch, recreation and waste hauling.

Trustee Terri Sarro will chair the Administrative Committee, while Joseph Mengoni and H. Bob Demopoulos will chair the Development and Public Services committees, respectively.

Hermanek said trustees were assigned to committees by virtue of seniority. As a result trustees Czajka, Mengoni and Demopoulos are members of all three committees, while Sarro, Fernando Flores and Marybelle Mandel are members of two.

However, officials believe that having five trustees on each committee will allow for a greater debate during committee meetings.

"Moving to a five-person committee allows trustees more of an opportunity, because you'll have more people that are actually voting items out of a committee that go before the full board," said Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti.

While other trustees attended most committee meetings in the past and were polled to gauge their support for a particular measure, only a majority of the three committee members decided whether something would be presented formally to the full board.

"It at least gives more of an opportunity for dissenting opinions from all the trustees to be able to voice those opinions in committee," Scarpiniti said.

There's no set structure for how municipal governments approach moving legislation through the process. In Brookfield, for example, trustees typically convene a committee of the whole every two weeks, following the regular business meeting, to discuss major topics.

The village board moved to that structure more than 15 years ago to give residents time to provide input on a subject before the village board took a formal vote.

Riverside has changed its approach over the years. For many years, the village board held separate committee of the whole meetings, where no action would take place on any subject.

The Riverside Village Board now folds those discussions into its regular business agenda as "considerations" to be discussed by the whole board but not acted upon.

Both Riverside and Brookfield also have more active citizen advisory committees that also explore topics of interest to the village board and make recommendations that then come before trustees for further discussion.

North Riverside in past years has done comparatively poorly providing notice of committee meetings, where substantive discussions are held. While that has changed recently, it was difficult for the public in the past to find out when committee meetings were being held or what topics were being discussed. 

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